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PhD in Biological Science (EBI)

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Established in 1983, the EMBL International PhD Programme provides students with the best starting platform for a successful career in science. Characterised by first-class training, internationality, dedicated mentoring and early independence in research, it is among the world's most competitive PhD training schemes in molecular biology. All of EMBL's six outstations participate in the programme.

EMBL-EBI provides a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary environment in which research and service provision are closely allied. We are a world leader in bioinformatics research and service provision, as we are at the centre of global efforts to collect and disseminate biological data. We share a campus with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, 12 miles south of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. EMBL PhD students at EMBL-EBI are members of the University of Cambridge and one of its Colleges. They receive their degree from Cambridge University; the programme is coordinated in Heidelberg with local support at EBI. Please visit the EMBL International PhD Programme  pages to learn about how to apply. Please note all applicants must secure a place on the EMBL programme before submitting an application to the University of Cambridge.

EMBL PhD students receive theoretical and practical training and conduct a research project under the supervision of an EMBL faculty member, monitored by a thesis advisory committee. The duration of PhD studies is normally three-and-a-half to four years.

In Year 1 all new PhD students will attend the EMBL Predoctoral Core Course in Molecular Biology in Heidelberg; attend Primers for Predocs; undergo nomination of a thesis advisory committee to monitor student progress, and submit and defend a project proposal.

In Year 2 students will need to submit a second annual report to the thesis advisory committee, participate in the Bioinformatics course and predoc seminar day.

In Year 3 students will need to submit a third annual report to the thesis advisory committee.

In Years 3/4 students will need to write and submit their thesis:  PhD awarded following Degree Committee approval and successful completion of an oral examination.

The Postgraduate Virtual Open Day usually takes place at the end of October. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions to admissions staff and academics, explore the Colleges virtually, and to find out more about courses, the application process and funding opportunities. Visit the  Postgraduate Open Day  page for more details.

See further the  Postgraduate Admissions Events  pages for other events relating to Postgraduate study, including study fairs, visits and international events.

Key Information

3-4 years full-time, study mode : research, doctor of philosophy, european bioinformatics institute, course - related enquiries, application - related enquiries, course on department website, dates and deadlines:, lent 2024 (closed).

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Easter 2024 (Closed)

Michaelmas 2024 (closed), easter 2025, similar courses.

  • Biological Science (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) PhD
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EMBL PhD Brochure

Page 1

EMBL International PhD Programme Excellence in advanced training

European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Table of contents

Welcome to the EMBL International PhD Programme

Freedom for your independent spirit

What’s the best thing about doing your PhD at EMBL?

EMBL research units

Our partner universities

A quick guide to the programme

EMBL Heidelberg, Germany

EMBL-EBI, Hinxton, UK

EMBL Grenoble, France

EMBL Hamburg, Germany

EMBL Monterotondo, Italy

Welcome to the EMBL International PhD Programme Unique in the world and waiting for you

The years you spend as a PhD student play a pivotal role in your career as a scientist. The personal friendships and professional networks you make during this time, as well as the spirit of doing science that you encounter during your PhD, will shape the rest of your working life. Clearly, a successful PhD project will also open doors that may otherwise be difficult to step through. Doing science ‘EMBL style’ means that you work at the cutting edge of science in a laboratory that has been ranked as the top non-US research institution in the world*. Our research projects are interdisciplinary and offer exciting opportunities for biologists, chemists, physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians and medical graduates who want to pursue a PhD in the molecular life sciences. Do you want to work in an international environment and in small groups with close contact to mentors? Collaboration and collegiality are hallmarks of the successful and fun EMBL culture. Whether you are looking for a friendly lab with open doors or a powerful scientific network, EMBL offers both.

In addition to hosting open and interactive research groups and providing state-of-the-art equipment, EMBL is a hub for the best scientists in the world. Its seminar programme is matched by few. We are committed to providing a fine balance between carefully mentoring students and fostering early independence. Our students are not only active researchers, but they also take part in many other initiatives: they independently organise the acclaimed EMBL PhD Student Symposia, participate in Science and Society debates and meetings, and relax with the many musical, sports and social activities available at EMBL. Our students also have the privilege of exploring and benefiting from the enriching environments of EMBL’s five sites, located in Germany, Italy, France and the UK. As EMBL students, you are ambassadors of your culture and country to EMBL, and of EMBL to your home country.

Helke Hillebrand, Dean of Graduate Studies, and Matija Grgurinovic, Administrative Officer for the EMBL International PhD Programme

The EMBL International PhD Programme is also unique in the way its students obtain their PhD degree. We have established partnerships with some of the best universities across Europe to award joint PhD degrees with EMBL. Consequently, you may obtain your degree from either one of EMBL’s partner universities or from a national university of your choice. We invite you to apply to become an active member of the ‘EMBL culture’, so please read on. We are committed to making these most valuable years of yours a success. Helke Hillebrand * ISI Science Indicator, World Rankings in Molecular Biology and Genetics, 1997 – 2007.

“EMBL’s International PhD Programme is a key part of the institute. The students create a youthful, dynamic atmosphere in the lab and we give them the resources and help they need to succeed.”

Iain Mattaj, EMBL Director General

240 students are currently enrolled in the programme

Imagine a career that takes you anywhere you want to go. Where you can focus on bold questions whose answers will shape the future of science. This is a PhD in molecular biology, a frontier wideopen for discovery, which offers young people from many disciplines wonderful career opportunities all over the world. Choosing the right career path is not easy. As you finish your undergraduate degree, you will likely find yourself facing many opportunities. A PhD is one option that stands out above the rest. It allows you to develop your independent scientific thinking, exercise your creativity, solve

fundamental biological problems and surround yourself with likeminded colleagues and advisors. Choosing where to do your PhD degree is another important decision. Many factors come into play when you look for an institution. EMBL’s excellent resources and solid funding mean that you have the security to focus on your project. The lack of barriers between research units gives you a chance to collaborate with scientists from different disciplines, bringing out the best ideas and solutions to problems. An ‘open door’ policy gives you the chance to discuss projects and the challenges that are invariably

associated with novel research. And camaraderie among your colleagues gives you the support you need to become an independent thinker and researcher. The EMBL International PhD Programme provides the ideal environment for ambitious students. Our resources, facilities, and staff are second to none. We continually strive to make this the best possible place for creative PhD students. Over the course of your studies, you will develop new insights, mature into a modern researcher and make important contributions to the life sciences.

150 applicants (out of ~1600)

are invited for an interview every year

EMBL Graduates

Modelling spindle positioning in the C. elegans embryo

Taking science from the bench to society

Cleopatra Kozlowski

Giuseppe Testa

Nationality: British/Japanese/Polish Graduated from EMBL in 2007. Cleo is now an Associate Scientist at Genentech Inc, a large biotech company in San Francisco, California

Nationality: Italian Graduated from EMBL in 2001. Giuseppe is now at the Laboratory of Stem Cell Epigenetics, European Institute of Oncology, Milan. He is a recipient of the Branco Weiss Fellowship ‘Society in Science’.

“Being among people in the pure pursuit of knowledge is very important in learning to ask the right questions.”

“EMBL unleashes your scientific curiosity and encourages you to take science beyond the bench.”

As a child, Cleo was always curious about how things worked – “especially the weird things,” she says. “What first motivated me to study biology may have been the images of a two-headed fly in a first year molecular biology course about the role of Hox genes in development.”

During his studies at medical school in Perugia, Italy, Giuseppe became increasingly fascinated with molecular biology – seeing it as the real future of medicine. He knew that EMBL was the place he wanted to be. “When EMBL called me for an interview, I didn’t hesitate,” he says.

While studying at Cambridge University in the UK, Cleo decided that EMBL was the place to continue building her scientific career, so she applied to the Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit. There she pursued her PhD in the modelling of spindle positioning in the C. elegans embryo using computer simulations. “Although I had worked as a summer student and undergraduate in several institutions, EMBL was the first place where I found everybody – from masters students to the heads of labs – to be truly dedicated to basic science,” she says. “It was very motivating to be among an international group of people who are united by their interest in understanding life. For a PhD student, being among people in the pure pursuit of knowledge is very important in learning to ask the right questions. That’s why I’m very glad that I was at EMBL at the PhD stage of my scientific career.”

At EMBL, Giuseppe enjoyed the vibrant mix of languages, cultures and people. “You feel really immersed in Europe at EMBL, and the friendships that you build during your PhD stay with you long after you leave the lab,” he says.

Cleo also enjoyed her EMBL experience outside the lab. “As a ‘hybrid’ myself (I’m half Japanese, half Polish), I felt really comfortable in the international environment,” she says. “I also truly enjoyed my time in Heidelberg, and visiting the surrounding beautiful German villages.”

As a PhD student at EMBL, Giuseppe felt encouraged to pursue his intellectual curiosity and push boundaries. His research focused on establishing a mouse model of an acute form of leukaemia and led to the breakthrough development of a new approach for the engineering of the mouse genome. This project gave him the tools with which to pursue his current work on the differentiation of embryonic stem cells. Giuseppe also took an active role in the laboratory’s ‘Science and Society’ activities. He helped to open the dialogue between science and the public, and pursued the social implications of biotechnology through reading clubs, study sessions, conferences and workshops, while doing postdoctoral research in Dresden. This involvement led him to start a similar initiative while in Dresden, where he chaired the Dresden Forum on Science and Society at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics. For his interdisciplinary project on the legal and ethical framing of cloning and stem cell research in different political cultures, he was awarded the prestigious Branco Weiss Fellowship ‘Society in Science’ in 2003.

Straight from the students: What’s the best thing about doing your PhD at EMBL?

“The Predoc course let me experience various relevant fields, from concepts in biology to computer programming” – Jun Hee Kang, EMBL PhD student from South Korea. Every year, EMBL accepts about 60 students into its International PhD Programme. These students will work at any of the EMBL sites, taking up positions in Hamburg, Grenoble, Heidelberg, Hinxton, or Monterotondo. But before they start working in their labs, the students are brought together in Heidelberg for the two-month Core Course in Molecular Biology to get an overview of the research at EMBL and to hear about new areas of science. Students learn where to go if they need help on a certain problem or technique during their PhD. They also participate in practical activities, journal clubs and discussions. Many of our students come from physics, mathematics and

chemistry backgrounds and the course gives them a good idea of problems facing molecular biologists. Students are guaranteed close contact with EMBL group leaders, giving them a chance to learn more about their research and expertise. And perhaps most importantly, the students get to know each other during the courses and in the many social events that are organised for and by the new predocs. EMBL students have a wide social network in the lab, which often leads to fruitful scientific collaborations. “What struck me is that people actually listen to what you have to say” – José Afonso Assunçao, EMBL PhD student from Portugal. When it comes to science and research, there are few molecular biology institutes that can be compared to EMBL. The fact that many group leaders are also beginning their scientific careers

and only stay at EMBL for a limited number of years guarantees a young, dynamic and informal environment. This open and collegial atmosphere encourages students to share their opinions and ideas. They feel that what they say really matters. Students are given guidance and supervision by group leaders, but are encouraged to look independently for expertise and collaborative projects in their area of research. Students are encouraged to take their projects in the direction that interests them most. “The vast network of collaborations creates a hotbed for creative science” – Hernando Martínez, EMBL PhD student from Spain. EMBL gives students exposure to the most exciting research in molecular biology. With experts in the fields of bioinformatics, gene expression, cell biology

and biophysics, developmental biology, structural and computational biology and mouse biology, students have a wealth of knowledge from which to draw. Because the institution has a training mentality, EMBL scientists are easily reachable to discuss scientific projects, hear about a student’s work or develop collaborative projects. Doors are always open, questions welcome and help available when you need it. The relaxed atmosphere in the lab enables easy communication with scientists and provides many opportunities to make connections and establish collaborations. “Organising the PhD symposium broadened my knowledge and offered inspiration” – Alex De Marco, EMBL PhD student from Italy. PhD students are also given a very unique opportunity – to independently organise their own conference. The EMBL

International PhD Symposium is organised by students from beginning to end. They decide the topic, select and invite the speakers, and secure funding. Previous symposia have dealt with a variety of interdisciplinary themes, such as ‘From Genes to Thoughts’, ‘Evolution’ and ‘Design of Life: Learning from Nature’. Every year, this event brings together hundreds of students and the feedback from the participants and the speakers has been very enthusiastic. “Life at EMBL doesn’t stop at the bench; it’s fun to check out some of the clubs on offer” – Lucía Herrera, EMBL PhD student from Guatemala. EMBL’s Staff Association generously supports different activities outside the lab. The music club organises concerts for EMBL scientists who enjoy playing or singing to share their music with others. The various sports clubs, including diving, climbing

and waterskiing, offer special rates and even trips to exotic locations. Throughout the year, parties bring all the departments together to enjoy the mix of cultures at EMBL. In January, the Scots throw a traditional ‘Burns’ night’, the Germans celebrate ‘Oktoberfest’ in the autumn and the Greek community has been known to bring all nationalities together for great food and traditional dancing. “All the EMBL sites offer superb scenery and access to great European cities” – Romain Gibeaux, EMBL PhD student from France. Whether it be skiing on the local hills in Grenoble, enjoying the classic student town of Cambridge, biking through the forest in Heidelberg, strolling along the famous Hamburg harbour, or touring around Rome, students get to know and enjoy the beautiful European locations of EMBL.

Opening doors to a career in science

A fusion of physics and biology for a developmental blueprint

Marina Ramirez-Alvarado

Philipp Keller

Nationality: Mexican Marina was the first student representative at EMBL and graduated in 1998. She is now an Assistant Professor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA.

Nationality: German Philipp graduated from EMBL in 2009 and is now a fellow at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus.

“Doing my PhD at EMBL opened every door for my career.”

“It’s much more important to think about what you really enjoy doing, rather than making a decision based on what you might or might not achieve.”

Now an Assistant Professor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Marina is studying diseases associated with misfolded proteins. Her interest in protein structure began at EMBL. She was drawn to the lab by its world-class facilities, interdisciplinary environment and international staff. “EMBL trained me to exercise my creativity and to believe in what I do. It gave me the confidence to set my goals high and the knowledge to reach those goals.” Marina’s PhD work at EMBL involved the design and characterisation of different peptides using a variety of spectroscopy. The work of Marina and her colleagues was an important first step towards understanding the beta-sheet structure of proteins, which plays a key role in Alzheimer’s and other diseases. After finishing her PhD, Marina went to Yale University to do postdoctoral research – to study how infectious proteins form very stable beta-sheet structures called amyloid. At the Mayo Clinic, she is studying the molecular mechanisms underlying a rare amyloid disease called light chain amyloidosis. In addition to her work at the lab bench, Marina enjoys teaching courses in molecular biology to graduate students at the Mayo Clinic.

Philipp started out as a physicist, but found himself becoming interested in a fusion of biology and physics after getting involved in practicals at Heidelberg’s Max Planck Institute for Medical Research. “When I was deciding where to do my PhD, someone suggested that I check out what the groups at EMBL were doing. I looked at the website and was really interested in EMBL’s multidisciplinary projects – I found they were exactly the kind of topics I wanted to pursue.” During his PhD, Philipp achieved a groundbreaking result – the first complete developmental ‘blueprint’ of a vertebrate – with his reconstruction of zebrafish embryonic development using a Digital Scanned Laser Light Sheet Microscope. The resulting video gained huge interest from the media and was named one of the top ten ‘breakthroughs of 2008’ by Science. “The technology we developed at EMBL was the key to producing the data needed to achieve this,” he says. “But from a scientific point of view, all my projects were just as invaluable in helping me develop my skills.” Philipp was impressed by the possibilities offered at EMBL. “I pursued several projects during my PhD, which allowed me to explore entirely different areas of biology and find out for myself what I might want to continue with in the future,” he says. “The amazing thing about EMBL is that you can just go to a lab next door or down the hall and start a collaboration in whatever area interests you. It’s also great to come to EMBL at the beginning of your career and to be exposed early on to all the different topics, and to be involved in research at the cutting edge of science.”

EMBL Research Units

EMBL science covers a wide spectrum of themes in basic research. The focus ranges from the study of sequences and structures of single molecules to their functions in cell structures and behaviour and their influence on the development and lives of organisms. Increasingly, many research groups are combining their multidisciplinary skills in a systems biology approach.

Research is organised into units at the five EMBL sites. Technical and support groups interact heavily with, and participate

in, the work of researchers. For example, EMBL’s pioneering role in the field of bioinformatics has led to a fruitful integration of computational scientists with those that work at the bench. And the staff of the core facilities develop new methods as they help users learn to use advanced instruments and techniques. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in interdisciplinarity within molecular biology: researchers looking at embryonic development are rapidly learning about the biochemical and cellular

functions of key genes; data from physical measurements lead to mathematical simulations that can suggest experiments in cells and organisms; gene expression studies are allowing scientists to create new hypotheses about ‘missing links’ in evolution. EMBL has created scientific ‘centres’ to further encourage such cross-disciplinary work. The following summarises the activities of the research units at EMBL. To find out more about specific research projects, visit www.embl.de/research_general.

60 students are accepted

into the programme each year

Bioinformatics The EBI is probably best known worldwide for its provision of biological information and bioinformatics services. However, about 20% of the institute is devoted to investigator-led research using computational approaches to unravel the secrets of life. Although we are united in using computers, the biological questions we address and the algorithms we develop and use are very diverse. We explore biological questions spanning genome evolution, transcriptional regulation and systems modelling of basic biological processes and disease.

Janet Thornton Director

Rolf Apweiler Joint Associate Director

Ewan Birney Joint Associate Director

Jan Ellenberg Head of Unit

Research at EBI is carried out both in groups devoted solely to research and in some of the larger service teams that have associated research activities. All researchers have computational approaches as their major focus, but most also collaborate closely with experimentalists and often generate experimental data themselves. Our research is highly collaborative within EMBL as well as with many external colleagues. We are highly interdisciplinary; our faculty comprises scientists who originally trained in biology, physics, chemistry, engineering, medicine or mathematics. We develop novel algorithms and protocols for handling data, such as checking the quality of the data; interpret data and integrate data to generate new knowledge. We use this information to develop novel hypotheses about the basic molecular processes of life.

Cell Biology and Biophysics In this Unit, physicists and chemists work closely with biologists to elucidate the fundamental rules that govern dynamic cell organisation and function, while developing new instruments and technologies in order to reach this ambitious goal. Novel developments in microscopy, computer simulations and chemical biology-based probes are a particular strength. New correlative light/electron and superresolution imaging methods, as well as mechanistic biochemistry allow us to directly interface between cell and structural biology to understand molecular mechanisms. On the other hand, advances in live microscopy methods, now allow us to carry out cell biology in developing organisms to understand how cell organisation and collective cell behaviour leads to organ formation. 13

Developmental Biology

The development of living organisms requires precise coordination of all basic cellular processes, in space and time. Groups in the Developmental Biology Unit seek to elucidate the principles, mechanisms and dynamics of fundamental developmental events. Using animal and plant models, research in the Unit integrates numerous complementary approaches to understand how cellular and morphological processes are coordinated and evolve to shape and maintain living organisms in their environment. Research includes understanding the regulatory mechanisms of developmental cellular processes; studying simple marine organisms to understand the evolution of our central nervous system; elucidating the temporal organisation of emybronic development; investigating how the machinery that controls trafficking within cells is reorganised as tissue forms; understanding patterning in plant development; and studying both normal development and its deviations in disease.

Genome Biology

Anne Ephrussi Head of Unit

The genome encodes the genetic blueprint that coordinates all cellular processes, which ultimately give rise to phenotype. The Genome Biology Unit takes a systems biology approach to unravel these complex processes at all scales, integrating wet-lab and computational approaches. A notable strength of the Unit is its ability to address questions at different scales, ranging from detailed mechanistic studies (using biochemistry, genetics, microfluidics and chemistry) to genome-wide studies (using functional genomic, proteomic and computational approaches), often with developing new enabling technologies. The synergy between computational and wet-lab groups provides a very interactive and collaborative environment to yield unprecedented insights into how genetic information is ‘read’ and mediates phenotype through molecular networks.

Mouse Biology Dynamic partnerships and exchanges with other international academic research and clinical centres, and participation in multiple EU-wide mouse research and informatics initiatives, are integral parts of EMBL Monterotondo’s discovery process into genetics and genomics, cell biology and pathology. The continued refinement of genetic and epigenetic perturbations of cellular and physiological functions through the use of conditional and other increasingly finely engineered mouse mutations at EMBL Monterotondo is generating ever more accurate models of human disease and multigenic disorders. Research groups use these powerful tools to investigate wide-ranging aspects of mammalian biology, including gene expression, development and differentiation, cancer and regeneration, behaviour and sensory perception. A state-of-the-art animal facility provides a full range of mouse transgenic and gene knock-out production, embryo rederivation and cryopreservation services, and a fully phenotyping suite.

Eileen Furlong Joint Head of Unit

Lars Steinmetz Joint Head of Unit

Philip Avner Head of EMBL Monterotondo

Structural and Computational Biology

Peer Bork Joint Head of Unit

Christoph Müller Joint Head of Unit

Stephen Cusack Head of EMBL Grenoble

Matthias Wilmanns Head of EMBL Hamburg

Structural and computational biology research at EMBL aims to bridge the world of small biological entities (proteins, nucleic acids) to the world of larger ones (cells and organisms). The Heidelberg Structural and Computational Biology Unit (SCB) pursues an ambitious research programme with a strong basis in integrated structural systems biology and a far-reaching computational component that bridges various areas of biology. A wide spectrum of expertise allows the Unit to tackle problems at different ranges of spatial resolution, connecting atomic structures and dynamic information obtained by X-ray crystallography and NMR with medium-range resolution from single particle electron microscopy, and cellular imaging obtained by electron tomography and light microscopy. Dedicated large-scale biochemistry, proteomics, chemical biology, biophysics, and cell biology approaches complement the structural biology activities and, in conjunction with a wide range of innovative computational biology activities, are integrated into a comprehensive description of biological function. EMBL Grenoble has a very active research programme in structural biology of cellular processes (for example, transcription, translation, RNA quality control, viral replication, innate immunity, small non-coding RNAs). Research is facilitated by the wide range of techniques (molecular biology, biochemistry, cryo-electron microscopy and tomography, high-throughput expression and crystallisation robotics, neutron scattering, NMR, X-ray crystallography and small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS)) available through the Partnership for Structural Biology which links the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), Institut Laue Langevin (ILL) and local French structural biology institutes. The outstation also develops new technologies for high-throughput crystallisation and makes significant contributions to the instrumentation and MX and SAXS services at the ESRF, and is part of an international research unit focused on virus-host cell Interactions with the city’s University Joseph Fourier and the CNRS as partners.

Activities at EMBL Hamburg focus on state-of-the-art structural biology methods using synchrotron radiation, combining cutting-edge technology with an ambitious research programme for structures of multifunctional proteins and protein complexes of biomedical relevance. Present research interests include cell surface receptors, protein assemblies in muscle cells, protein kinases, protein translocation into peroxisomes, and several projects relating to tuberculosis. Common to all projects is to make optimum use of on-site high-brilliance synchrotron radiation and to explore novel opportunities of the X-ray Free Electron Laser. Beyond the tools in structural biology that are available on-site, EMBL Hamburg groups are engaged in many interdisciplinary collaborations with colleagues from other EMBL units. Hamburg also has a well-established record for the development of novel, innovative technologies in structural biology.

EMBL Heidelberg

The main Laboratory of EMBL is nestled in the forested hills above Heidelberg, Germany. About 960 staff members work closely in its integrated research units, and the central service facilities and administration of EMBL are also located here. The large number of university students contribute to Heidelberg’s young and dynamic flair. The narrow, picturesque streets of the Old Town are filled with theatres, cinemas and countless restaurants and pubs. The famous Schloss (castle) is majestically set above the centre of the city.

EMBL Hamburg

The city of Hamburg, Germany offers a wide spectrum of activities from art exhibitions, music, theatres, sports and the ambience of a large city. You find water almost everywhere, at the historical port, the inner-city lake Alster, the river Elbe and the nearby North and Baltic seas. EMBL Hamburg, which shares a campus with the German Synchrotron Research Centre (DESY), operates three synchrotron radiation beamlines and offers worldleading facilities and expertise to the research community. The new facilities at the PETRA III storage ring opened in 2012.

EMBL Grenoble

This EMBL outstation shares a campus with the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL) and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. Situated in the heart of the Alpine mountain range, Grenoble is the capital of the French Alps and a lively university town, with students representing one-tenth of the population. Residents enjoy activities such as hiking, mountain climbing, skiing and snowboarding, rafting, kayaking, and canoeing as well as a wide variety of cultural activities in the city.

EMBL-EBI Hinxton

The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) is located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton, near Cambridge (UK). The campus provides an exceptionally stimulating environment in which to conduct top-quality research, and is regularly visited by some of the greatest minds in the biomedical sciences. The EBI is housed in modern buildings in a beautiful rural setting and is only a stone’s throw from the historic university town of Cambridge, where ancient college buildings rub shoulders with peaceful meadows. As one of the world’s most important academic centres for almost 800 years, Cambridge has an unrivalled reputation for scientific achievement. Its strength in pure science has spilled over to the region’s commercial sector, which boasts one of the most mature and commercially successful biotechnology clusters in Europe.

EMBL Monterotondo

The EMBL Monterotondo campus in Italy is situated in a green park, 20 km north of central Rome. The Eternal City is an easy train ride away, and the nearby Lazio countryside features medieval hill towns, spectacular mountain terrain and lakes for hiking, biking, skiing and swimming. EMBL shares the Monterotondo campus with Italian national research groups (IBC-CNR) and the European Mouse Mutant Archive (EMMA).

Monterotondo

Associate Member State Australia

Hambu Hamburg Hinxton Hinxton

Heidelber Heidelberg

Grenoble Grenoble

40 different nationalities

are currently represented by the student body 17

The EMBL philosophy: open doors and collaboration

A chance to inspire science teaching in schools

Antonio J. Giraldez

Elena Seiradake

Nationality: Spanish Antonio graduated from EMBL in 2002 and stayed as a bridging postdoc until February 2003. He’s now an assistant professor at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Nationality: Greek Elena graduated from EMBL in 2006 and was the first EMBL recipient of a Marie Curie E-STAR fellowship to defend her thesis. She is now a postdoc in the Division of Structural Biology at Oxford University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics.

“I know of no other institute quite as special as EMBL, both as a place to do science and a place to have fun.” “From the PhD interviews onwards you’re exposed to dozens of different nationalities at EMBL,” says Antonio, who studies how RNAs shape embryo development. “Arriving as a student in a foreign country – something that could be intimidating – becomes a fantastic experience, because fifty other students are in the same boat. It’s the perfect recipe for firm friendships and camaraderie, as well as a great breeding ground for scientific collaborations and networks.”

“The things that make EMBL such a great place are the excellent scientific facilities and the open minded, dynamic and multicultural people.” As a recipient of a Marie Curie Early-Stage Training in Advanced Life Science Research (E-STAR) fellowship, Elena was offered opportunities to learn extra skills to complement her scientific research. One such activity was a ‘Learning Lab’ for teachers, organised by EMBL’s dedicated education facility, the European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences (ELLS).

Antonio spent a summer internship in an EMBL lab before applying to the PhD programme. “I found myself in one of the scientific centres of the world,” he says. “I got exposure to amazing science both from my colleagues and from the numerous lectures and courses run by world leaders in their fields.”

“The teachers were very eager to learn about our work, and this really increased my regard for our own research,” says Elena. The experience of communicating science to non-researchers was so positive that she became involved in other such events, including Grenoble’s Science Teaching Festival.

Antonio admires the tremendous motivation of everyone at EMBL. “After leaving, I came to realise the wisdom of those that played a fundamental role in shaping the EMBL philosophy of open doors, communication and collaboration,” he says. “Most importantly, I owe some of my best friends, and even my wife, to my time at EMBL.”

When not communicating science, she found her work at the bench very rewarding too. “Besides giving me an exciting project, my supervisor found the perfect balance between giving advice and allowing freedom in the lab,” she says. “The freedom motivated me by making me feel responsible for my project, but whenever I got stuck I could always ask him for help.”

8 weeks are spent in Heidelberg during

the Core Course in Molecular Biology 18

Our Partner Universities

Both, EMBL and its International PhD Programme strive to contribute to the European academic landscape by establishing bonds with national education systems. We are committed to meeting the highest standards for the education and training of PhD students in the molecular life sciences and to seeking innovative solutions to further improvements. In its mission, the EMBL International PhD Programme sees itself as a strong and loyal partner of the

universities in its member states. Based on EMBL’s authority to grant PhD degrees, we have initiated a Partnership Programme with some of the most highly respected universities in Europe. An important aspect of this initiative is that EMBL PhD students can obtain joint PhD degrees from us together with our partners. Our long-term ambition is that these partnerships, which are currently bilateral between EMBL

and specific universities, will grow into a network for the optimal recruitment, training and career support of its PhD students. We are happy that the universities listed below have already become EMBL’s partner universities, and look forward to more universities joining in the future. Please see www.embl.org/phdprogramme for the latest update.

EMBL International PhD Programme Partner Universities (as of October 2012):

Belgium Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Croatia University of Zagreb Finland University of Helsinki Åbo Akademi University Turku University France Université de Grenoble Université Louis Pasteur de Strasbourg Université Paris Diderot

Germany Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich Greece University of Crete Hungary Eötvös Loránd University Iceland University of Iceland Ireland University College Cork

Netherlands Radboud University Nijmegen Norway University of Bergen University of Oslo Portugal Universidade Nova de Lisboa Universidade de Lisboa Spain Universidad Autónoma de Madrid United Kingdom University of Dundee, Scotland

Italy University of Milano

Quick guide to the programme

Are only students from member states eligible to apply? What about students from non-member states? Highly qualified students of all nationalities may apply for the EMBL International PhD Programme (EIPP).

Can I apply for the PhD Programme before I receive my degree? Yes. Applications can be submitted before obtaining the degree, though you must be scheduled to complete your degree by the start of your contract at EMBL.

What type of degree will I need when I apply? PhD applicants must hold, or anticipate receiving before enrolment, a university degree that would formally qualify them to enter a PhD or equivalent programme in the country where the degree was initially obtained. All applications are evaluated solely on the basis of qualification and scientific potential.

Do I need to choose and contact a specific group leader with whom I want to work before applying to the EMBL International PhD Programme? No. It is neither necessary nor recommended to contact group leaders individually. Students wishing to apply for the EMBL International PhD Programme will find all necessary information regarding research projects of the various units on the EMBL website. On the application form, the student may choose one or two units as well as selecting from a list of research keywords and, if invited, is interviewed by all group leaders of either or both of the units. Note that not all group leaders accept students each year.

When do I need to submit my application form? The application deadlines and all relevant information are published well in advance on the PhD Programme website (www.embl.org/ phdprogramme). Please note that the entire application procedure is now online. There are two rounds of applications each year. What is the format of the interviews? Firstly, each candidate will be interviewed during the Initial Admission Assessment (IAA) interview. This is a 15 minutes pass interview and is the prerequisite to be eligible to join the EIPP. General knowledge questions will be asked taking the applicant’s background into account. Everybody who passes this interview is, in principle, eligible to enter the EMBL International PhD Programme, and will be interviewed further in one-on-one chats with group leaders from the chosen units.

23 is the average age of an incoming PhD student

Will I receive feedback about my application even if I am not invited for an interview? The very large number of applications to the programme makes it impossible for us to give specific feedback regarding the merits of each application. However, our online application system allows us to offer something unique even to those applicants who are not invited for interview: the Shared Applicant Pool. A question on the application form asks whether the applicant would like his/her application to be made available to other interested colleagues, in case he/she cannot be admitted to the EMBL International PhD Programme. So, with the click of a button, our applicants are given the opportunity to be considered for PhD positions in an even larger group of top-quality research laboratories. These include our Partner Universities and other excellent research groups with

whom EMBL has close ties. The effort of making a good application to the EMBL International PhD Programme can therefore bring extra benefits. If invited for interview will EMBL cover my travel expenses? EMBL covers reasonable travel expenses and will reimburse those during the interview week. All claims necessitate receipts. If I am accepted for the EMBL International PhD Programme, when can I start? Successful applicants can commence their PhD any time after the interviews and should ideally start by October at the latest of any given year. Starting dates are decided upon in agreement with the respective group leader.

Do I need to register with a university before I start my contract? No. Students must register with a university during their first year in the EMBL International PhD Programme. Is there help with finding accommodation? Yes. EMBL has guesthouse apartments which can be rented for the first few months after your arrival, giving you time to find suitable accommodation. The EMBL housing service has apartments from local landlords on offer as well. How will I finance my PhD studies? EMBL provides a competitive stipend judged by international standards including broad health care benefits and pension access. Actual stipend rates are published on our webpage www.embl.org/ phdprogramme.

I have my own funding. Does this guarantee a place in the programme? All applications are evaluated solely on basis of qualification and scientific potential. All invited candidates must successfully pass the interview procedure in order to be eligible. What is the predoc course and do all students have to take it? The predoc course is compulsory for all EMBL PhD students. This course, called the Core Course in Molecular Biology, is taught by EMBL faculty and is held at the beginning of the first academic year (October to December) at the main lab in Heidelberg. The course covers all scientific areas represented at EMBL and includes lectures, practicals and student seminars. Who will supervise and mentor me during my studies? In addition to the day-to-day supervision by a group leader, each EMBL PhD student has a Thesis Advisory Committee, consisting of the group leader and up to

three other advisors (typically one additional EMBL group leader from the same unit, one from a different unit and a non-EMBL scientist from the student’s university), who guide the student during thesis work. After the first six months, students prepare a written outline of their thesis project and discuss it with the committee. At the end of the first, second and third years, students write an annual report on their work, give a seminar, and discuss the report and seminar with their Thesis Advisory Committee. How is the PhD thesis evaluated? This will be affected by the requirements of the university at which you are registered. In general, the thesis is evaluated in terms of scholarly criteria by each member of a Thesis Examination Committee. One criterion is the likely acceptability of the thesis work for publication in international peer-reviewed journals. A decision is delivered by the Chair of the Thesis Examination Committee on the basis of the committee members’ written reports.

What type of degree will I receive? In December 1997, in recognition of the high quality of its International PhD Programme, EMBL was granted the right to award its own PhD degrees. EMBL became the first international institution providing training in molecular biology in Europe with this capability. Currently, EMBL students obtain their degree from a national university or jointly with EMBL. How long does it take students to complete their PhD? Students enrolled in the EMBL International PhD Programme must complete their degrees within 3.5 to 4 years.

Contact information

For more information, please contact: EMBL International PhD Programme EMBL MeyerhofstraĂ&#x;e 1 69117 Heidelberg Germany

Tel. +49 6221 387 8896 Fax +49 6221 387 400 www.embl.org [email protected]

Š EMBL 2012

EMBL member states are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Associate member state: Australia

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The changing career paths of PhDs and postdocs trained at EMBL

1 Genome Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory Heidelberg, Germany

Britta Velten

Bernd klaus, mauricio ramm.

2 EMBL International Centre for Advanced Training, European Molecular Biology Laboratory Heidelberg, Germany

Wolfgang Huber

Rachel coulthard-graf, associated data.

The data were collated for the provision of statistics, and are stored in a manner compliant with EMBL's internal policy on data protection . This policy means that the full dataset cannot be made publicly available (because the nature of the data means that sufficient anonymisation is not possible). Summary statistics for the main data table can be found in Supplementary file 1 (Table S1). Rmarkdown documentation of the analysis and figures can be found here and is available on GitHub (copy archived at Coulthard and Lu, 2022 ).

Individuals with PhDs and postdoctoral experience in the life sciences can pursue a variety of career paths. Many PhD students and postdocs aspire to a permanent research position at a university or research institute, but competition for such positions has increased. Here, we report a time-resolved analysis of the career paths of 2284 researchers who completed a PhD or a postdoc at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) between 1997 and 2020. The most prevalent career outcome was Academia: Principal Investigator (636/2284=27.8% of alumni), followed by Academia: Other (16.8%), Science-related Non-research (15.3%), Industry Research (14.5%), Academia: Postdoc (10.7%) and Non-science-related (4%); we were unable to determine the career path of the remaining 10.9% of alumni. While positions in Academia (Principal Investigator, Postdoc and Other) remained the most common destination for more recent alumni, entry into Science-related Non-research, Industry Research and Non-science-related positions has increased over time, and entry into Academia: Principal Investigator positions has decreased. Our analysis also reveals information on a number of factors – including publication records – that correlate with the career paths followed by researchers.

Introduction

Career paths in the life sciences have changed dramatically in recent decades, partly because the number of early-career researchers seeking permanent research positions has continued to significantly exceed the number of positions available ( Cyranoski et al., 2011 ; Schillebeeckx et al., 2013 ). Other changes have included efforts to improve research culture, growing concerns about mental health ( Evans et al., 2018 ; Levecque et al., 2017 ), increased collaboration ( Vermeulen et al., 2013 ), an increased proportion of project-based funding ( Lepori et al., 2007 ; Jonkers and Zacharewicz, 2016 ) and greater awareness of careers outside academic research ( Hayter and Parker, 2019 ). Nevertheless, many PhD students and postdocs remain keen to pursue careers in research and, if possible, secure a permanent position as a Principal Investigator (PI) at a university or research institute ( Fuhrmann et al., 2011 ; Gibbs et al., 2015 ; Lambert et al., 2020 ; Roach and Sauermann, 2017 ; Sauermann and Roach, 2012 ).

Data on career paths in the life sciences have become increasingly available in recent years ( Blank et al., 2017 ; Council for Doctoral Education, 2020 ), and such data are useful to individuals as they plan their careers, and also to funding agencies and institutions as they plan for the future. In this article we report the results of a time-resolved analysis of the career paths of 2284 researchers who completed a PhD or postdoc at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory ( EMBL ) between 1997 and 2020. This period included major global events, such as financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 ( Izsak et al., 2013 ; Pellens et al., 2018 ), and also major events within the life sciences (such as the budget of the US National Institutes of Health doubling between 1998 and 2003 and then plateauing; Wadman, 2012 ; Zerhouni, 2006 ).

EMBL is an intergovernmental organisation with six sites in Europe, and its missions include scientific training, basic research in the life sciences, and the development and provision of a range of scientific services. The organization currently employs more than 1110 scientists, including over 200 PhD students, 240 postdoctoral fellows, and 80 PIs. EMBL has a long history of training PhD students and postdocs, and the EMBL International PhD Programme – one of the first structured PhD programmes in Europe – has a completion rate of 92%, with students taking an average of 3.95 years to submit their thesis (data for 2015–2019). More recently, EMBL has launched dedicated fellowship programmes with structured training curricula for postdocs.

Data collection for this study was initially carried out in 2017 and updated in 2021. Using manual Google searches, we located publicly available information identifying the current role of 89% (2035/2284) of the sample ( Table 1 ). These alumni were predominantly based in the European Union (60%, 1224/2035), other European countries including UK and Switzerland (20%), and the US (11%). For 71% of alumni (1626/2284), we were able to reconstruct a detailed career path based on online CVs and biographies (see Methods). EMBL alumni also ended up in a range of careers, which were classified as follows: Academia: Principal Investigator; Academia: Postdoc; Academia: Other research/teaching/service role; Industry Research; Science-related Non-research; and Non-science-related. We also collected data on different types of jobs within the last three of these career areas ( Table 2 ).

See Table 2 for more information on the different jobs covered by Industry Research, Science-related Non-research, and Non-science-related. This classification is based on Stayart et al., 2020 .

AcPI: includes those leading an academic research team with financial and scientific independence – evidenced by a job title such as group leader, professor, associate professor or tenure-track assistant professor. Where the status was unclear from the job title, we classified an alumnus as a Principal Investigator (PI) if one of the following criteria was fulfilled: (a) they appear to directly supervise students/postdocs (based on hierarchy shown on website); (b) they have published a last author publication from their current position; (c) their group website or CV indicates that they have a grant (not just a personal merit fellowship) as a principal investigator. AcOt: differs from Stayart et al., 2020 in that it includes academic research, scientific services or teaching staff (e.g., research staff, teaching faculty and staff, technical directors, research infrastructure engineers).

On average, the alumni in our sample published an average of 4.5 research articles about their work at EMBL, and were the first author on an average of 1.6 of those articles (Table S1 in Supplementary file 1 ). Overall, 90% of the sample (2047/2284) authored at least one article about their EMBL work, and 73% (1666/2284) were the first author on at least one article. The average time between being awarded a PhD and taking up a first role in a specific career area ranged from 4.2 years for Non-science-related positions to 6.8 years for a Principal Investigator (PI) position.

Most alumni remain in science

The majority of alumni (1263/2284=55.3%) were found to be working in an academic position in 2021, including 636 who were PIs, 244 who were in Academia: Postdoc positions, and 383 who were working in Academia: Other positions, which included teaching, research and working for a core facility/technology platform ( Figure 1A ). Just under one-sixth (332/2284=14.5%) were employed in Industry Research positons, and a similar proportion (349/2284=15.3%) were employed in Science-related Non-research positions, such as technology transfer, science administration and education, and corporate roles at life sciences companies. Around 4% were employed in professions not related to science, and the current careers of around 11% of alumni were unknown.

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( A ) Charts showing the percentage of PhD alumni (n=969) and postdoc alumni (n=1315) from EMBL in different careers in 2021 (see Table 1 ). ( B ) Charts showing percentage of PhD (left, n=800) and postdoc (right, n=1053) alumni in different careers five years after finishing their PhD or postdoc, for three different cohorts. Chart excludes 169 PhD students and 262 postdocs who have not yet reached the five-year time point. ( C ) Charts showing the percentage of PhD alumni from EMBL (blue column) in PI positions with the percentage of PhD alumni from Stanford University (grey column) in research-focused faculty positions ( Stanford Biosciences, 2021 ). Detailed information about the comparison group can be found in Table S3 in Supplementary file 1 .

Figure 1—source data 1.

Figure 1—figure supplement 1..

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( A ) Sankey diagram showing that of the 539 alumni who have held an Academia: PI (AcPI) position at some time, 75.3% moved into their first AcPI position from an Academia: Postdoc (AcPD) position, and 20.6% moved from an Academia: Other (AcOt) positon; 93.1% of these alumni are still in an AcPI position. Abbreviations and percentages for a position are only shown for values of 10% or higher. ( B ) Similar Sankey diagram for the 477 alumni who have held an AcOt position at some time. ( C ) Similar Sankey diagram for the 415 alumni who have held an Industry Research (IndR) position at some time. ( D ) Similar Sankey diagram for the 364 alumni who have held a Science-related Non-research (NonRes) position at some time. ( E ) Similar Sankey diagram for the 131 alumni who have held a Non-science-related (NonSci) position at some time. Data are shown only for alumni for whom a detailed career path is available (n=1626). A preceding AcPD position includes entry direct from an EMBL postdoc and entry via a postdoc position held after leaving EMBL. If an EMBL PhD student became a bridging postdoc in the same lab, this is included in the Academia: PhD category. Diagrams were created in R and scaled manually so that the height is proportional to the number of alumni in the role.

Figure 1—figure supplement 1—source data 1.

Figure 1—figure supplement 2..

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Charts showing the percentage of PhD and postdoc alumni in different roles at five different time points for three different cohorts. See Table 3 for cohort sizes; alumni who have not yet reached a given time point are not included. ( A ) PhD alumni 1 year after EMBL (n=969). ( B ) Postdoc alumni 1 year after EMBL (n=1315). ( C ) PhD alumni 5 years after EMBL (n=800). ( D ) Postdoc alumni 5 years after EMBL (n=1053). ( E ) PhD alumni 9 years after EMBL (n=597). ( F ) Postdoc alumni 9 years after EMBL (n=791). ( G ) PhD alumni 13 years after EMBL (n=419). ( H ) Postdoc alumni 13 years after EMBL (n=578). ( I ) PhD alumni 17 years after EMBL (n=256). ( J ) Postdoc alumni 17 years after EMBL (n=369).

Figure 1—figure supplement 2—source data 1.

Figure 1—figure supplement 3..

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Charts comparing percentage of PhD alumni in PI or PI-like positions for EMBL and Stanford University, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), the University of Chicago (Bioscience Division), the University of Michigan, and the University of Toronto (Life Sciences Division) for different cohorts at various time points. ( A ) Chart comparing PhD alumni from EMBL in PI positions (blue) and Stanford in tenure-track faculty positions (grey) for two cohorts; the Stanford data were collated in 2013 ( Stanford IT&DS, 2020 ). ( B ) Chart comparing PhD alumni from EMBL in PI positions (blue) and PhD alumni from UCSF in tenure-track faculty positions (grey) a 2002–2006 cohort after 10 years and 5 years, and a 2007–2011 cohort after 5 years ( UCSF Graduate Division, 2021 ) ( C ) Chart comparing PhD alumni from EMBL in PI positions (blue) and PhD alumni from Chicago in tenure-track faculty positions (grey) for two cohorts ( University of Chicago, 2021 ). ( D ) Chart comparing PhD alumni from EMBL in PI positions (blue) and PhD alumni from Michigan in tenure-track faculty positions (grey) for two cohorts. ( University of Michigan, 2018 ) ( E ) Chart comparing PhD alumni from EMBL in PI positions (blue) and PhD alumni from Toronto in tenure-track faculty positions (grey) for three cohorts; the Torotono data were collated in 2016 (University of Toronto, no date). Detailed information about the comparison groups, including cohort sizes, can be found in Table S3 in Supplementary file 1 ; percentages are the number alumni known to be in a PI or PI-like position at the relevant time point as a percentage of all PhD students in that cohort (including students whose position was unknown at that time point).

Of those who became PIs, 75.3% moved from a postdoc to their first PI position, with 20.6% moving from an Academia: Other position ( Figure 1—figure supplement 1A ). On average, PhD alumni became PIs 6.1 calendar years after their PhD defence, and postdoc alumni became PIs 2.5 years after completing their EMBL postdoc. Almost half of the postdoc alumni who became PIs did so directly after completing their EMBL postdoc (168 of 343). Other postdoc alumni made the transition later, most frequently after one additional postdoc (71 alumni) or a single Academia: Other position (56 alumni). 40 alumni held multiple academic positions between their EMBL postdoc and their first PI position, and eight had one or more non-academic positions during this period.

The career paths of those in other positions were more varied ( Figure 1—figure supplement 1B–E ). For example, for alumni who moved into Industry Research, 20.2% entered their first industry role directly from their PhD, 56.4% from a postdoc position, and 13.3% from Academia: Other positions. Moreover, 71.6% remained in this type of role long-term.

The wide variation in job titles used outside academia makes it difficult to assess career progression, but almost 60% (453/766) of alumni working outside academia had a current job title that included a term indicative of a management-level role (such as manager, leader, senior, head, principal, director, president or chief). For leavers from the last five years (2016–2020), this number was 45% (78/174), suggesting that a large proportion of the alumni who leave academia enter – or are quickly promoted to – managerial positions.

For further analysis, EMBL alumni were split into three 8 year cohorts. More recent cohorts were larger, reflecting the growth of the organization between 1997 and 2020, and also contained a higher percentage of female researchers ( Table 3 ). When comparing cohorts, we observed some differences in the specific jobs being done by alumni outside academia 2021 (Table S2 in Supplementary file 1 ). For example, the percentage of alumni involved in ‘data science, analytics, software engineering’ roles increased from 2% (11/625) for the 1997–2004 cohort to 4% (37/896) for the 2013–2020 cohort. However, the absolute number of alumni for most jobs outside academia was small, so our time-resolved analysis therefore focussed on the broader career areas described above.

Percentage of EMBL alumni who become PIs is similar to that for other institutions

For all timepoints, the percentages of alumni from the 2005–2012 and 2013–2020 cohorts working in PI positions in 2021 were lower than the percentage for the 1997–2004 cohort ( Figure 1—figure supplement 2 ). To assess whether this pattern was specific to EMBL, we compared our data with data from other institutions, noting that different institutions can use different methods to collect data and classify career outcomes. We also note that career outcomes are influenced by the broader scientific ecosystem and by the subject focus of institutions and departments, which may attract early-career researchers with dissimilar career motivations. Nevertheless, comparing long-term outcomes with other institutions allows us to interrogate whether the changes we observe for the most frequent, well-defined and linear career path – the PhD–>Postdoc–>PI career path – reflect a general trend.

A number of institutions have released data on career outcomes for PhD students. Stanford University, for example, has published data on the careers of researchers who received a PhD between 2000 and 2019 ( Stanford Biosciences, 2021 ): Stanford has reported that 34% (145/426) of its 2000–2005 PhD alumni were in research-focussed faculty roles in 2018, and that 13% (63/503) of its 2011–2015 PhD alumni were in PI roles; these numbers are comparable to the figures of 37% (78/210) and 11% (25/234) we observe for EMBL alumni for the same time periods ( Figure 1C ). The EMBL data are also comparable to data from the life science division at the University of Toronto ( Reithmeier et al., 2019 ; University Toronto, 2021 ): for example, Toronto has reported that 31% (192/629) of its 2000–2003 graduates and 25% (203/816) of its 2004–2007 graduates were in tenure stream roles in 2016; the corresponding figures for EMBL were 39% (52/132) and 28% (49/172).

We also compared our EMBL data with data from the University of Michigan, the University of California at San Francisco, and the University of Chicago, and found similar proportions of alumni entering PI positions for comparable cohorts ( Figure 1—figure supplement 3 ). This is consistent with our hypothesis that the differences between cohorts are not EMBL-specific, and reflect a wide-spread change in the number of PhDs and postdocs relative to available PI positions.

We did not analyse the data for other career outcomes, as the smaller numbers of individuals in these careers made it difficult to identify real trends. Moreover, only a small number of institutions have released detailed data on the career destinations of recent postdoc alumni, and we are not aware of any long-term cohort-based data.

The proportion of EMBL alumni who become PIs has decreased with time

To estimate the probability of alumni from different cohorts entering a specific career each year after completing a PhD or postdoc at EMBL, we fitted the data to a Cox proportional hazards model. This is a statistical regression method that is commonly used to model time-to-event distributions from observational data with censoring (i.e., when not all study subjects are monitored until the event occurs, or the event never occurs for some of the subjects). In brief, we fitted the data to a univariate Cox proportional hazards model to calculate hazard ratios, which represent the relative chance of the event considered (here: entering a specific career) occurring in each cohort with respect to the oldest cohort. We also calculated Kaplan–Meier estimators, which estimate the probability of the event (entering a specific career) at different timepoints.

For both PhD and postdoc alumni entering PI positions, we observe hazard ratios of less than one in the Cox models when comparing the newer cohorts with the oldest cohort (Table S4 in Supplementary file 1 ), which indicates that the chances of becoming a PI have become lower for the newer cohorts. The Kaplan–Meier plots illustrate lower percentages of PIs among alumni from the most recent cohorts compared to the oldest cohort at equivalent timepoints ( Figure 2A ). Nevertheless, becoming a PI remained the most common career path for alumni from the 2005–2012 cohort (90/341=26.4% for PhD alumni) and (123/422=29.1% for postdoc alumni), and the most recent cohort of alumni appear to be on a similar trajectory.

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( A ) Kaplan–Meier plots showing the estimated probability of an individual being in a PI position (y-axis) as a function of time after EMBL (x-axis) for three cohorts of PhD alumni (left) and three cohorts of postdoc alumni (right). Time after EMBL refers to the number of calendar years between PhD defence or leaving the EMBL postdoc programme and first PI position. ( B–E ) Similar Kaplan–Meier plots for Academia: Other positions ( B ), Industry Research positions ( C ), Science-related Non-research positions ( D ), and Non-science-related professions ( E ). Hazard ratios calculated by a Cox regression model can be found in Table S4 in Supplementary file 1 .

Figure 2—figure supplement 1.

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( A ) Box plot with overlaid dot plot showing the distribution of the length of time between PhD and first PI role for two cohorts of alumni who defended their PhD between 1997 and 2012 and became a PI within nine calendar years (and for whom we have a detailed career path; n=157). The mean value is indicated as a red cross and the p-values were calculated using Welch’s t-test. The difference between the mean for the two cohorts (5.2 years and 6.1 years) was statistically significant ( P =0.01496). ( B ) Plots for length of time between completion of an EMBL postdoc and first PI role for two cohorts of alumni who completed their postdoc between 1997 and 2012 (n=218). The difference between the two cohorts was not statistically significant ( P =0.192). ( C ) Plots for length of time between PhD and first PI role for the two cohorts of alumni who completed their EMBL postdoc between 1997 and 2012 (and for whom we know year of PhD and have a detailed career path; n=146; note these alumni completed their PhD somewhere else before starting a postdoc at EMBL). The difference between the mean for the two cohorts (5.3 years and 6.0 years) was statistically significant ( P =0.0325).

Figure 2—figure supplement 1—source data 1.

Kaplan–Meier plots show increased proportions of the 2005–2012 and 2013–2020 cohorts entering Science-related Non-research and Non-science-related positions, compared to the 1997–2004 cohort for both PhD and postdoc alumni ( Figure 2D, E ). For the most recent (2013–2020) cohort, there was also an increased rate of entry into Industry: Research positions compared to alumni from PhD and postdoc cohorts from 1997 to 2004 and 2005–2012 ( Figure 2C , Table S4 in Supplementary file 1 ). For Academia: other positions, the rate of entry was similar for all three PhD cohorts, though some differences between cohorts were observed for postdoc alumni ( Figure 2B ).

A small increase in time between year of PhD and first PI position

We decided to explore to what extent increasing postdoc length may contribute to the decreased proportion of alumni who are found as PIs in the years after leaving EMBL. In order to fairly compare alumni from different cohorts, we included only alumni for whom we had a detailed career path, who had defended their PhD at least nine years ago, and who had become a PI within nine years of defending their PhD. We chose a nine-year cut-off because this was the time interval between the last PhDs in the 2005–2012 cohort and the execution of this study; moreover, for PhD alumni from the oldest cohort (1997–2004), most of those who became PIs had done so within nine years (89/97=92%).

157 of the PhD alumni in our sample met these criteria, taking an average of 5.6 calendar years to become a PI (see Methods). There was a statistically significant difference in the average time from PhD to first PI position between the 1997–2004 cohort (5.2 years) and the 2005–2012 cohort (6.1 years; Figure 2—figure supplement 1A ). 218 of the postdoc alumni in our sample met these criteria, taking an average of 2.5 calendar years to become a PI after leaving EMBL (see Methods). There was no statistically significant difference in time between EMBL and first PI role for the 1997–2004 and 2005–2012 postdoc cohorts ( Figure 2—figure supplement 1B ). However, the time between receiving their PhD and becoming a PI increased by from 5.3 calendar years for the 1997–2004 postdoc cohort to 6.0 calendar years for the 2005–2012 postdoc cohort ( Figure 2—figure supplement 1C ).

Gender differences in career outcomes

Many studies have reported that female early-career researchers are less likely to remain in academia ( Alper, 1993 ; Martinez et al., 2007 ). Consistent with these studies, male alumni from EMBL were more likely than female alumni to end up in a PI position ( Figure 3A and B ; Table S5 in Supplementary file 1 ). However, for alumni from 1997 to 2012, there was no statistically significant difference in the length of time taken by male and female alumni to become PIs ( Figure 3—figure supplement 1 ). Female alumni were more likely to end up in a Science-related Non-research position, and male alumni were more likely to end up in an Industry Research or Non-science-related position ( Figure 3 ; Figure 3—figure supplement 2 ). However, female alumni were also more likely to be classified as unknown, and since it is more difficult to follow careers outside the academic world, it is possible that the number of women who established careers outside academia (in positions such as Industry Research, Science-related Non-research, and Non-science-related) is higher than our results suggest.

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( A ) Charts showing the percentage of female (n=415) and male (n=554) PhD alumni, and female (n=492) and male (n=823) postdoc alumni, in different careers in 2021. ( B ) Kaplan–Meier plots showing the estimated probability of an individual being in a PI position (y-axis) as a function of time after EMBL (x-axis), stratified by gender for PhD alumni (left) and postdoc alumni (right). ( C ) Kaplan–Meier plots showing the estimated probability of an individual being in a science-related non-research position as a function of time after EMBL, stratified by gender for PhD alumni (left) and postdoc alumni (right). Kaplan–Meier plots for other career outcomes are shown in Figure 3—figure supplement 2 . Hazard ratios calculated by a Cox regression model can be found in Table S5 in Supplementary file 1 .

Figure 3—source data 1.

Figure 3—figure supplement 1..

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( A ) Box plot with overlaid dot plot showing the distribution of the length of time between PhD and first PI role for female alumni (left) and male alumni (right) who defended their PhD between 1997 and 2012 and became a PI within nine calendar years (and for whom we have a detailed career path; n=157). The mean value is indicated as a red cross and the p-values calculated using Welch’s t-test. The difference between the mean values for female and male alumni (6.1 years and 5.4 years) was not statistically significant ( P =0.0719). ( B ) Plots for length of time between completion of an EMBL postdoc and first PI role for female alumni (left) and male alumni (right) who completed their postdoc between 1997 and 2012 (n=218). The difference between the mean values for female and male alumni (2.3 years and 3.1 years) was not statistically significant ( P =0.0596). ( C ) Plots for length of time between PhD and first PI role for female alumni (left) and male alumni (right) who completed their EMBL postdoc between 1997 and 2012 and for whom we know year of PhD (and for whom we have a detailed career path; n=146). The difference between the mean values for female and male alumni (5.6 years and 5.7 years) was not statistically significant ( P =0.778).

Figure 3—figure supplement 1—source data 1.

Figure 3—figure supplement 2..

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( A ) Kaplan–Meier plots showing the estimated probability of an individual working in Academia: Other (y-axis) as a function of time after EMBL, stratified by gender for PhD alumni (left) and postdoc alumni (right). ( B, C ) Similar Kaplan–Meier plots for alumni working in Industry Research ( B ) and in Non-science-related careers ( C ). Hazard ratios calculated by a Cox regression model can be found in Table S5 in Supplementary file 1 .

Future PIs, on average, published more papers while at EMBL

Publication metrics have been linked to the likelihood of obtaining ( van Dijk et al., 2014 ; Tregellas et al., 2018 ) and succeeding ( von Bartheld et al., 2015 ) in a faculty position. In this study, alumni who became PIs had more favourable publication metrics from their EMBL work – for example, they published more articles, and their papers had higher CNCI values. (CNCI is short for Category Normalized Citation Impact, and a CNCI value of one means that the number of citations received was the same as the average for other articles in that field published in the same year; Figure 4A and B ; Table S6 in Supplementary file 1 ). Using univariate Cox models for time to PI as a function of number of first-author research articles from EMBL work, we estimated that a postdoc with one first-author publication was 3.2 times more likely to be found in a PI position than a postdoc without a first-author publication (95% confidence interval [2.2, 4.7]), and a post-doc with two or more first-author publications was 6.6 times more likely (95% confidence interval [4.7, 9.3]; Figure 4C ).

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( A ) Histograms showing the number of alumni who have 0, 1, 2, 3,... first-author articles from their time at EMBL and became PIs (bottom; n=662, excluding 23 outliers), and did not become PIs (top; n=1594, excluding 5 outliers). For clearer visualization, and to protect the identity of alumni with outlying numbers of publications, the x-axis is truncated at the 97.5 th percentile. The mean for each group (including outliers) is shown as a red dashed line; alumni who became PIs have an average of 2.4 first-author articles from their time at EMBL, whereas other alumni have an average of 1.2 articles; this difference is significant ( P <2.2 × 10 –16 ; Welch’s t-test). ( B ) 1656 alumni had one or more first-author articles from their time at EMBL that had a CNCI value in the InCites database. For each of these alumni, the natural logarithm of the highest CNCI value was calculated, and these histograms show the number of alumni for which this natural logarithm is between –4.5 and –3.5, between –3.5 and –2.5, and so on; the bottom histogram is for alumni who became PIs, and the top histogram is for other alumni. A CNCI value of 1 (plotted here at ln(1)=0; vertical black line) means that the number of citations received by the article is the same as the average for other articles in that field published in the same year. The mean for each group is shown as a red dashed line; alumni who became PIs have an average CNCI of 5.7, whereas other alumni have an average CNCI of 3.1; this difference is significant ( P <2.829 × 10 –6 ; Welch’s t-test). ( C ) Kaplan–Meier plots showing the estimated probability of an individual becoming a PI (y-axis) as a function of time after EMBL (x-axis), stratified by number of first-author publications from research completed at EMBL, for PhD alumni (left) and postdoc alumni (right). Hazard ratios calculated by a Cox regression model can be found in Table S7 in Supplementary file 1 . ( D ) Harrell’s C-Index for various Cox models for predicting entry into PI positions. The first seven bars show the C-index for univariate and multivariate models for a subset of covariates (which subset is shown below the x-axis), and the eighth bar is for a multivariate model that includes the covariates from all subsets. The subsets are time & cohort (multivariate, including the variables: cohort, PhD year (if known), start and end year at EMBL), predoc (ie PhD student)/postdoc (univariate), group leader seniority (univariate), nationality (univariate), gender (univariate), publications (multivariate: containing variables related to the alumni’s publications from their EMBL work; these are variables with a name beginning with “pubs” in Table S1 in Supplementary file 1 ) and group publications (multivariate: containing variables related to the aggregated publication statistics for all PhD students and postdocs who were trained in the same group; these are variables with a name beginning with “group_pubs” in Table S1 in Supplementary file 1 ). A value of above 0.5 indicates that a model has predictive power, with a value of 1.0 indicating complete concordance between predicted and observed order to outcome (e.g. entry into a PI position). Bars denote the mean, and the error bars show the 95% confidence intervals. A value of above 0.5 indicates that a model has predictive power, with a value of 1.0 indicating complete concordance between predicted and observed order to outcome (e.g. entry into a PI position). Bars denote the mean, and the error bars show the 95% confidence intervals.

Figure 4—source data 1.

Figure 4—figure supplement 1..

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Harrell’s C-Index for various Cox models for predicting entry into Academia: Other ( A ), Industry Research ( B ), Science-related Non-research ( C ), and Non-science-related careers ( D ). As in Figure 4D , the first seven bars show the C-index for univariate and multivariate models containing subsets of variables, the eighth bar is for a multivariate model containing all variables, and a value of above 0.5 indicates that a model has predictive power.

Figure 4—figure supplement 1—source data 1.

Figure 4—figure supplement 2..

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Kaplan–Meier plots showing the estimated probability of an individual being in various careers (y-axis) as a function of time after EMBL (x-axis), stratified by number of first-author publications from research completed at EMBL for PhD alumni (left) and postdoc alumni (right). Hazard ratios calculated by a Cox regression model can be found in Table S7 in Supplementary file 1 .

Publication factors are highly predictive of entry into a PI position

To understand the potential contribution of publication record in the context of other factors – including cohort, gender, nationality, publications, and seniority of the supervising PI – we fitted multivariate Cox models. To quantify publication record, we considered a range of metrics including journal impact factor, which has been shown to statistically correlate with becoming a PI in some studies ( van Dijk et al., 2014 ) and has been used by some institutions in research evaluation ( McKiernan et al., 2019 ). It should be stressed, however, that EMBL does not use journal impact factors in hiring or evaluation decisions, and is a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and a member of the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA).

To evaluate the predictive power of each Cox model, we used the cross-validated Harrell’s C-index, which measures predictive power as the average agreement across all pairs of individuals between observed and predicted temporal order of the outcome (in our case, entering a specific type of position; see Methods). A C-index of 1 indicates complete concordance between observed and predicted order. For example, for a model of entry into PI roles, a C-index of 1 would mean that the model correctly predicts, for all pairs of individuals, which individual becomes a PI first based on the factors included in the model. A C-index 0.5 is the baseline that corresponds to random guessing. Prediction is clearly limited by the fact that we could not explicitly encode some covariates that are certain to play an important role in career outcomes, such as career preferences and relevant skills. Nevertheless, the C-index for models containing all data were between 0.61 (entry to Industry Research, Figure 4—figure supplement 1B ) and 0.70 (entry into PI positions, Figure 4D ), suggesting that the factors have some predictive power.

To investigate which factors were most predictive for entry into different careers, we compared models containing different sets of factors. Consistent with previous studies, we found that statistics related to publications were highly predictive for entry into a PI position: a multivariate model containing only the publication statistics performs almost as well as the complete multivariate model, reaching a C-index of 0.69 ( Figure 4D ). The publications of the research group the alumnus was trained in (judged by the aggregated publication statistics for all PhD students and postdocs who were trained in the same group) was also predictive, with a C-index of 0.61.

Cohort/year, gender, and status at EMBL (PhD or postdoc) were also predictors of entry into a PI position in our Cox models, with C-indexes of 0.59, 0.57 and 0.55, respectively ( Figure 4D ). This is consistent with our observation that alumni from earlier cohorts/years ( Figure 1B ), male alumni ( Figure 3A ) and postdoc alumni ( Figure 1A ) were more frequently found in PI positions. Models containing only nationality or group leader seniority were not predictive.

For Academia: Other positions, the factors that were most predictive were those related to publications of the research group the alumnus was trained in ( Figure 4—figure supplement 1A ). It is unclear why this might be, but we speculate that this could reflect publication characteristics specific to certain fields that have a high number of staff positions, or other factors such as the scientific reputation, breadth or collaborative nature of the research group and its supervisor. The group’s publications were also predictive for Industry Research and Science-related Non-research positions.

Time-related factors (i.e., cohort, PhD award year and EMBL contract start/end years) were the strongest prediction factors for Industry Research, Science-related Non-research, and Non-science-related positions ( Figure 4—figure supplement 1B–D ), and more recent alumni were more frequently found in these careers ( Figure 2C–E ).

Overall, statistics related to an individual’s own publications were a weak predictor for entry into positions other than being a PI ( Figure 4—figure supplement 1 ; Figure 4—figure supplement 2 ; Table S7–S11 in Supplementary file 1 ). For example, for Industry Research, a model containing statistics for an individual’s publications had a C-index of only 0.53, compared to 0.61 for the complete model, and there were no differences in likelihood of a PhD alumnus with 0, 1 or 2+publications entering an Industry Research position.

Changes in the publications landscape

Reports suggest that the number of authors on a typical research article in biology has increased over time, as has the amount of data in a typical article ( Vale, 2015 ; Fanelli and Larivière, 2016 ); a corresponding decrease in the number of first-author research articles per early-career researcher has also been reported ( Kendal et al., 2022 ). For articles linked to the PhD students and postdocs in this study, the mean number of authors per article has more than doubled between 1995 and 2020 ( Figure 5A ). The mean number of articles per researcher did not change between the three cohorts studied ( Figure 5B ; the mean was 3.6 articles per researcher), but researchers from the second and third cohorts published fewer first-author articles than those from the first cohorts ( Figure 5C ). However, more recent articles had higher CNCI values ( Figure 5D ). The proportion of EMBL articles that included international collaborators also increased from 47% in 1995 to 79% in 2020.

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( A ) Mean number of authors (y-axis) as a function of year (x-axis) for research articles that were published between 1995 and 2020, and have at least one of the alumni included in this study as an author (n=5413); the winsorized mean has been used to limit the effect of outliers. The mean number of authors has increased by a factor of more than two between 1995 and 2000. ( B ) Boxplot showing the distribution of the number of articles published per researcher for three cohorts. The mean is indicated as a red cross; the circles are outliers. No statistically significant difference was found between the cohorts; the p-value of 0.1156 was generated using a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) test of the full dataset (including outliers); the p-value excluding outliers is 0.26. ( C ) Boxplot showing the distribution of the number of first-author articles published per researcher for three cohorts; the two most recent cohorts published fewer first-author articles than the 1997–2004 cohort; the p-value (excluding outliers) was 6.5x10 –7 ; see Table S12 in Supplementary file 1 . ( D ) Mean CNCI (y-axis) as a function of time (x-axis) for research articles that were published between 1995 and 2020, and have at least one of the alumni included in this study as an author (n=5413). Recent articles have higher CNCI values. For clearer visualization, and to protect the identity of alumni with outlying numbers of publications, the y-axis in ( B ) and ( C ) is truncated at the 97.5 percentile.

Figure 5—source data 1.

Many early-career researchers are employed on fixed-term contracts funded by project-based grants, sometimes for a decade or more ( OECD, 2021 ; Acton et al., 2019 ), and surveys suggest that early-career researchers are concerned about career progression ( Woolston, 2020 ; Woolston, 2019 ). We hope PhD students and postdocs will be reassured to learn that the skills and knowledge they acquire during their training are useful in a range of careers both inside and outside acaemica.

Further changes to the career landscape in the life sciences are likely in future, not least as a result of the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic ( Bodin, 2020 ). It is essential, therefore, that early-career researchers are provided with opportunities to reflect on their strengths, to understand the wide range of career options available to them, and to develop new skills.

The provision of effective support for PhD students and postdocs will require input from different stakeholders – including funders, employers, supervisors and policy makers – and the engagement of the early-career researchers themselves. At EMBL, a career service was launched in 2019 for all PhD students and postdocs, building on a successful EC-funded pilot project that offered career support to 76 postdocs in the EMBL Interdisciplinary Postdoc Programme. The EMBL Fellows’ Career Service now offers career webinars and a blog to the whole scientific community as well as additional tailored support for EMBL PhDs and postdocs including individual career guidance, workshops, resources and events. Funders and policymakers may also need to reassess the sustainably of academic career paths, and to review how funding is allocated between project-based grants and mechanisms that can support PI and non-PI positions with longer-term stability. These measures will will also support equality, diversity and inclusion in science, particularly if paired with research assessment practices that consider factors that can affect apparent research productivity such as career breaks, teaching and service activities.

Factors related to publication are highly predictive of entry into PI careers, and one challenge for an early-career researcher hoping to pursue such a career is to balance the number of articles they publish with the subjective quality of these articles. The trend towards fewer first-author articles per researcher likely reflects a global trend towards articles with more authors and a greater focus on collaborative and/or interdisciplinary approaches to research. Working on a project that involves multiple partners provides an early-career researcher with the opportunity to develop a range of skills, including teamwork, leadership and creativity. Such projects also allow researchers to tackle challenging biological questions from new angles to advance in their field of research, something viewed very positively by academic hiring committees ( Hsu et al., 2021 ; Clement et al., 2020 ; Fernandes et al., 2020 ); however, multi-partner interdisciplinary projects can also take longer to complete. It is therefore important that early-career researchers and their supervisors discuss the potential impact and challenges of (prospective) projects, and what can be done to reduce any risks. For example, open science practices – including author credit statements, FAIR data, and pre-printing – can make project contributions more transparent and available faster ( Kaiser, 2017 ; McNutt et al., 2018 ; Wilkinson et al., 2016 ; Wolf et al., 2021 ).

Limitations

The limitations of our study include that its retrospective, observational design limits our ability to disentangle causation from correlation. The changes in career outcomes may be driven primarily by increased competition for PI roles, but they could also be influenced by a greater availability or awareness of other career options. EMBL has held an annual career day highlighting career options outside academia since 2006, and many of our alumni decide to pursue a career in the private sector, attracted by perceptions of higher pay, more stable contracts, and/or better work-life balance. Likewise, early-career researchers with an interest in a specific technology might, for example, prefer to work at a core facility.

Additionally, we cannot exclude the possibility that other factors may also affect the differences we see between cohorts (such as variations in the number of alumni taking up academic positions in countries that offer later scientific independence). Finally, although comparisons with data from the US and Canada suggest that the trend towards fewer alumni becoming PIs is a global phenomenon, it is possible that some of the trends we observe are specific to EMBL.

We plan to update our observational data every four years, and to maintain data on the career paths of alumni for 24 years after they leave EMBL. This will help us to identify any further changes in the career landscape and to better understand long-term career outcomes in the life sciences. Silva et al., 2019 have also described a method for tracking career outcomes on a yearly basis with estimations of the time and other resources required. We encourage institutions to consider whether they can adapt our methods, or Silva’s method, to the administrative processes and data-privacy regulations applicable at their institutions.

Future studies should also ideally include mixed-method longitudinal studies, which would allow information on career motivations, skills development, research environment, job application activity and other factors to be recorded. Combining the results of such studies with data on career outcomes would allow multifactorial and complex issues, such as gender differences in career outcomes, to be investigated, and would also provide policymakers with a fuller picture of workforce trends. Such studies would, however, require multiple institutions to commit to supplying large amounts of data every year, and coordinating the collection and analysis of such data year-on-year would be a major undertaking that would require the support of funders and institutions.

Data collection and analysis

The study includes individuals who graduated from the EMBL International PhD Programme between 1997 and 2020 (n=969), or who left the EMBL postdoc programme between 1997 and 2020 after spending at least one year as an EMBL postdoctoral fellow (n=1315). Each person is included only once in the study: where a PhD student remained at EMBL for a bridging or longer postdoc, they were included as PhD alumni only, with the postdoc position listed as a career outcome.

For each alumnus or alumna, we retrieved demographic information from our internal records and identified publicly available information about each person’s career path (see Supplementary file 2 ). Where possible, this information was used to reconstruct a detailed career path. An individual was classified as having a "detailed career path" if an online CV or biosketch was found that accounted for their time since EMBL excluding a maximum of two one-calendar-year career breaks (which may, for example, reflect undisclosed sabbaticals or parental leave). Each position was classified using a detailed taxonomy, based on a published schema ( Stayart et al., 2020 ), and given a broad overall classification (see Supplementary file 2 ). The country of the position was also recorded. For the most recent position, we noted whether the job title was indicative of a senior or management level role (i.e., if it included "VP"; "chief"; "cso";"cto"; "ceo"; "head"; "principal”; "president"; "manager"; "leader"; "senior"), or if they appeared to be running a scientific service or core facility in academia.

We use calendar years for all outcome data – for example, for an individual who left EMBL in 2012, the position one calendar year after EMBL would be the position held in 2013. If multiple positions were held in that year, we take the most recent position. We use calendar years, as the available online information often only provides the start and end year of a position (rather than exact date).

An EMBL publication record was also reconstituted for each person in the study. Each of their publications linked to EMBL in the Web of Science and InCites databases in June 2021 were recorded. The data included publication year and – for those indexed in InCites – crude metrics, such as CNCI, percentile in subject area, and journal impact factor. EMBL publications were assigned to individuals in the study based on matching name and publication year (see Supplementary file 2 for full description). When an individual was the second author on a publication, we manually checked for declarations of co-first authorship. Aggregate publication statistics for individuals with the same primary supervisor were also calculated.

The names and other demographic information that would allow easy identification of individuals in the case of a data breach were pseudonymised. A file with key data for analysis and visualisation in R was then generated. A description of this data table can be found in Table S1 in Supplementary file 1 , along with summary statistics.

Statistical model

A Cox proportional hazards regression model was fitted to the data in order to predict time-to-event probabilities for each type of career outcome based on different covariates including cohort, publication variables and gender. Multivariate Cox models were fitted using a ridge penalty with penalty parameter chosen by 10-fold cross-validation. Harrell’s C-index was calculated for each fit in an outer cross-validation scheme for validation and analysis of different models, with 10-fold cross-validation.

Acknowledgements

We thank Monika Lachner and Anne Ephrussi for their critical reading of the manuscript and strong support of this project. We also acknowledge the instrumental support of the Alumni Relations, DPO, HR, SAP, Library, International PhD Programme and Postdoc Programme teams at EMBL. We also thank Edith Heard, Brenda Stride, Jana Watson-Kapps (FMI), and the Directorate, SAC, SSMAC and Council of the EMBL for discussion. The work was supported by: EMBL (JL, BK, MR, WH, RCG) and the EMBL International PhD Programme (BV). RCG is employed by EMBL’s Interdisciplinary Postdoc Programme, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions).

Biographies

Junyan Lu , Genome Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany

Britta Velten , Genome Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany

Bernd Klaus , Genome Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany

Mauricio Ramm , EMBL International Centre for Advanced Training, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany

Wolfgang Huber , Genome Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany

Rachel Coulthard-Graf , EMBL International Centre for Advanced Training, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany

Funding Statement

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Contributor Information

Peter Rodgers, eLife United Kingdom .

Funding Information

This paper was supported by the following grants:

  • Horizon 2020 Framework Programme 664726 to Rachel Coulthard-Graf.
  • Horizon 2020 Framework Programme 847543 to Rachel Coulthard-Graf.
  • European Molecular Biology Laboratory to Britta Velten, Bernd Klaus, Mauricio Ramm, Wolfgang Huber, Rachel Coulthard-Graf, Junyan Lu.

Additional information

No competing interests declared.

Data curation, Formal analysis, Visualization, Methodology, Writing – review and editing.

Data curation, Formal analysis, Methodology, Visualization, Writing – review and editing.

Investigation, Methodology.

Supervision, Methodology, Writing – review and editing.

Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Visualization, Methodology, Writing – original draft, Writing – review and editing.

Additional files

Mdar checklist, supplementary file 1., supplementary file 2., data availability.

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  • eLife. 2023; 12: e78706.

Decision letter

Barbara janssens.

DKFZ (German Cancer Research Center) Heidelberg, Germany

Sarvenaz Sarabipour

Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, United States

Reinhart Reithmeier

University of Toronto Toronto, Canada

In the interests of transparency, eLife publishes the most substantive revision requests and the accompanying author responses.

Decision letter after peer review:

Thank you for submitting your article "Meta-research: The changing career paths of PhDs and postdocs trained at EMBL" to eLife for consideration as a Feature Article. Your article has been reviewed by three peer reviewers, and the evaluation has been overseen by the eLife Features Editor (Peter Rodgers). The three reviewers have agreed to reveal their identity: Barbara Janssens; Sarvenaz Sarabipour; Reinhart Reithmeier.

The reviewers and editors have discussed the reviews and we have drafted this decision letter to help you prepare a revised submission. Please also note that eLife does not permit figures in supplementary materials: instead we allow primary figures to have figure supplements. I can suggest how to accommodate the figures in your supplementary materials if your article is accepted.

The eLife Features Editor will also contact you separately about some editorial issues that you will need to address.

This paper deals with career outcomes for some 2284 PhD graduates and post-doctoral fellows from the European Molecular Biology Laboratories, a prestigious research institute that attracts top talent from around the world – the first of its kind. The paper is rich in data beyond simple career outcomes over time and includes gender, publications and collaboration. The methodology involved internet searches like other studies and was enhanced by robust statistical analyses. This important and timely study fills a gap in our knowledge, highlights the important role that institutions like EMBL play in training the next generation of researchers and innovators, and may stimulate other universities and research institutes to do the same. However, there are a number of points that need to be addressed to make the article suitable for publication.

Essential revisions:

1. It is a great achievement to show career destinations for 89% of the 2284 searched for. However the question is in which cohort the 249 "unknown" belong: it could be more transparent to keep those numbers included also in the detailed cohort analysis. It is also unclear, whether the cohort sizes reflect the actual number of researchers who left EMBL in that time period or whether data were lacking. The cohorts reported here increased about 33% from 2004 to 2012 and another 9% by 2020 (Table 2). Could it be, that for more recent cohorts more data are available – for example due to the fact that younger researchers can be found on social media like LinkedIn?

2. The main and interesting conclusion in the abstract is that of the 45% of alumni not continuing in academic research, one third does industry research and one third is in a science-related profession. Other interesting take-home messages are, that a large proportion of alumni changing sectors enter – or are quickly promoted to – managerial positions, that of those who entered a research position in industry one in ten returned to academia and that female Alumni were found less frequently in PI roles. It would be interesting to know, whether there is a difference in these numbers between cohorts – e.g. if more alumni return from industry to academia in recent cohorts and whether female researchers stay longer in postdoc roles (which could influence the total number of female PIs at a given time point).

3. In the time-resolved analysis the authors claim that the probability of being found as a PI in Academia diminished by about 15% after the first cohort (Figure 2C). However the question is whether the absolute number of PIs also decreased. This could be clarified with some reference numbers in the supplementary materials. When calculating the % of the given cohort sizes at different institutes (supp. Table 4) some differences (increase vs decrease) in the number of PIs can be found. Even if the hypothesis that the differences between cohorts are not EMBL-specific, and reflect a wide-spread change in the number of PhDs and postdocs relative to available PI positions seems valid, it would be good to clarify this issue.
4. Interesting findings is also the significant change in time between PhD and first PI position of 0.8 calendar years between the 2004 and 2012 cohorts. It is not surprising that publication factors are highly correlated with entry into PI positions: indeed all ECRs who became PIs published well, but, not all ECRs who published well became PIs! Publications have become more collaborative over the last decade (the number of coauthors has doubled and the number of first author publications per ECR diminished). Another relevant observation is the lack of correlation with group leader seniority or nationality. Group publications were also predictive for other research and science-related careers. Finally a strong observation is that 45% of leavers from the last 5-years who were found to be working outside of academia held senior or management-level roles. These findings can be reassuring for ECRs and the authors could consider to clearly state these in their conclusions.
5. Regarding the career tracking method used for this study: doing google searches for 2284 Alumni is a plausible effort and has probably been time consuming. A question for other research institutes and universities would be, whether this method of career tracking is scalable and/or feasible to continue as a regular task, or whether the authors see this as a one-time effort. If so, what kind or extent of career tracking would the authors recommend to continue sustainably? Performing career tracking is quite relevant, as institutes worldwide now start to be asked to deliver such data to governments and funding agents.

6. In Discussion and future work, it would be valuable to briefly discuss/aspire that institutions such as EMBL compile and publicly report on this type of data/records analysis together with surveys (what authors call mixed methods) of career intent and research environment.

i. With surveys one could have the number of EMBL trainees that actually applied for PI jobs.

ii. The fact that women were found less frequently in PI jobs does not reveal if (1) women apply less frequently or (2) search committees offer PI jobs less often to women or (3) combination of the two.

iii. Surveys together with the data presented in this work can examine the role of lab environment during training and job application.

7. An observation that authors have in the manuscript is that women are less represented as AcPIs (academic PIs). But it's not possible to claim it's an active mechanism. It would be valuable if authors plot the timeline by gender so readers could see the noise.
8. In various panels of Figures 2-4, please clarify if "Time after EMBL" (the label on the x-axis) means "Time after leaving EMBL" or "Time after arrival at EMBL".
Also, it appears that regardless of the cohort, postdocs have increased chances to become a PI only years after they leave EMBL, why? did they go on to do a second postdoc?
9. Please discuss supplementary table 4 in the text, and highlight any common findings from these studies.
10. The authors may also wish to comment on how some members of faculty recruitment committees may need to be trained to recognize bias in relying too heavily on citation indices and first author publications in hiring decisions rather than the scientific contribution of highly-qualified candidates to collaborative projects.

Barbara Janssens, DKFZ (German Cancer Research Center) Heidelberg, Germany .

Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, United States .

Reinhart Reithmeier, University of Toronto Toronto, Canada .

Author response

Essential revisions: 1. It is a great achievement to show career destinations for 89% of the 2284 searched for. However the question is in which cohort the 249 "unknown" belong: it could be more transparent to keep those numbers included also in the detailed cohort analysis. It is also unclear, whether the cohort sizes reflect the actual number of researchers who left EMBL in that time period or whether data were lacking. The cohorts reported here increased about 33% from 2004 to 2012 and another 9% by 2020 (Table 2). Could it be, that for more recent cohorts more data are available – for example due to the fact that younger researchers can be found on social media like LinkedIn?

Thank you for these comments, we are happy to clarify here and in the manuscript:

The cohort sizes reflect the number of all PhD students and postdoctoral fellows who left in that time period, according to the official institutional administrative records. The organization grew during the time period included in the study (1997-2020), and the number of PhD students and postdocs in the later cohorts is therefore greater. It excludes individuals who were marked as deceased in our alumni records at the point the data was originally shared with us (June 2017 for 1997-2016 leavers and April 2021 for 2017-2020 leavers; or whose death we learned of during the update of our career tracking data in summer 2021 (through an updated alumni record, or if we found an online obituary)).

For each PhD or postdoc cohort, the percentage of alumni whose current position is unknown is between 9% and 14%, with no consistent trends with time. However, for the oldest cohort we less frequently found a complete online CV or biosketch that was detailed enough to confirm the type of position held for the full-time span since EMBL, particularly for postdoc alumni. Fewer of the older cohort therefore have a detailed CV/career path and there is a higher percentage of unknowns for specific timepoints after EMBL.

Changes to manuscript:

We have added an additional row with the number and percentage of alumni with detailed career paths for each cohort in Table 2 – new row = n(%) detailed career path

We have also clarified that the increased cohort size is due to growth in sentence that refers to this table: “More recent cohorts were also larger (Table 2), reflecting growth of the organization between 1997 and 2020.”

Column charts showing type of position by cohort (Figure 1B and Figure 1 —figure supplement 2 as 1B, but for other time-points) now include all alumni, not just those with a full career path available.

2. The main and interesting conclusion in the abstract is that of the 45% of alumni not continuing in academic research, one third does industry research and one third is in a science-related profession. Other interesting take-home messages are, that a large proportion of alumni changing sectors enter – or are quickly promoted to – managerial positions, that of those who entered a research position in industry one in ten returned to academia and that female Alumni were found less frequently in PI roles. It would be interesting to know, whether there is a difference in these numbers between cohorts – e.g. if more alumni return from industry to academia in recent cohorts and whether female researchers stay longer in postdoc roles (which could influence the total number of female PIs at a given time point). ‘ if more alumni return from industry to academia in recent cohorts’

This is difficult to assess due to the different career lengths and small numbers transitioning from one type of career to another. For example, of 415 alumni who we have a career path for and had at least one Industry role, just 22 returned to a faculty position. Twelve of these were from the oldest cohort (of 117 who held an industry role), compared to 7 (of 178) for the most recent cohort. Similarly, for PI to industry, 21 transitions were observed from the 539 career paths – 16 from the oldest cohort (from 231) and 1 (from 128) in the newest. Given that the propensity to transition may also change with career length, it is difficult to make comparisons or detect meaningful trends from these small numbers.

“whether female researchers stay longer in postdoc roles (which could influence the total number of female PIs at a given time point).”

We did not observe a statistically significant difference in length between PhD and becoming a PI, but agree that his is interesting and that it should be included in the manuscript.

To add this to the manuscript we made three changes: Additional figure supplement showing the average PhD to PI length for male vs female alumni [as previous figure comparing 2005-2012 and 1997-2004 cohorts, but now comparing female vs male alumni] (Figure 3 —figure supplement 1) – this suggests that male and female researchers spend similar times in postdoc roles as the differences are not statistically significant.

We have now included Kaplan Maier plots by gender, which also illustrate the entry into PI (and other) roles with time (as Figure 3B -C and Figure 3 —figure supplement 2 additional plots for AcOt, IndR, NonSci).

We also expand discussion of these data in the main text – see below with new detail italicised. (note: to allow more detailed discussion without requiring repetition of the information, we have moved this section after the sections on changes in career outcomes, where the Kaplan-Meier and PhD to PI length are first discussed).

Many studies have reported that female ECRs are less likely to remain in an academic career (44, 45). Consistent with these previous studies, we observed that male alumni were found more frequently in PI roles (Figure 3A-B; Table S5 in Supplementary information). Figure 3A-B; Table S5 in Supplementary information. There was no statistically significant difference in the time to obtain a PI role between male and female alumni for alumni from 1997-2012, who became PIs within 9-years (Figure 3—figure supplement 1). The difference in career outcomes is therefore unlikely to be explained by different career dynamics for male and female alumni.

Female alumni were more frequently found in science-related non-research roles than male alumni (Figure 3A). In our Cox models, there was also a statistically significant difference between genders in entry into science-related non-research roles for postdoc alumni [p = 0.016] (Figure 3C; Table S5 in Supplementary information).

We more frequently found male alumni in industry research and non-science-related roles than their female colleagues (Figure 3A; Figure 3—figure supplement 2B-C). However, a higher percentage of female than male alumni could not be located. As academics are usually listed on institutional websites, often with a historical publication list that allows unambiguous identification, we expect that most alumni who were not located are employed in the non-academic sector. This means that, considering the higher percentage of female alumni with unknown career paths (where non-academic careers are likely over-represented), the true percentage of female alumni in industry research and non-science-related roles is likely higher, and possibly comparable with the percentage of male alumni in these roles.

We have added information on the absolute number of PIs for each group in the supplementary table that collates the data published from other institutions and comparable EMBL data (in original manuscript table 4; now Table S3 in Supplementary file 1). We have also expanded discussion of this table the text in response to comment 9 (see comment 9 below) and include the absolute numbers.

Additional clarification

In the datasets, the number of PhDs trained per year has increased with time at all institutions. The cohort size – and how much this has increased for more recent cohorts however varies – for example, Stanford’s 2011-2015 cohort was just 18% larger than its 2000-2005 cohort (503 vs 426), whilst the University of Toronto’s 2012-2015 is 96% larger than its 2000-2003 (1234 vs 629). For EMBL, the PhD cohort sizes increased 45% from 256 for the 1997-2004 cohort, to 372 for 2013-2020. Therefore, the absolute number of PIs with time is difficult to compare between institutions. We therefore feel that the percentage of alumni entering different career options is the most pragmatic measure for comparing how career outcomes are changing with time. It can be viewed as the ‘chance’ of a ECR from a specific programme of entering that career area. If an institution continues to train the same absolute number of PIs per year, but trained many more scientists, it nevertheless saw a big difference the career outcomes of its alumni, with more alumni entering non-PI roles.

We have made the following changes to the manuscript to emphasise the positive aspects of our career findings (but balance the editorial comment that “If possible please shorten the first paragraph of the discussion and avoid any unnecessary repetition of material from earlier in the article.”).

This now reads:

“Many ECRs are employed on fixed-term contracts funded by project-based grants, sometimes for a decade or more (52, 53), and surveys suggest that ECRs are concerned about career progression (18-22). We hope ECRs will be reassured by the results of our time-resolved analysis that indicate that the skills and knowledge developed as an ECR can be applied in academia, industry and other sectors. Within academic research, service and teaching, we observed a marked reduction in the percentage of alumni entering PI roles; nevertheless, academic careers continue to be an important career destination. The percentage of alumni entering career areas outside academic research, service and teaching has increased, and our data suggest that ECRs’ skills are valued in these careers; 45% of leavers from the last 5-years who were found to be working outside of academic research and teaching held senior or management-level roles.”

We have expanded the Discussion section ‘Future career studies’ to include a recommendation as follows:

“Evaluating the outcomes of training programmes, and making these data transparently available is a valuable exercise that can provide information to policymakers, transparency for ECRs, and help institutions provide effective career development support. We plan to update our observational data every four years, and maintain data on the career paths of alumni for 24 years after they leave EMBL. This will help us to identify any further changes in the career landscape and better understand long-term career outcomes. Silva et al. (2019) (73) have also described a method for completing career outcome tracking on a yearly basis with estimations of the time and other resources required. We encourage institutions to consider whether they can adapt our, or Silva’s method to the administrative processes and data-privacy regulations applicable at their institutions.”

6. In Discussion and future work, it would be valuable to briefly discuss/aspire that institutions such as EMBL compile and publicly report on this type of data/records analysis together with surveys (what authors call mixed methods) of career intent and research environment. i. With surveys one could have the number of EMBL trainees that actually applied for PI jobs. ii. The fact that women were found less frequently in PI jobs does not reveal if (1) women apply less frequently or (2) search committees offer PI jobs less often to women or (3) combination of the two. iii. Surveys together with the data presented in this work can examine the role of lab environment during training and job application.

Changes to manuscript: We have re-written the ‘Future career studies’ section of the discussion to incorporate these points. This now reads:

“Future studies should also ideally include mixed-method longitudinal studies. This would allow career motivations, skills development, research environment, job application activity, and other factors to be recorded by surveys during ECR training. Correlating these factors to career and training outcomes would allow investigation of multifactorial and complex issues such as gender differences in career outcomes, and provide policymakers with a fuller picture of workforce trends. Such studies will, however, require large sample sizes from multiple institutions and would need significant time investment and coordination over a long time period. The commitment and the support of funders and institutions would therefore be critical.”

Changes to manuscript: We have generated Kaplan Maier plots by gender for entry into each career area, and include these in Figure 3 and Figure 3 —figure supplement 2 (see discussion of reviewer comment 2, above). The hazard ratios, 95% confidence intervals and p values are provided in a supplementary table in file 1 so that the confidence can be judged.

We have added a clarification in the figure legend (“Time after EMBL refers to the number of calendar years between defence of an EMBL PhD and first PI role (for PhD alumni)) – or number of calendar years between leaving the EMBL postdoc programme and first PI role (for postdoc alumni)”, or clarified this in the figure labels, for each figure.

We have expanded on this in the Results section ‘EMBL alumni contribute to research and innovation in academic and non-academic roles’, adding the following text:

“On average, PhD alumni became PIs 6.1 calendar years after their PhD defence. For postdoc alumni, the start year of the first PI role was on average 7.3 calendar years after their PhD and 2.5 years after completing their EMBL postdoc. Almost half of EMBL postdoc alumni who became PIs did so directly after completing their EMBL postdoc (168 of 343 alumni with a detailed career path available). Other postdoc alumni made the transition later, most frequently after one additional postdoc (71 alumni) or a single academic research / teaching / service position (56 alumni). Some alumni held multiple academic (40 alumni), or one or more non-academic positions (8 alumni) between their EMBL postdoc and first PI role.”

And to provide balance / to avoid focusing only on academic careers, we also include an additional sentence in the subsequent paragraph on non-academic areas:

“The average time between being awarded a PhD and the first industry research, science-related or non-science-related role was 5.0, 5.3 and 4.2 calendar years respectively.”

We have expanded the discussion of this in the Results section ‘The percentage of EMBL alumni becoming PIs is similar to data released by North American institutions for both older and more recent cohorts’. [note that due to rearrangements, supplementary table 4 is now ‘Table S3 in Supplementary file 1’]. This now reads:

“A number of institutions have released cohort-based PhD outcomes data online or in publications (32, 44-49). Of these, a recent dataset from Stanford University offers the longest career tracking, reporting outcomes for PhD graduates from 20 graduation years (2000-2019) (44). In this dataset, Stanford University reported that 34% (145/426) of its 2000-2005 PhD alumni were in research-focussed faculty roles in 2018. This is comparable to the 37% (78/210) we observe for the EMBL alumni for the same time period. For 2011-2015 graduates, comparable percentages of Stanford (13%, 63/503) and EMBL (11%, 25/234) graduates were also in PI roles in 2018 (Figure 1C). Figure 1 – Supplement 3 plots data from five other datasets alongside equivalent data from EMBL (further details of each dataset are available in the Table S3 in Supplementary file 1). This includes a published dataset from the University of Toronto (32, 49), which reported that 31% (192/629) of its 2000-2003 life science division graduates and 25% (203/816) of its 2004-2007 life science graduates were in tenure stream roles in 2016. The equivalent EMBL data is comparable at 39% (52/132) and 28% (49/172) of graduates in PI roles respectively. Across all six datasets, EMBL and the other institutes generally have a similar proportion of alumni entering PI roles for comparable cohorts. This is consistent with our hypothesis that the differences between cohorts are not EMBL-specific, and reflect a wide-spread change in the number of PhDs and postdocs relative to available PI positions.”

We have expanded this section of the discussion (third paragraph of ‘Addressing ECR career challenges’ in the discussion), also mentioning the trend to narrative CVs that has accelerated recently. This now reads:

“Research assessment and availability of funding play an important role in determining the career prospects of an academic. Therefore, it is also vital that factors that may lead to misperception of the productivity of ECRs, such as involvement in large-scale projects, career breaks, or time spent on teaching and service, are considered in research assessment during hiring, promotion and funding decisions. Initiatives such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA) have been advocating for an increased focus on good practice in evaluating research outputs, and many institutions and funders have reviewed their practices. Cancer Research UK, for example, now asks applicants to its grants to describe three to five research achievements, which can include non-publication outputs (64) and narrative CV formats that allow candidates to put their achievements in context are also becoming more common (61). The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on research productivity of researchers with caregiving responsibilities makes such actions imperative (65-67). We welcome this increased focus on qualitative assessment of scientific contribution, rather than reliance on publication metrics. To ensure successful implementation and to avoid unintended consequences (such as introducing new biases), it will be important for funders and institutions to provide appropriate guidance and/or training to evaluators and to carefully monitor implementation. Other initiatives that may help ECR involved in ambitious projects to demonstrate their contributions include more transparent author contribution information in publications (68, 69) and promotion of "FAIR" principles of data management (70). The increasing use of preprints (41, 71) is also likely to have a positive effect on the careers of ECRs involved in projects with longer time scales (72).”

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EMBL International PhD Studentships

Established in 1983, the EMBL International PhD Programme provides students with the best starting platform for a successful career in science. Characterised by first-class training, internationality, dedicated mentoring and early independence in research, it is among the world's most competitive PhD training schemes. EMBL-EBI provides a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary environment in which research and data service provision are closely allied. We are a world leader in bioinformatics, at the centre of global efforts to collect and disseminate biological information. We share a campus with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, 20 km (11 miles) south of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. EMBL-EBI's PhD students are all part of the EMBL International PhD Programme, and also are registered with the University of Cambridge and enjoy all the benefits of University membership.

Award details

An annual budget will be available to students for minor research costs, consumables and travel.

Eligibility

Applicants must apply via the EMBL International PhD Programme in the first instance.

Application Process

Deadline for the first round of applications is 11 October 2021. Deadline for the second round of applications is expected to be in April 2022.

Results for the first round will be sent in mid-February 2022. Results for the second application round will be confirmed in mid-July 2022.

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Open Positions for Doctoral Researchers in Molecular Medicine and Life Sciences

We currently have 2-4 openings for doctoral researchers as part of the FIMM-EMBL international PhD programme starting in August 2024 . In this interdisciplinary programme, outstanding doctoral researchers are recruited to the institute-level rotation programme, where they work with 2-3 different research groups during a 6-9 month period before matching to a research group in which they remain for their doctoral studies. The program provides an exciting opportunity to explore and combine different research areas and working environments as well as to learn a variety of science and technologies, making connections within and beyond the institute.

Candidates are expected to have a second cycle academic degree (MSc, MD or equivalent) in biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, biotechnology, cell biology, computer science, genetics, mathematics, medicine, or other related fields, obtained before the start of the position (August 2024). The successful candidate will have good problem-solving, troubleshooting, and analytical skills. In addition, the candidate should be fluent in English, have good interpersonal, written and oral communication skills, and be able to work independently as well as in an international team.

Candidates are invited to apply using the University of Helsinki Recruitment System , and are requested to enclose the following documents in English as a single PDF file: 

- CV (max. 3 pages including publications) 

- Cover letter (max. 1 page) describing the applicant’s research interests, past research experience, and motivation toward the position

- Letters of recommendation from at least two referees 

If you need support with the recruitment system, please contact  [email protected] .

The closing date for application is February 11, 2024 at 23:59 Eastern European Time .

Please note that candidates are expected to carefully follow the application instructions above. Applications submitted after the deadline, failing to meet the requirements above, or sent directly to group leaders will not be considered.

Application review will begin after the call is closed. Top candidates will be selected and invited for two rounds of interviews with a selection committee in mid-March and early May 2024. The candidates selected for the positions will be offered an initial contract for 17 months, during the first half of which they will engage in training through research group rotations . Upon a successful review and selection of a research group after the rotational period, the initial contract will be extended up to a four-year period.

The salary is based on the job requirement scheme for teaching and research staff according to the salary system of the Finnish universities . In addition, the appointee will be paid a personal salary component. In total, the starting gross salary of a doctoral researcher is typically around 2500 EUR per month and rises gradually as the PhD work progresses based on the University of Helsinki salary scheme.

The University of Helsinki provides its staff with occupational health and support for sports services as well as professional development. More information about the employee benefits at the University of Helsinki can be found at https://www.helsinki.fi/en/about-us/careers/why-university-helsinki/staff-benefits .

  • About the positions: FIMM’s Doctoral Training Coordinator, Rubina Tabassum ( [email protected] )
  • Rotation programme at FIMM
  • Research training at FIMM
  • Doctoral programmes at University of Helsinki
  • Support for International staff

FIMM is an international research institute focusing on human genomics and personalized medicine, and a part of the Helsinki Institute of Life Science at the University of Helsinki. FIMM integrates molecular medicine research facilities, a technology centre, and biobanking infrastructures under one roof. FIMM promotes translational research through 4 “Grand Challenge” projects: Human Genomics for Health and Disease , Digital Diagnostics for Precision Medicine , Functional Precision Medicine in Cancer , and Data Science for Population Health . The 23 research groups at FIMM cover cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological and psychiatric diseases in the fields of Molecular Medicine, Genomics, Molecular Bioscience, Bioinformatics, Neuroscience, Computational Biomedicine, Drug Research, Data Science, and Artificial Intelligence. A particular focus is to enhance the understanding of sex-based differences in health outcomes, with an emphasis on understudied or sex-biased phenotypes and disorders.

FIMM is part of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, composed of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the centers for molecular medicine in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and the EU-LIFE Community. FIMM maintains a wealth of global partnerships with academic and industry groups. We are in close collaborative relationships with research institutions around the globe, strengthened by shared appointments of several of our directors and group leaders at other top institutions, including SciLifeLab , Karolinska institutet , and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard . More than half of our doctoral and postdoctoral researchers are from abroad, making FIMM a truly global community.

EMBL Australia

  • EMBL Australia PhD Course
  • Past Courses

Applications for the 9th Annual EMBL Australia PhD Course open on 1 June 2024.

The EMBL Australia PhD Course brings together more than 60 high-achieving Australian PhD students, giving them a head start in their science careers. The week-long course is jam-packed with scientific tutorials from Australia’s best researchers, hands-on learning, and soft skill development to set our next generation of researchers up for success.

This course is modelled on the pre-doc training program at the prestigious European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), and it covers the latest ideas and advances in molecular biology and the life sciences.

Key Event Details:

25 – 29 November, 2024 Monash University, Clayton Campus

$700 AUD (with shared accommodation from 24 – 30 November) 

$200 AUD (without accommodation)

Applications:

1st and 2nd year PhD students studying the life sciences. ( Please review the course topics to see if this year’s program is relevant to you.) 

Places are limited. Applications undergo a blind, competitive selection process, and are scored based on scientific excellence and merit. 

Applications are open from 1 June 2024 – 18 August 2024. Applicants will be notified of the outcome in September.

Course content: 

More information and an outline program will be made available soon.

  • Tissue regeneration, organised by Dr William Roman
  • Microscopy, organised by Dr Senthil Arumugam
  • Genomics, organised by Dr Evan Healy
  • Microbiology, organised by Dr Simone Li
  • Soft skills and career development 

How to apply:

Applications for this year’s course open on June 1. Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when applications open. 

Not sure what to expect? Read about previous years’ courses here.

Register your interest and stay up-to-date with future opportunities, by subscribing to our newsletter or follow EMBL Australia on Facebook or Twitter .

Please direct any queries to: [email protected] .

Proudly Sponsored by:

embl phd

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I include in my application? 

  • An example of a high scoring application can be found under the resources bar on the website. You will need to include a letter of recommendation from your supervisor, however this will be used as a secondary assessment if needed.

Are there grants for this course? 

  • At this time, there are no grants available for this course.

Can I attend only part of the course?

  • Due to the highly competitive nature and selection of participants, you will not be able to pick and choose which sessions you attend. Attendance will be noted throughout the week.

Will this course apply towards my Institute’s program requirements?

  • We are unable to advise on whether this course can count towards your institute’s PhD program requirements. Please check with your home institution for advice on this, and email [email protected] with any additional questions.

What is included in the registration fee? 

  • If you require accommodation, the fee covers your accommodation at the Punt Hill Hotel, Oakleigh, a short commute to Monash Clayton Campus. The rooms are shared, and include a small kitchenette and bathroom. 
  • Included in both fees are a morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea for all five days of the course, and a dinner on Thursday 28 November. 

Can I pick my roommate? What if I’m not comfortable sharing accommodation? 

  • Unfortunately, due to the high volume of participants likely requiring accommodation, you will not be able to select your roommate. Rooms however will be allocated by gender and institute, in hopes of keeping familiar people together. 
  • If you are not comfortable sharing accommodation, please note this in your application (there will be a section for this) and we will endeavour to accommodate this. 

Can I bring my child/spouse?

  • It is strongly advised not to bring any dependent person with you during the course. Childcare is not available on campus, and due to the shared accommodation, bringing your spouse is not advised. 

How is travel arranged? 

  • Please arrange your own travel. This includes travel to the hotel, and to campus. Public transport stops are within walking distance of the accommodation and a bus terminal is situated on Monash University Campus. 
  • Parking is available on campus, at metered visitor parking areas , where guests pay casual rates for the time they park, using the CellOPark app or Pay-By-Plate machines. These spaces can fill up quickly, and can be costly, so public transport is strongly recommended. 
  • If you require parking at the hotel, please contact them directly to arrange this. 

We’re looking for sponsors!

EMBL Australia is proud of offer a wide variety of sponsorship and advertising opportunities.

Our industry sponsorships cater to companies wishing to increase brand awareness, establish new relationships, generate direct sales and build the company’s reputation as  a leader in the provision of scientific services and/or products.

Educationally aligned organisations such as universities and government organisations are also able to  purchase sponsorships. 

For more information, and to learn more about our sponsorship packages available, please contact [email protected] .

Subscribe to the EMBL Australia Newsletter

Keep up to date with all the latest EMBL Australia news and events.

5 Reasons to Pursue Your PhD at EMBL

...

When it comes to starting a successful career in life sciences, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) stands out as a great choice. The fully-funded EMBL International PhD Programme (EIPP) is designed to promote interdisciplinary research, international collaboration and early independence. By completing your PhD education at one of EMBL's six sites (in Barcelona, Grenoble, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Hinxton and Rome), you will develop the skills needed to excel in your future career in academia, industry, and beyond. Find out why EMBL could be the right place for you!

Engage in Interdisciplinary Research beyond State-of-the-Art

As a PhD student at EMBL, you'll have access to state-of-the-art laboratories, pioneering research and technologies, and an impressive array of multidisciplinary expertise. The organisation is dedicated to promoting excellence in molecular life sciences and advocates an interdisciplinary approach to tackle the increasingly complex biological research questions of our time. The EIPP welcomes candidates with backgrounds in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, molecular medicine, computer science, and other relevant disciplines to apply to work on research projects at the forefront of scientific progress.

Dive into a Truly International Environment

Known as Europe's life sciences laboratory, EMBL nurtures scientific collaboration across Europe and beyond. Ranging from the seaside views of Barcelona to the Alpine landscapes in Grenoble, the unique identities of EMBL's six sites contribute to the diversity and richness of the overall organisation while still maintaining a collaborative and cohesive environment for scientists across all locations.

At EMBL, you'll join an international PhD program where students come from around 50 different countries. This multicultural character not only fosters the exchange of innovative ideas but also offers you an opportunity to learn from people of many cultures and backgrounds.

Convinced yet?

Experience a collaborative and supportive work culture.

EMBL's strength lies in its unique approach towards science and a strong sense of community, where students and principal investigators work together to tackle challenging research questions. Extensive collaboration between the research groups across EMBL is encouraged from early on, with the current faculty and student body rating the collaborative environment as one of the top reasons for choosing EMBL.

EMBL believes that diversity is a driving factor in scientific excellence and innovation and is committed to promoting a fair, diverse and inclusive workplace, where an individual's unique background and perspective are valued. Current PhD students highlight the supportive environment that empowers individuals to thrive. As Saul Pierotti, a predoctoral fellow from EMBL-EBI puts it: "If you want to be in a scientifically stimulating environment that also values your needs as a person, I think EMBL is a great place."

embl phd

Advance Your Career with EMBL's Training and Support

As an EIPP student, you will benefit from tailored training and individual career support, helping you develop the scientific and complementary skills you need for your PhD project and future career. EMBL's comprehensive training portfolio balances theory and practice, close mentoring and creative freedom, collaborative teamwork and independence. Training often comes directly from in-house experts, and programs are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of PhD students.

Advisors from the EMBL Fellows' Career Service are available to support your career planning. The service offers information and guidance through tailored resources, group workshops and individual support. And with links to industry partners, as well as events like the annual Career Day, students have the chance to learn more about potential career options within and beyond academia.

Explore additional opportunities and build a strong network

At EMBL, the network you will build extends far beyond scientific collaborations. As a PhD student, you can engage in a wide range of activities, from attending courses and conferences to participating in outreach initiatives. There are additional opportunities to foster leadership and communication skills, including the organisation of flagship events, such as the annual PhD Symposium, becoming a student representative, or getting involved in committees and teaching activities. Through these experiences, you will forge invaluable connections with scientific peers, mentors, and professionals across different sectors, creating the right setting for you to grow and build your network.

If you're looking for an international and interdisciplinary PhD program in the life sciences, EMBL is the perfect place for you! Besides access to research and technologies beyond state-of-the-art and a truly collaborative environment, you'll benefit from tailored training and career development support, and plenty of opportunities to build a network.

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embl phd

EMBL Conference

25th EMBL PhD Symposium

If you are not redirected automatically, please go to PhD Symposium website.

Date: 20 - 22 Nov 2023

Location: EMBL Heidelberg

Deadline(s):

Abstract submission: Closed

Registration (On-site): Closed

Registration (Virtual): Closed

Contact: Iva Gavran

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IMAGES

  1. Programme overview

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  2. EMBL PhD Symposium 2016

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  3. EMBL International PhD Programme: Application Process and Requirements

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  4. Programme overview

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  5. EMBL PhD and Postdoctoral Fellowships in Corporate Partnership

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  6. EMBL PhD Brochure by European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)

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VIDEO

  1. Ăn 100 Món Ăn Trong 24 Giờ

  2. PHD

  3. Đuổi Bắt Gắn Định Vị Với 30 Triệu Đồng Tiền Thưởng

  4. PHD

  5. 20170918 1344 HPHG2 YourFutureInBiology Dultz

  6. PHD

COMMENTS

  1. EMBL International PhD Programme

    EMBL offers a unique PhD programme that fosters independence, creativity and collaboration in molecular life sciences. Learn about the application process, the research topics, the symposium and the alumni network of EMBL.

  2. EMBL International PhD Programme

    Research. EMBL International PhD Programme. Established in 1983, the programme provides students with the best starting platform for a successful career in science.

  3. PhD in Biological Science (EBI)

    Learn how to apply for a PhD in Biological Science at EMBL-EBI, a world leader in bioinformatics research and service provision. EMBL-EBI is part of the University of Cambridge and offers a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary environment for molecular biology students.

  4. EMBL International PhD Programme

    The EMBL International PhD Programme receives far more applications from very good candidates than we can invite for interview. Applicants who are not short-listed, and have indicated that we can share their application, become part of our shared applicant pool. Applications will be added into the pool twice a year - in December and June.

  5. EMBL PhD Brochure by European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL

    Unique in the world and waiting for you Welcome to the EMBL International PhD Programme. The EMBL International PhD Programme, originally established in 1983, represents the flagship of EMBL's ...

  6. International PhD programme at EMBL, one of Europe's leading life

    The EMBL International PhD Programme (EIPP) provides state-of-the-art training to its students, featuring a good balance between theory and practice, individual mentoring and creative freedom as well as teamwork and early independence. The average duration of a PhD thesis at EMBL is around 4 years. EMBL predoctoral fellowships are initially ...

  7. FIMM EMBL international PhD programme

    As part of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, outstanding doctoral researchers are recruited to the institute-level rotation programme through the annual call. The recruited doctoral researchers work with 2-3 different research groups during a 6-9 month period before matching to a research group in which they remain for their complete PhD studies.

  8. International PhD Programme research topics

    International PhD Programme research topics. When you apply for the EMBL International PhD Programme, you are asked to select two EMBL research units and to indicate up to four research areas that interest you.

  9. Applications invited for the 2024 FIMM-EMBL International PhD Programme

    As part of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, we welcome applications for the 2024 FIMM-EMBL International PhD Program.Detailed information regarding the position descriptions, research areas, qualifications, and application and selection process can be found at the University of Helsinki Open Positions page.. We currently have two to four openings for doctoral researchers who ...

  10. The changing career paths of PhDs and postdocs trained at EMBL

    Many PhD students and postdocs aspire to a permanent research position at a university or research institute, but competition for such positions has increased. Here, we report a time-resolved analysis of the career paths of 2284 researchers who completed a PhD or a postdoc at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) between 1997 and 2020.

  11. PDF EMBL International PhD Programme

    Learn about the EMBL International PhD Programme, a unique opportunity to pursue a PhD in molecular biology at one of Europe's top research institutions. Explore the benefits of working in an international and interdisciplinary environment, obtaining a joint degree with a partner university, and joining the EMBL culture.

  12. Fully Funded PhD Positions in Life Sciences at EMBL

    EMBL provides PhD students with a starting platform for a successful career in science by fostering early independence and interdisciplinary research. The enriching encounter of different nationalities, the friendly and collaborative atmosphere, and the passion for science is what unites EMBL's diverse staff and provides an ideal setting to ...

  13. EMBL International PhD Studentships

    About. Established in 1983, the EMBL International PhD Programme provides students with the best starting platform for a successful career in science. Characterised by first-class training, internationality, dedicated mentoring and early independence in research, it is among the world's most competitive PhD training schemes.

  14. 26th EMBL PhD Symposium

    The EMBL PhD Symposium has been organised by EMBL PhD students to provide an opportunity for networking between early-career researchers and high-profile scientists. This year's Symposium theme is Biology Outside the Box; a journey beyond the conventional to broaden one's mind to new methodologies, organisms, ideas, and domains of life.

  15. Open Positions for Doctoral Researchers in Molecular Medicine and Life

    Invitation for applications (8 Jan - 11 Feb 2024) We currently have 2-4 openings for doctoral researchers as part of the FIMM-EMBL international PhD programme starting in August 2024.In this interdisciplinary programme, outstanding doctoral researchers are recruited to the institute-level rotation programme, where they work with 2-3 different research groups during a 6-9 month period before ...

  16. EMBL Australia PhD Course

    The EMBL Australia PhD Course brings together more than 60 high-achieving Australian PhD students, giving them a head start in their science careers. The week-long course is jam-packed with scientific tutorials from Australia's best researchers, hands-on learning, and soft skill development to set our next generation of researchers up for ...

  17. 5 Reasons to Pursue Your PhD at EMBL

    The fully-funded EMBL International PhD Programme (EIPP) is designed to promote interdisciplinary research, international collaboration and early independence. By completing your PhD education at one of EMBL's six sites (in Barcelona, Grenoble, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Hinxton and Rome), you will develop the skills needed to excel in your future ...

  18. EMBL

    You have to enable javascript in your browser to use an application built with Vaadin. You have to enable javascript in your browser to use an application built with ...

  19. 25th EMBL PhD Symposium

    The EMBL Course and Conference Office was established in 1983 to support EMBL scientists in the organisation of conferences, medium-sized workshops, practical courses, EMBL internal and one-off events. ... EMBL Conference . 25th EMBL PhD Symposium . If you are not redirected automatically, please go to PhD Symposium website. Date: 20 - 22 Nov ...