Master of Science in Molecular Biology

Strategies to improve health and production

Molecular Biology is the discipline within life sciences aimed at understanding the molecular basis of life in health and disease. It is a multidisciplinary area of study and deals with the structure and function of molecules as well as their interplay in creating the phenomenon of life.

Research in molecular biology not only generates knowledge but also offers new opportunities for the development of diagnostic tools and new strategies for improving agricultural production, animal health, and human health.

The programme, commonly referred to as the Interuniversity Programme in Molecular Biology (IPMB), is jointly organised by KULeuven (,  Vrije Universiteit Brussel ( and Universiteit Antwerpen (

Although originally designed to meet the needs of students from developing countries, the programme offers an exquisite opportunity for those who seek re-orientation to enter the fascinating world of molecular biology.

Exchange students studying at one of the organising universities for one or two semesters are also most welcome to attend classes and acquire laboratory skills.

The Interuniversity Programme Molecular Biology is organised over two academic years. In view of the diverse background of its students, the first year consists of in-depth courses covering the most important topics in molecular biology. By the end of the first year, you will have obtained the level of knowledge required to take succesfully part in the advanced, specialised courses of the second year. Intensive laboratory training will prepare you to embark on the preparation of your thesis, which you will complete in the second year along with four advanced courses followed by three specialisation courses in the field of either human health, animal production or plant production.

Extensive attention is also devoted to the preparation and writing of the thesis, which is an original research project completed under the guidance of a supervisor and defended in public.


  • First year: In-Depth Courses and Practicals in Bioscience 60 ECTS

Common core  (42 ECTS)
Practicals in Bioscience (15 ECTS)
Electives (3 ECTS)

  • Second year, first semester: Common Core Advanced courses in Molecular Biology 18 ECTS
  • Second year, second semester: Specialisation Courses 12 ECTS and Thesis 30 ECTS

Dissertation or Master’s Thesis (30 ECTS)

During the experimental part of the dissertation, students learn to plan and perform experiments and critically interpret the results obtained. They also learn to report both orally and in written, prepare presentations and summarise literature data. They learn to present their work in public and answer questions from a jury and the audience. Any topic is potentially acceptable as long as it offers a real contribution to molecular biology. Priority is given to topics closely related to the student’s future work. Given the wide variety of possible research topics, the student is free to choose any lab, which not necessarily has to belong to one of the three partner universities.

For detailed descriptions of this programme’s courses click here and for the course timetable please consult this webpage.

Click here to take a look at an example timetable.


Holders of a bachelor’s or master’s degree awarded by a Flemish university in one of the following disciplines are eligible for direct admission to the programme: biology; chemistry; biochemistry and biotechnology; medicine; veterinary medicine; biomedical sciences; pharmaceutical sciences; industrial engineering; chemistry; biology: bioscience engineering. For holders of a bachelor’s or master’s degree awarded by a non-Flemish university in one of the above disciplines, admission decisions are based upon evaluation of a complete application file.

Scholarship information

You can check the list of all scholarship programmes in which VUB is involved.

If you want to apply directly - not through a scholarship programme - please follow the application procedure below.

Application procedure

All students enrol at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel for the first year of the IPMB. In the second year, students who opt for the Human Health major enrol once again at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel while those who opt for the Animal Production or Plant Production majors enrol at KU Leuven.

Admission is based upon acceptance of the application (proof of meeting the academic and language requirements, satisfactory background,...). All necessary information regarding the admission requirements, deadlines and application forms can be found on the application page

Language requirements

To be admitted to the programme, students need to be proficient in English.

IPMB graduates find employment in universities, hospitals, private and governmental research laboratories and patenting bureaus, as lecturers, consultants and advisors to policy makers, among other careers. Many graduates go on to begin PhD programmes in Belgium or abroad. Students from developing countries may apply for a ‘sandwich’ PhD scholarship from the VLIR-UOS. Flemish students may apply for a PhD scholarship from the VLIR-UOS for research projects on topics relevant to development.

Career guidance? VUB Career Center is your one-stop shop!

The VUB alumni are known to be critical, independent and open-minded people. Even then your first steps on the job market are not always easy. The VUB Career Center gives you that extra push you need to make it work. They offer individual advice on career opportunities and can help you to pimp your cv, or prepare for your first job interview. And you don't have to wait until after graduation. Pay them a first visit during your studies to find out what the job market has to offer you.

VUB professors received Certificates of Recognition from the Can Tho University (Vietnam) after 20 years of collaboration and attended an alumni meeting of the Molecular Biology programme.

Student life

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a dynamic and modern university with three campuses in the Brussels-Capital region. The main campus in Etterbeek offers high-quality education and research in a green and stimulating environment. With all fields of study being represented there, you can go above and beyond your own discipline. At our student restaurant, you will easily find an engineering student standing next to a future philosopher trying to decide together between a pasta meal or the vegetarian selection of the day.
Our students do not feel like they are just a number in a long row of unknown students. They have good relationships with their lecturers and assistants who have an open-door policy where students with questions are always welcome. Small group workshops are also used to ensure close interaction and hands-on experience. Educational assessment conducted annually indicates that our students are “satisfied” to “very satisfied” with 90% of their courses.

Lecture halls and laboratories are furnished with the most up-to-date equipment. Modern sports facilities, including gymnasiums, fitness rooms, tennis and squash courts, and a swimming pool, can be found on campus.

For more information on student life in Brussels and at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, go to

City life

Brussels is the capital of Europe, but it wasn't always. Actually, Victor Hugo was amongst the first pro-Europeans who redeemed Brussels' geographical location ideal to be the capital of Europe.

You will encounter a strange mix of skyscrapers and small curving streets, of bourgeois and bohémien, of oui and non. It will get you lost, but it does so with everyone.

Brussels gives you what you expect from a real city: high buildings, busy traffic, an underground art scene, eccentric old ladies dressed in drag, bars on every corner, and a lot of love from the locals. Brussels is officially a bilingual city, which means that everywhere you go you'll see signs in French and in Dutch (and very often in English too). However, you'll find that most people in Brussels are native French speakers rather than Dutch speakers.

Here, in our belle Bruxelles you'll discover one of the greatest cities in Europe...

Brussels is a challenging city which you can explore endlessly, but you have to take some time to discover its true face. For a push in the right direction, take a look at the following pages:

Brussels & me: information centres and useful websites
Things to do, as suggested by your fellow students
This is Belgium: helpful facts, opening hours and public transport

“Diversified subjects gave me a broad and deep knowledge in the field of molecular biology, especially on plant production, an important area for the agricultural development of Vietnam. That is also the reason why I decided to perform research on plant genetics and molecular biology in my master dissertation. My dissertation gave me an insight in the role of plant dehydrins, a group of plant proteins responding to the abiotic stresses, as well as in the possibility to use these proteins for plant improvement, especially for economically important crops such as rice, maize, wheat… That tough time not only improved my research skills and, my experience, but also made me more confident. Now I have four more years to work on my PhD and continue investigating dehydrins. They are great candidates to be transferred to maize with the purpose to increase the stress tolerance and nutritional quality of this important crop.”
Nguyen Nhu Phuong, PhD student at Vrije Universiteit Brussel


"The International Programme Molecular Biology (IPMB) changed the course of my career. One of the courses called “Social and Economic Aspects of Biotechnology” helped me to understand the facts, myths and controversies surrounding the world of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their application in modern biotechnology. Today, I am a biosafety officer in charge of analyzing and reviewing applications for GMO work and related activities, and I also monitor compliance with biosafety laws."
Evans Njeru Simon, alumnus


“ The programme’s international environment and events gave me an opportunity to interact with people from various parts of the world and appreciate different cultures and cuisines. The programme offers relevant courses taught by people who are experienced in the field. After completing the IPMB programme, I received a VLIR-UOS ICP-PhD scholarship, which was enabling me to do research both at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and at Makerere University, Uganda. My research deals with the monitoring and prevention of colibacillosis, a bacterial disease that affects newly weaned piglets, causing great losses to farmers.”
Emmanuel Okello
alumnus, doctor in Sciences


“The need to combat the prevailing diseases such as cholera, Ebola virus disease, polio and African trypanosomosis were the key driving forces that compelled me to pursue further training. I got trained at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on a number of important molecular techniques and basic research concepts. I was granted a VUB scholarship to continue with a PhD programme. Looking back to where it all started, I can confidently say that the knowledge I gained is enormous. I have contributed in supervision of students, co-authored a book and participated in a number of technology transfer seminars. Thus, with all this experience I’m in a better position to resume my teaching position in Makerere University (Uganda) and I look forward to starting a research group on development of affordable immunodiagnostics tests for tropical parasitic diseases.”
Steven Odongo, Post-Doctoral Professor at Makarere University (Uganda)


"As soon as I arrived on campus, I received a warm welcome from the IPMB secretariat and I felt immediately at home. The interuniversity dimension of the study exposed me to different academic environments and a wide range of research. The knowledge and experience I gained in the IPMB programme (International Programme Molecular Biology) have put me in a better position to continue with advanced learning and research, and to perform innovative scientific work for my country."
A.S.M. Lutful Ahasan, alumnus

“During the Master’s programme the theoretical breadth of knowledge delivered was perfectly matched with the practical sessions that we undertook. The professors and technical staff were spot on with their delivery of information and their engaging manner during lectures and practicals. This combined with the hardworking and ever available secretariat, made the IPMB course one of the best educational decisions I ever made. I still remember nostalgically our trips to the different laboratories in the Flanders region to get to know more about the scientific community and to network for our Master’s thesis projects, which under the guidance of our course organisers was combined with a wonderful experience of the Flemish cultural history of the various towns the laboratories were situated in. It is essentially these and other numerous experiences during the Master’s course that enabled me to confidently undertake my current PhD topic on characterising various surface proteins from the malaria parasite under the Cellular and Molecular Immunology (CMIM) laboratory. IPMB gave me the necessary impetus and experience to embark on this journey into the molecular way of learning about the biological sciences. My scientific saga is still unfolding...”
Christopher Kinyanjui Kariuki, PhD student at Vrije Universiteit Brussel


"The Molecular Biology master programme provided me good background knowledge for my future career. The lectures itself are quite broad because the students normally come from a wide range of background. On my side, the biggest benefit of the programme as you study in a foreign country is that you have many opportunities to get in contact with people and laboratories doing research in many different topics. If you are ambitious and good enough, doing a PhD might be your next chapter in life. Doing PhD is tough, make up your mind before going for it. If you chose to do so, I wish you all the best."
Hung Nguyen, alumnus


"One of my favourite research topics is the understanding of how pathogenic bacteria survive our body’s defense system. Once pathogens enter our body, they use reducing pathways to oppose the oxidative stress caused by our immune cells. After joining the Messens lab, my research focuses on the detailed characterization of specific enzymes from C. diphtheriae, that help in recovering the function of proteins after being damaged by oxidative stress. Recently, we were able to show how one of these enzymes couples to two independent reducing systems using unique mechanisms. One of our long term aims is to understand pathways involved in protecting pathogens from oxidative stress. These detailed studies could lead to the prevention of bacteria from outsmarting our immune cells".
Maria Tossounian, alumnus


"Studying for a master’s degree gave me a wider perspective of all the different branches of molecular biology. From those, the so-called “omics” technologies like genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics,… caught my attention. The unprecedented amount of information these technologies are producing has the potential to unravel some of the most elusive biological mysteries. This overwhelming amount of information can only be handled with the help of informatics approaches. The latter when applied to biological topics is called bioinformatics. And that is precisely what I currently use as the main tool in my PhD research.
Across all living organisms, there is a wide variation in their proteome size (total number of expressed proteins). Proteome size is influenced by the diversity of environmental conditions and the diversity of protein functions required. Due to the link between protein function and structure, for example gene regulation and high structural disorder, the protein functions in a proteome influence its structural features. Thus, organisms living in relatively stable environments without a need of complex regulatory systems tend to have smaller proteomes and low structural disorder content.
As a PhD student in a laboratory specialized in structural biology, my research project is about analyzing several structural features of the proteome of different organisms. Through different computational algorithms, we can predict protein structural features such as aggregation tendency that can have a detrimental effect when present in relatively high-abundant proteins. We combine these predictions with protein abundance information to demonstrate which protein structural feature acts as a liming factor to set the minimum proteome size during evolution."

Mauricio Macossay Castillo

During your studies, you have the opportunity to broaden your horizon by spending time abroad for courses, internship or even your Master's thesis. Within Europe, the Bioengineering Department has Erasmus+ mobility agreements with the following universities:

However, multiple possibilities also exist for stays outside of Europe.

For more information you can contact:

Exchange Coordinator Bioengineering Sciences

Coordinator Internationalisation - Faculty of Sciences and Bioengineering Sciences