How is the course structured?
It is similar to all Natural Science disciplines: Biology students cannot avoid the fundamentals of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. They spend a good part of the first semester sitting in lectures considering the acid-bases-balance, thermodynamic states, and integral calculus. The first few semesters also serve as the basic training in the fundamental Biology disciplines of Zoology, Botany, Genetics, Cell Biology, Microbiology and Ecology. Students consolidate and develop this expertise in exercises. Practical content occupies more than half of the timetable. Students often also have to go to the lab during the semester breaks, as most universities arrange block courses in this time. In the lab, they learn how to work in sterile conditions, create cell cultures, and duplicate genetic material. In the zoological foundation work placement, the "dissection course", they dissect worms, frogs and fish, and study their anatomy. "I found it very enlightening," recalls Luise Schulte, who is in her fourth semester of studying Biology at the University of Dresden. "You could really see how organs became increasingly complex in their development." Plant identification exercises are as much a part of the course as field trips lasting several days ? to the Alps or North Sea, for example. "I find the practical side of things the most fun ? regardless of whether we are working at the microscope or breeding drosophila," reveals Alexa Hasenbach, who is studying at the University of Münster. From the second half of the Bachelor's course, the aspiring biologists can decide on a specialisation, whereby the scope and content of these varies from university to university. At the University of Würzburg, for example, the courses comprises nothing by optional subjects from the fourth semester, which can be selected from more than 20 areas of study. In Bremen, Kiel and Rostock, a specialisation in Marine Biology is offered; in Bremen, Aachen and Freiburg, one in Bionics. To prove their expertise in experimental work, students write up their experiments; they sometimes also take oral exams. Lecturers assess the students' grasp of the lecture material at the end of the semester in exams; presentations and coursework are standard in seminars. Some universities require students to complete a vocational work placement during the course. Latest in their third year of study, students spend time in the university labs, research institutes or industry to gain an insight into the research. "I worked in Switzerland for a work group for experimental neurorehabilitation, which researches possible treatments for back injuries," recalls Münster student, Alexa Hasenbach. Most of those who obtain a Bachelor's degree go on to take the Master's course. Around two dozen universities offer a general Master's degree in Biology: these include courses offering a whole range of options, as well as courses that are more structured, affording a higher proportion of compulsory modules, i.e. a great deal of the content is fixed. "It is important to consider the content and specialisations offered at the individual universities before reaching a decision," advises Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, Professor for Molecular Genetics at the Leibniz-University Hanover. This also applies for the specialist and interdisciplinary Master's courses: they range from Cellular and Molecular Biology (e.g. in Bielefeld, Heidelberg and Marburg) to Biotechnology (in Aachen and Munich), from Bioinformatics (in Freiburg, Potsdam, Saarbrücken) to Biomedicine (as in Erlangen and Hanover). Aspiring teachers must also inform themselves well, as the degree is structured differently in each federal state.
Sound knowledge of the animal and plant worlds is as important to biologists today as it was in the past. However, without the research in biodiversity with its modern molecular methods, the subject is no longer conceivable. Hence specialised Bachelor's courses have been created in recent years in addition to the general degrees in Biology. These include the courses in Plant Biotechnology at the University of Hanover and the course in Molecular Biotechnology at the TU Munich. There is also a growing trend towards specialisation in the Master's courses, whereby the faculties attempt to emphasise their research strengths and thus promote their profile. Bioinformatics and modern analysis techniques meanwhile assume an important role in all bioscience degrees. "Modern procedures such as surface plasmon resonance (SPR) spectroscopy allow for the interaction between hormone molecules and receptions to be observed in real time," tells Biology professor, Hans-Jörg Jacobsen. "Our students are already working with this." New Master's courses have not only developed from Biology though: fields such as Chemistry, Medicine, Physics, Agricultural Sciences and Engineering Sciences also offer bioscience courses such as Biochemistry, Biophysics, Biosystem Technology, Nanoscience, and Molecular Medicine.
Aptitude, obstacles, misconceptions
Biology is a complex, interdisciplinary science, which requires an understanding of Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics ? there's limits to how far you can get by merely swotting up though, lecturers emphasise. And yet many of those to start the course, including Alexa Hasenbach, name this as their greatest challenge. "The mountain of material that I had to learn off by heart for the foundation modules initially scared me a little," she recalls. "In later semesters, you have more time to go into a subject; to question and understand it." There's no way of avoiding Molecular Biology, even if a specialisation in Zoology or Botany is selected. "Students must be able to think in terms of genetics in all disciplines," stresses Hans-Jörg Jacobsen. "It's not possible to say 'I want to study Marine Biology, to protect animals and nothing else.'" The work in the lab and nature requires dexterity; the handling of organisms a great deal of care and a sense of responsibility. "Students should be prepared for the fact that they will work with dead animals during the course," warns Dresden student, Luise Schulte. "It can take some getting used to." Most of the specialist literature is in English, and courses are also often taught in English. Some Master's courses are entirely in a foreign language, such as the degree in Molecular Biosciences in Heidelberg and, from the coming winter semester, the degree in Life Science in Würzburg. Admission restrictions apply everywhere for the degree in Biology. Most universities mainly select their students according to the marks obtained in the Abitur school leaving certificate giving right of entry to higher education; in the 2011/12 winter semester, the numerus clausus was a 1.9 or higher at some universities. Thanks to their broad education, students of Biology can choose from over 500 bioscience-based Master's courses. There is no shortage of study places nationally, though demand can be higher at individual establishments. Many universities require a mark of at least 2.5 or 3.0 in the Bachelor's degree. Most universities also take additional qualifications such vocational training or a letter of motivation into account for their Master's courses.
A PhD is the norm among biologists. Around three quarters of Master's graduates go on to do a PhD, which normally takes at least three years. To reduce this training time, some universities are meanwhile offering fast-track PhD courses, which allow top students to bypass the Master's degree or to complete this more quickly to allow them to begin the PhD sooner. During the doctoral phase, biologists tend to initially hold a time-limited, often badly paid position, mostly at a university or research institute but sometimes also in industry. In 2010, the Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH conducted a survey of Biology students who graduated the previous year, according to which almost 70 per cent of graduates had found a job by then. The starting salary lay at 25,700 EUR. Biotechnology is considered a growth sector. "The number of biotech companies has doubled in the past five years," reveals assistant professor Alois Palmetshofer, who is the Biology department's career coordinator at the University of Würzburg. "New jobs have also been created at these for biologists." In medium-sized companies, graduates often manage a lab and have personnel responsibilities. In the pharmaceutical industry, they research diseases on a molecular level and develop so-called biologicals such as antibodies, which could be of interest for treatments. Others take care of the approval of drugs: they coordinate clinical studies and prepare expert reports. Biologists also work as representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. Jobs in environmental protection are much sought after. These exist within public offices, local authorities and nature protection associations as well as within government-funded environmental projects, for example. Often not only scientific expertise is required here, but also precise knowledge of the laws and regulations.
studienfuehrer-bio.de: All biology courses in the German-speaking world.
vbio.de:Website of the German Life Sciences Association (Verband Biologie, Biowissenschaften und Biomedizin ? VBiO).
The subject in the CHE ExcellenceRanking