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Studying Biology in Germany

Biologists explore everything that is alive.
An article by Maren Wernecke in collaboration with Jan Ludwig

Studying Biology in Germany
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Biology / Bioscience

That is what it’s about

Humans, animals and plants: biologists are interested in everything that is alive. They research the relationships between organisms and their interactions with the environment. They study molecules and cells as well as complex organisms and ecosystems. The traditional disciplines appear on the curriculum at the beginning: zoology, botany, genetics, cell and developmental biology, evolutionary biology, microbiology and ecology. In the laboratory, students learn how to work in sterile conditions, create cell cultures and duplicate genetic material; in microscopy courses, they draw the cross-sections of leaves or roots; in the stage I zoology practical, known as the snip course, they dissect worms, frogs and fish to understand their anatomy. "As a future biologist, you need to get a feel for organs, cells and tissue of all kinds," says Alois Palmetshofer, spokesperson for the conference of Biology departments in Germany. The basic principles of bioinformatics are now taught at almost all universities. Another part of the studies are excursions, whether in the vicinity of the university, to the Alps or the North Sea. Studies also include bioethical principles because ethical questions arise quickly in Biology – regardless of whether embryo protection or dealing with experimental animals is involved. Starting from around the fourth semester, students in Germany choose their own specialisations such as marine biology, neurobiology, botany or immunology, although the possible topics vary from university to university. Students can then pursue more in-depth specialisations in the Master's. At the latest in the third academic year, students collaborate in academic groups: at the university, in other research institutions or in industry. They often also go abroad for a few months. "Research is almost always conducted in groups," says Palmetshofer: "No one ever reaches a result in Biology alone."

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suitability, obstacles, misconceptions

Anyone who studies Biology needs a basic understanding of mathematics, chemistry and physics. The studies also include differential equations, electrochemical potentials and optics. The abundance of material is also often perceived as a challenge. On the other hand, once students have understood the essentials in a subject, they can recognise relations everywhere and draw many logical conclusions. The laboratory work requires skill, dealing with organisms requires conscientiousness and care. Working with dead animals is difficult for some students in the stage I practical in Zoology. Biology students should be interested in modern molecular methods since they will encounter them again and again. Even if students choose zoological or botanical specialisations, genetics are involved. Most Bachelor's degree courses in Biology have course entrance restrictions, often requiring grades in the two range. There are also, however, programmes in Germany without course entrance restrictions.

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