Understanding the molecular basis of life

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 that deals with the structure and function of molecules as well as their interplay in creating the phenomenon of life. The Interuniversity Programme in Molecular Biology (IPMB), although originally designed to meet the needs of students from developing countries, is a great opportunity for those seeking re-orientation to enter the fascinating world of molecular biology. IPMB aims to strengthen the theoretical and practical skills of young scientists, mainly from developing countries, who are already involved in human or animal health care or agricultural research.

The programme is jointly organised by KULeuven (www.kuleuven.be/kuleuven),  Vrije Universiteit Brussel (www.vub.ac.be) and Universiteit Antwerpen (www.ua.ac.be).

New Master's programme from 2018-2019 onwards

In 2018-2019 two scientific programmes will join forces: The Master in Molecular Biology and The Master in Biomolecular Sciences will merge to a high-level scientific programme with strong multidisciplinary courses that combine a theoretical formation with research-oriented skills. Students can choose between the Profile Biotechnology for Global Health and the Profile Agro- and Plant Biotechnology.

Steven Odongo, PhD student

”The need to combat the prevailing diseases such as cholera, ebola, polio and African trypanosomosis were the key driving forces that compelled me to pursue further training. Through a VLIR-UOS scholarship, I set foot at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel where I was trained 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 to 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.”

Students as scientists

The programme content has been developed by several outstanding and multidisciplinary scientific teams. The advanced courses and electives are taught by leading researchers with a proven scientific track record, thus contributing to the research-oriented nature of the programme.
The two-year Interuniversity Master in Molecular Biology requires full-time attendance and active participation in lectures and discovery-based laboratory work to develop the mentality that drives the progress of science.

During practical training, problem-solving formats are used in which students work together to make observations and to analyze experimental results. Students who learn via problem-solving formats demonstrate better problem-solving ability, conceptual understanding and success in subsequent courses than those who learn in traditional, passive ways.


Sciences and Bioengineering Sciences

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The Interuniversity Programme in Molecular Biology is structured over two academic years. In view of the diverse background of its students, a pre-test in week 1 of the 1st year is organised to test the student’s previous knowledge in mathematics, statistics, biochemistry, molecular biology and experimental research skills. Any deficiencies will result in a compulsory orientation towards certain electives.
By the end of the first year, students will have obtained the level of knowledge required to successfully take part in the advanced common core and specialised courses of the second year. Intensive training in the first year provides students with the laboratory skills to prepare a thesis in the second year.

An in-depth overview of the 2018-2019 programme structure and courses can be found in the link here.

Research Management Skills

Our students learn to perform and manage research in a multidisciplinary and international context. We train them in various aspects of research communication and research management. This part of the programme includes a full course on Research Communication Skills (3 ECTS) and a full course on Project Writing and Management (5 ECTS).

Dissertation or Master's Thesis

Under the direction and supervision of a promoter, students carry out an independent research project and prepare a dissertation: a written account of the research and its results. During the experimental part of the thesis, you learn to plan and perform experiments and critically interpret the results. You also learn to report both orally and in written, prepare presentations and summarize literature data. You learn to present your 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 variety of possible research topics, the student is free to choose any lab, which does not necessarily have to belong to one of the three partner universities.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes describe the intended knowledge and understanding, skills and attitudes that you must master after completing your studies.

Do you want to know more about the specific learning outcomes of this programme? Click here for more information.


A master degree opens doors in many different branches and sectors. You will be able to work in the private sector, (non-) governmental organisations, or continue your academic career as a PhD researcher. Not sure what your next step should be? The VUB helps you with your first steps on the job market.

After graduation, you will be able to contribute to the improvement of human health or plant production through a molecular biological approach. You will know how to appraise the scientific and social aspects of applied molecular biology. We train our students so they can cope with a wide range of scientific problems as well as the development of preventive strategies, diagnostic techniques and therapies while being aware of the ethical issues related to this field. A critical mind will allow you to consider and reflect on existing and new theories within the study field and will help you to solve global problems or issues that both developing and developed countries are facing.


Scientific research in the Brussels-Capital Region is mainly geared towards highly specialised sectors and advanced technologies. Molecular Biology is a rapidly developing discipline in modern life science, and companies need ambitious scientists who understand cellular processes, biological molecules and their interactions.
The problem-solving formats in the programme and courses such as Research Communication Skills are intended to help you to continue your career in research.
Graduates find employment in universities, hospitals, private and governmental research laboratories and patenting bureaus. They can work in the R&D department of a pharmaceutical, food or biotech company, work on environmental protection, develop state-of-the-art equipment in biotechnology, be part of a sales and marketing department or work as lecturers, consultants and advisors to policy makers. Many graduates start a PhD programme in Belgium or abroad.



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Christopher Kinyanjui Kariuki, PhD student

”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…”

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Admission criteria

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: 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.


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.

For more details on admission requirements and application

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The Vrije Universiteit Brussel participates in many scholarship programmes offerring grants to all levels of study (from Bachelor to Academic Staff), in various regions, both for short and longer stays. For more specific and detailed information, consult the VUB Scholarships page or the websites of the Belgian Development Agency and Study in Flanders.