17th EMBL PhD Symposium
Just by Chance?
Randomness & Variability Shaping Biology
22nd–24th October, 2015
EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
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About the Symposium

Since its inception in 2000, the annual EMBL PhD Symposium has grown into a well-respected meeting of early-career scientists and high-profile speakers. The aim of this year's symposium is to explore the importance of randomness and variability in biology.

To survive and thrive, living systems must navigate the fine line between order and chaos. On the one hand, the stochastic nature of chemistry gives rise to the diversity that fuels adaptation and creativity, from symmetry breaking in tissue development to the emergence of novel genes in evolution. On the other hand, stochasticity threatens the integrity of organised structures and the reliability of controlled processes, necessitating repair mechanisms, checkpoint control systems and feedback loops.

Whether the result of a random event or of controlled divergence, variability is a fundamental characteristic of living matter. Differences between molecules, between cells, and between individuals are essential for the proper functioning of biological systems. Seemingly homogeneous populations, when studied more closely, exhibit remarkable levels of diversity, and technical advances are increasingly enabling such inquiries.

In short, living systems must robustly maintain their internal organisation, yet remain flexible to respond and adapt to the challenges of a dynamic environment. The balance between these opposing requirements shapes life across all scales, from molecules to ecosystems, and its investigation is central to modern biological research.

Characterised by the diverse backgrounds of its organisers, the EMBL PhD symposium has always made multidisciplinarity one of its hallmarks. By bringing together leading scientists who tackle issues of randomness and variability from different perspectives, we seek to enable an exchange of ideas and inspire early-career researchers to see biological systems from a new point of view.


(More to be announced...)

Dr. Peter Fraser

Babraham Institute

After a group leader position at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Peter Fraser has moved to the Babraham Institute in Cambridge in 1999 to become Head of the Laboratory of Chromatin and Gene Expression. He is currently Head of the Nuclear Dynamics Program at the same institute. His group research is focused on various levels of chromatin, chromosome and nuclear structure, from individual nucleosome modifications to the dynamic 3D structure of chromosomes and their inter-relationships in the nucleus and how they affect genome functions.


The backbone of the symposium will consist of fifteen expert lectures, three of which will explore the interplay between research and the society at large. The science lectures will explore the theme of randomness and variability in biology from a wide range of different perspectives. They will furthermore be supported by ten short talks, selected from among the participants’ poster abstracts.

To allow for a more engaging contact between speakers and participants, each day will be concluded by a blackboard session and a panel discussion. The blackboard sessions involve each of the speakers of a given day sitting down with a smaller group of participants, opening the possibility for an informal exploration of the lecture’s topic.

The meeting will be completed by ample opportunities for speakers and participants to communicate and intermingle during breaks, an evening visit to historical Heidelberg, a tour of the EMBL facilities, and the closing party.

Day 1, Thursday, October 22nd

08:00-09:00 Registration
09:00-09:25 Symposium Opening & Welcome
09:25-10:20 Keynote Lecture 1: TBA
10:20-10:40 Short Talk 1: TBA
10:40-11:00 Coffee Break
11:00-11:45 Lecture 1: TBA
11:45-12:45 Poster Session 1
12:45-14:05 Lunch Break
14:05-14:50 Lecture 2: TBA
14:50-15:10 Short Talk 2: TBA
15:10-15:55 Lecture 3: TBA
15:55-16:15 Coffee Break
16:15-17:00 Lecture 4: TBA
17:00-17:20 Short Talk 3: TBA
17:20-17:40 Coffee Break
17:40-18:30 Blackboard Session 1
18:30-19:15 Panel Discussion 1
19:15 Dinner
Evening Social Evening in Downtown Heidelberg

Day 2, Friday, October 23rd

09:00-09:10 Introduction to the Day
09:10-10:05 Keynote Lecture 2: TBA
10:05-10:25 Short Talk 4: TBA
10:25-10:45 Coffee Break
10:45-11:30 Lecture 5: TBA
11:30-12:30 Poster Session 2
12:30-13:45 Lunch Break
13:45-14:30 Lecture 6: TBA
14:30-14:50 Short Talk 5: TBA
14:50-15:35 Lecture 7: TBA
15:35-15:55 Coffee Break
15:55-16:15 Short Talk 6: TBA
16:15-17:00 Lecture 8: TBA
17:00-17:20 Short Talk 7: TBA
17:20-17:40 Coffee Break
17:40-18:30 Blackboard Session
17:30-19:15 Panel Discussion
19:15 Dinner
Evening EMBL Guided Tour

Day 3, Saturday, October 24th

09:00-09:10 Introduction to the Day
09:10-10:05 Keynote Lecture 3: TBA
10:05-10:25 Short Talk 8: TBA
10:25-10:45 Coffee Break
10:45-11:30 Lecture 9: TBA
11:30-12:30 Workshops
12:30-13:40 Lunch Break
13:40-14:25 Lecture 10: TBA
14:25-14:45 Short Talk 9: TBA
14:45-15:30 Lecture 11: TBA
15:30-15:50 Coffee Break
15:50-16:35 Lecture 12: TBA
16:35-16:55 Short Talk 10: TBA
16:55-17:15 Coffee Break
17:15-18:05 Blackboard Session
18:05-18:50 Panel Discussion
18:50-19:15 Symposium Closing
19:15 Dinner
Evening Closing Party

Travel and Accommodation

How to get to Heidelberg

Heidelberg is easily reached by train, car or plane from any country in the world. The EMBL campus is located in Heidelberg's neighbourhood area of Boxberg which is approximately 10 minutes by car from Heidelberg's city centre.

Reaching us by train, plane, car

Travel Documents and Visas

Prior to travelling to Germany, some applicants from certain countries may have to acquire special travel documents, such as a visa. Applicants are strongly encouraged to check with the local German Authorities (Embassies or Consulates) about the need of special travelling documents. Since the process may be time consuming, applicants are advised to make such arrangements as soon as possible. Failure to obtain a visa after the deadline for participation in the conference will not result in a refund. Applicants are responsible for providing the right documentation needed for their entry into Germany. However, upon request, the Organizing Committee can issue a formal letter of acceptance to the symposium for the purposes of obtaining a visa. Please be aware that no visa letters will be issued before payment of the registration fee. The organizing committee can not be held responsible in the case of a refusal by German authorities to enter German territory.


The registration fees do not include accommodation and it has to be personally arranged. However, if you are happy to share a double room with a fellow participant, rooms have been pre-booked at the EMBL/ISG hotel near EMBL. Please contact us (not the hotel) if you would like to stay at the ISG hotel.
Please note that a shuttle bus will run between EMBL and the ISG Hotel during the conference.


Registration opens on January 28th, 2015.

A confirmation email will be sent to registrants once the registration is received. If you are interested in giving a talk or presenting a poster which you think fits nicely into the Symposium's general theme, please submit a short abstract (up to 2000 characters) describing your project.

Registration includes all meals and coffee breaks, as well as transportation to the venue from the ISG Hotel.

Open until September 6th
Academia Fee €150
Industry Fee €200
Abstract submission deadline: August 21st


If you are part of the EMBL staff, you can register through the intranet here.

Financial support

A limited number of fee waivers and travel grants are available for the meeting. If you are interested, please apply via email. Awardees will be selected based on the scientific merit of the abstract with advantages for participants from less affluent countries.

Any further questions?

For more details about abstract submission, oral presentations and poster sessions, financial support and travel information please refer to our FAQs page.

Abstract submission

Please note:

  • The 2,000-character limit refers to manually typed text (including spaces).
  • Please enter your co-authors correctly via the system by clicking the "add co-author" link. DO NOT copy-paste them into the body of the abstract text, as they will not be indexed in the abstract book.
  • Copy-paste text may include hidden formatting that exceeds the character limit. We recommend either:
    • saving as 'text only' in your editor or e-mail programme, OR
    • copy-pasting it into Notepad and then onto the website.
    • Some web browsers do not accept abstracts close to the 2,000-character count.
  • If you have special symbols in your text, please ensure you are using Unicode characters, otherwise these will not be recognised.


Sponsorship Information

The EMBL PhD symposium will provide an invaluable networking environment for your company to enhance the profile amongst the molecular biosciences research community, especially towards the young generation. The symposium will offer prime opportunities for your company to promote your new products, latest technology, and services. A sponsorship brochure featuring various sponsorship packages will be available here soon.

The Company of Biologists eLife EMBL EMBO Enzo The Galton Institute Lonza Zymo Research

Media partners:

GIT Labor-Fachzeitschrift

Also kindly supported by:

EMBL CPP's founder partners

Leica Olypus

EMBL CPP's corporate partners

Becton Dickinson GE Healthcare gsk illumina

EMBL CPP's associate partners

eppendorf life technologies Merck Serono Nikon Sanofi ThermoFisher


PhD Symposium 2015

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