Game Changers
20th EMBL PhD Symposium
Game Changers
Taking Life Sciences to the Next Level
22nd–24th November, 2018
EMBL Heidelberg, Germany


About the Symposium

Join us for the 20th Anniversary of the annual EMBL PhD Symposium. Since its conception in 1999, the EMBL PhD Symposium has evolved into a highly respected scientific meeting, connecting young researchers and high-profile scientists alike. This year, we invite you to celebrate revolutionary ideas in molecular life sciences and explore the game-changing ideas that are shaping the face of modern science.

Over the last decade, we have seen many breakthroughs in the life sciences, much of these the consequence of collaborative, multi-disciplinary research. This year’s annual symposium will celebrate some of these breakthroughs, and share and discuss the up-and-coming ideas in science. We have an exciting line up of speakers confirmed from Nobel Laureate Professor Stefan W. Hell, to celebrated author Professor Nick Lane, to project leader of the ATLAS Detector Experiment at CERN, Professor Pippa Wells.

The meeting aims to showcase exciting and groundbreaking research, from Master's projects all the way to Nobel Prize winning work. It is an opportunity to meet the game changers in modern science and to network with the next generation of scientists. With a broad theme, we hope to encourage many young researchers from across the sciences to showcase their research, stimulate cross-disciplinary discussion and meet scientists from diverse backgrounds to share ideas.

Come and join us at the 20th EMBL PhD Symposium, for three days of exciting and game-changing science.

This symposium has been financially supported by Bayer AG.

Confirmed speakers

Stefan W. Hell Stefan W. Hell Claire Wyart Claire Wyart Ewan Birney Ewan Birney Nick Lane Nick Lane Sarah Teichmann Sarah Teichmann Martin Lenz Martin Lenz Rebecca Fitzgerald Rebecca Fitzgerald Chibeza C. Agley Chibeza C. Agley Julia Mahamid Julia Mahamid Hugh Kearns Hugh Kearns Pippa Wells Pippa Wells Amos Abolaji Amos Abolaji Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard George Kassiotis George Kassiotis Martin Jinek Martin Jinek
Photo of Stefan W. Hell

Professor Stefan W. Hell

Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry & Max Planck Institute for Medical Research - Germany

Stefan W. Hell is a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. He is credited with having conceived, validated and applied the first viable concept for breaking Abbe’s diffraction-limited resolution barrier in a light-focusing microscope. He has received several awards for his game changing work, including the 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Photo of Claire Wyart

EMBO Young Investigator Lecture

Dr Claire Wyart

Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière – ICM (Brain & Spine Institute) - France

Claire Wyart is a group leader at the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (ICM). She is developing methods for monitoring and manipulating neuronal activity in the zebrafish larva to study the integration of information from the brain, the periphery and the internal cues into neuronal circuits that modulate locomotion and posture as a function of our inner physiological states. Claire is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and prizes, including the 2016 New York Stem Cell Foundation Robertson Innovation in Neuroscience Award and the 2017 Young Investigator Award from the European Molecular Biology Organisation.

Photo of Ewan Birney

EMBO Keynote Lecture

Dr Ewan Birney

European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) - UK

Ewan Birney is Director of EMBL-EBI (together with Dr Rolf Apweiler) and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He played a vital role in annotating the genome sequences of human, mouse and several other organisms and led the analysis group for the ENCODE project. He has received a number of prestigious awards for his work including the 2003 Francis Crick Award from the Royal Society. Ewan is also a consultant and advisor to a number of companies including Oxford Nanopore Technologies.

Photo of Nick Lane

Professor Nick Lane

University College London - UK

Nick Lane is Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. Professor Lane predominantly works to investigate how energy flow has shaped evolution over four billion years, using a mixture of theoretical and experimental work to address the origin of life, the evolution of complex cells and downright peculiar behaviour such as sex. He was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research, and is Co-Director of the UCL Centre for Life’s Origin and Evolution (CLOE). He has received numerous awards, including the 2016 Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture, the UK’s premier award for excellence in communicating science. Professor Lane has written four celebrated books for the general public, which have been translated into 30 languages.

Photo of Sarah Teichmann

Dr Sarah Teichmann

Wellcome Sanger Institute - UK

Sarah Teichmann is Head of Cellular Genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and co-chair of the Human Cell Atlas Consortium. Her research focuses on deciphering the immune system with genomics and bioinformatics approaches on the single cell level. Sarah is also a Director of Research in the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge and Senior Research Fellow at Churchill College. Her work has been recognised by a number of international awards including the Lister Prize and the Biochemical Society Colworth Medal.

Photo of Martin Lenz

EMBO Young Investigator Lecture

Dr Martin Lenz

LPTMS, CNRS & University Paris-Sud - France

Martin Lenz is a group leader at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Université Paris-Sud. By producing robust theoretical results insensitive to unknown molecular detail, he aims to understand the non-equilibrium mechanisms responsible for the dynamics of the cytoskeleton and the mechanics of protein-induced cell membrane remodelling. Martin has received a number of prestigious awards for his work including the 2016 Young Investigator Award from European Molecular Biology Organisation.

Photo of Rebecca Fitzgerald

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald

MRC Cancer Unit, University of Cambridge - UK

Rebecca Fitzgerald is Professor of Cancer Prevention at the University of Cambridge. Rebecca continues to practice medicine and is an Honorary Consultant in Gastroenterology, Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge. The focus of her research is to improve methods for early detection of oesophageal cancer through better understanding of the molecular pathogenesis. Rebecca was awarded the prestigious Westminster medal and prize for her first proof of concept work on the Cytosponge™ and associated assays for diagnosing Barrett’s oesophagus in 2004. Rebecca is committed to bringing research advances into clinical practice and inspiring other researchers to do likewise.

Photo of Chibeza C. Agley

Dr Chibeza C. Agley

CamBioScience & University of Cambridge - UK

Chibeza Chintu Agley is the founder CEO of the start-up software company CamBioScience Limited and a Fellow of Homerton College, University of Cambridge. CamBioScience has built a cloud learning platform that combines cutting-edge and internationally sourced content with custom-built Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Video Reality technology to meet the demands of the rapidly advancing fields of science and technology. Chibeza Agley has received several research awards prior to founding CamBioScience, including the Colt Foundation Prize for Best Research Project and the Tadien Rideal Prize for outstanding doctoral research in molecular science.

Photo of Julia Mahamid

Dr Julia Mahamid

European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg - Germany

Julia Mahamid is a group leader in the Structural and Computational Biology Unit of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Her research primarily uses cellular cryo-electron tomography to provide a structural understanding of fundamental questions in cell biology. In recognition of her work, Julia has received multiple awards, including the MPIB Junior Research Award from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) and the European Microscopy Society (EMS) Outstanding Paper Award.

Photo of Hugh Kearns

Dr Hugh Kearns

iThinkWell & Flinders University - Australia

Hugh Kearns is recognised internationally as a public speaker, educator and researcher. He regularly lectures at leading universities across the world. His areas of expertise include self-management, positive psychology, work-life balance, learning and creativity. He draws on over twenty five years of experience as a leading training and development professional within the corporate, financial, education and health sectors in Ireland, Scotland, North America, New Zealand and Australia. Hugh lectures and researches at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. He is widely recognised for his ability to take the latest research in psychology and education and apply it to high-performing people and groups.

Photo of Pippa Wells

EMBO Women in Science Lecture

Dr Pippa Wells

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) - Switzerland

Pippa Wells is an ATLAS experimental particle physicist and the Head of Member State Relations at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). After completing her doctorate at the University of Cambridge, Dr Wells joined CERN as a fellow to work on the OPAL experiment at the LEP collider. She subsequently joined the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. For a number of years, she was project leader of the inner tracking detector, which measures charged particles as they emerge from the interaction point, and which played a crucial role in the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. More recently, she led the studies to demonstrate the physics potential of a high-luminosity upgrade of the LHC. In 2016, she took on the role of Head of Member State Relations at CERN.

Photo of Amos Abolaji

EMBO Science Policy Lecture

Dr Amos Abolaji

College of Medicine, University of Ibadan - Nigeria

Dr Amos Olalekan Abolaji is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, researching the mechanisms by which environmental toxins contribute to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases and female reproductive dysfunctions. Since 2014, as a DrosAfrica trust collaborator, he has been training selected African researchers on the use of D. melanogaster in biomedical research, and has freely distributed different strains of flies to their institutions. Dr Abolaji is a recipient of several awards including CNPq-TWAS Postdoctoral Fellowship and a member of Society of Toxicology, Society For Redox Biology and Medicine, and European Teratology Society.

Photo of Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

Professor Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen - Germany

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard leads an emeritus research group at the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology in Tübingen, focusing on the formation of color patterns in fish. From 1978 to 1981 she was a group leader at EMBL Heidelberg and later moved on to work as Director of the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology at Tübingen. For the discovery of genes that control development and the demonstration of morphogen gradients in the fly embryo she received a number of awards and honours, among others the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award and the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology together with Eric Wieschaus and Edward Lewis in 1995. To support women with children in science she founded the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard-Stiftung (Foundation) in 2004.

Photo of George Kassiotis

Professor George Kassiotis

Francis Crick Institute & Imperial College London - UK

George Kassiotis is currently a Senior Group Leader and head of the laboratory of Retroviral Immunology at the Francis Crick Institute, London, UK. He is also a Professor of Retrovirology, at the Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, UK, and recipient of a New Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust, UK. His laboratory's work concentrates on innate and adaptive immune responses to endogenous and exogenous retroviruses, as well as the broader evolutionary impact of endogenous retro-elements on the development and function of host immunity.

Photo of Martin Jinek

Professor Martin Jinek

University of Zurich - Switzerland

Martin Jinek is Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Zurich. His research explores two main topics – (i) CRISPR-Cas systems and their use as a genome editing technology, and (ii) RNA processing and modification mechanisms in eukaryotic gene expression. Martin Jinek studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and obtained his PhD from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. His postdoctoral research with Prof. Jennifer Doudna at the University of California at Berkeley led to the discovery of the biochemical function of the CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9, and was pivotal for the development of the CRISPR-Cas genome editing technology. Since starting his research group at the University of Zurich in 2013, Martin Jinek has used structural and biochemical approaches to study the molecular mechanisms of CRISPR-Cas genome editor nucleases.


Day 1, Thursday, November 22nd

08:00-09:00 Registration
09:00-09:30 Symposium Opening & Welcome

Gamechanging Biotech

09:30-10:30 The EMBO Keynote Lecture: Ewan Birney
Big data in biology
10:30-10:45 Short Talk: TBA
10:45-11:15 Coffee Break
11:15-12:00 Lecture: Chibeza Agley
A Life Scientist’s Guide to the (Software) Galaxy: A start-up journey from bench to the Cloud
12:00-12:15 Short Talk: TBA
12:15-13:45 Lunch

Science and Society

13:45-14:30 Lecture: Hugh Kearns
The seven secrets of highly successful research students

Uncovering the Mechanisms of Life

14:30-15:30 Lecture: Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard
How fish colour their skin: A paradigm for development and evolution of adult patterns
15:30-16:00 Coffee Break & Round Table Discussion
16:00-16:45 The EMBO Young Investigator Lecture: Claire Wyart
Light on an ancestral sensory interface linking cerebrospinal fluid to motor circuits in vertebrates
16:45-17:00 Short Talk: TBA
17:00-17:15 Short Talk: TBA
17:15-17:30 Flash Talks: TBA
17:30-19:00 Poster Session
19:00-20:00 Dinner
20:00 Evening Programme: Tour of Heidelberg

Day 2, Friday, November 23rd

Medical Breakthroughs

09:00-09:45 Lecture: George Kassiotis
A million-year long infection
09:45-10:30 The EMBO Young Investigator Lecture: Martin Lenz
Slimming down through frustration
10:30-11:00 Coffee Break
11:00-11:15 Short Talk: TBA
11:15-11:30 Short Talk: TBA
11:30-12:30 Lecture: Rebecca Fitzgerald
How a sponge on a string coupled with molecular biomarkers could change the paradigm for early detection of oesophageal cancer
12:30-13:30 Lunch

Science and Society

13:30-14:15 The EMBO Science Policy Lecture: Amos Abolaji
Building the next generation of African fly researchers

The Big Data Revolution

14:15-15:15 Lecture: Sarah Teichmann
Travelling through tissues one cell at a time: the Human Cell Atlas and barrier tissues
15:15-15:45 Coffee Break & Round Table Discussion
15:45-16:00 Short Talk: TBA
16:00-16:15 Short Talk: TBA
16:15-16:30 Short Talk: TBA
16:30-16:45 Flash Talks: TBA
16:45-18:15 Poster Session
18:15-19:30 Dinner
19:30 Evening Programme: Pub Quiz Night

Day 3, Saturday, November 24th

Cutting-edge Imaging

10:00-11:00 Lecture: Stefan W. Hell
A minimum for maximum resolution
11:00-11:15 Short Talk: TBA
11:15-11:45 Coffee Break
11:45-12:00 Short Talk: TBA
12:00-12:45 Lecture: Julia Mahamid
Molecular views into cellular function by in situ cryo-electron tomography
12:45-13:45 Lunch

Science and Society

13:45-14:30 The EMBO Women in Science Lecture: Pippa Wells
14:30-15:00 Panel Session
15:00-15:15 Coffee Break

Revolutionary ideas and approaches in biology

15:30-16:30 Lecture: Nick Lane
A bioenergetic basis for the three domains of life
16:30-16:45 Short Talk: TBA
16:45-17:00 Coffee Break
17:00-17:45 Lecture: Martin Jinek
Molecular mechanisms of CRISPR-Cas genome editors
17:45-18:00 Short Talk: TBA
18:00-18:30 Thank yous and Awards
18:30-20:00 Dinner
20:30 Conference 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 the neighbourhood area of Boxberg which is approximately 10 minutes by car from Heidelberg's city centre.

Reaching us by train, plane, or 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 for 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 Organising 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 organising committee can not be held responsible in the case of a refusal by German authorities to enter German territory.


The registration fee does not include accommodation, which has to be personally arranged. However, we have reserved a number of rooms at the EMBL/ISG Hotel available for conference participants to book if desired. The Hotel offers twin rooms, at a cost of 51 EUR per person/per night incl. breakfast when shared with another participant, and 78 EUR per person/per night incl. breakfast in a personal twin room. Please indicate when you are making the booking if you would like to book a shared or personal twin room and if there is a particular participant with whom you would like to share.

Please call or email the ISG Hotel for your booking and use the code “PhD Symposium 2018” to receive the EMBL special rate.

A shuttle bus will run between EMBL and the ISG Hotel during the conference.

Financial Support

There are a number of options for obtaining a travel grant:

  1. EMBL provides a number of travel grants for participants of the Symposium. If you would like to apply for one of these grants, please register for the Symposium. After successful registration you will be provided with a link to submit your abstract and apply for an EMBL travel grant. To apply, you will need to submit an abstract and provide details on your motivation for applying for financial assistance. You must submit your abstract and motivation by September 7th 2018 if you wish to be eligible for an EMBL travel grant. Successful applicants will be informed by September 12th 2018.
  2. There are a number of external grants available. You can find a list of these below:
    • The Royal Society of Biology have several travel grants for various biological fields such as genetics, biochemistry, and biology. Be sure to check the respective websites for application deadlines.
    • The Company of Biologists: This grant is aimed at early-career scientists wanting to attend scientific meetings, conferences, workshops and courses relating to the areas of research covered by the journal. Deadline is 17 August, 2018 (for travel after 5 October, 2018).
    • Axol Bioscience: You must be a PhD student or postdoctoral-level researcher working in academia or industry performing life science research in the fields of neuroscience or cardiovascular research.
    • The Biochemical Society offers students bursaries to help their Undergraduate and Postgraduate members attend a range of Biochemical Society events or online courses. Please note that bursaries are given on a first come, first served basis. Please apply early to avoid disappointment.
    • Australian PhD students in the life sciences are eligible to apply for one of 10 travel grants of $2000 from EMBL Australia. You can apply for one of these travel grants online until midnight (AEST) on 15 August 2018.
    • Fritz Thyssen Stiftung offer travel subsidies for projects that have a clear connection to the German research system. This connection can be established either at a personal level through German scientists working on the project, at an institutional level through non-German scientists being affiliated to German research institutes or through studies on topics related thematically to German research interests.
    • University of Heidelberg : Deadline is April 15, 2018 for trips taking place between April 16, 2018 and February 28, 2019
    • Contact personal university / institution for conference travel grants

Please note that you need to apply independently to these grants.
If you require any assistance please do not hesitate to contact the Symposium Organisers.


Early Bird Deadline
Registration: September 7th October 12th
Abstract submission:   October 12th
Travel grant application: September 7th
Payment deadline: October 12th

Registration is now closed.

To receive updates about the Symposium subscribe below.


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. If you are interested in sponsoring our symposium and would like to have more information, direct your enquires to us.

Sponsors of the symposium

EMBL EMBO Galton Institute Biochemical Society Boston Consulting Group Boehringer Ingelheim Stiftung

Platinum Sponsors

Abcam Agilent

Silver Sponsors

Avanti Polar Lipids Inc.

Bronze Sponsors

Biology Open BioMedX Luxendo Charles River Associates

Also kindly supported by:

EMBL CPP founder partners

Leica Microsystems Olympus

EMBL CPP corporate partners

10x Genomics BD Boehringer Ingelheim Eppendorf Glaxo Smith Kline Sartorius ThermoFisher Scientific

EMBL CPP associate partners

Merck New England Biolabs Nikon Sanofi


German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Partner Graduate Schools

HZI IMPRS ZMB Duisburg Essen Dresden SFB 987 Protein Complex Assembly (PROCOMPAS)


Have a question? Please free to contact the PhD Symposium 2018 Organising Committee:

twitter facebook instagram