CEPLAS Graduate School

The CEPLAS Graduate School offers a structured four-to-five-year doctoral program covering the fields of molecular plant sciences, plant genetics, plant-microbe interactions, synthetic biology as well as quantitative and computational biology.  The program is jointly organised by the Universities of Düsseldorf and Cologne, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research and the Forschungszentrum Jülich and it leads students with a Bachelor’s degree through a unique qualification phase to the PhD. PhD students work in one (or sometimes two) of the CEPLAS member laboratories on a topic related to the CEPLAS research program. CEPLAS Graduate School members benefit from comprehensive training programs that address their academic as well as career development aspirations and needs. 

What we offer – at a glimpse

  • A stimulating research environment focussing on plant science
  • PhD projects cover topics including molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, developmental biology, plant-microbe interactions, synthetic biology and computational biology, all using state-of-the-art technology and computational analyses
  • A comprehensive training program in scientific and transferable skills, starting with a 1-year qualification phase that includes lectures, exercises and lab rotations
  • A comprehensive career development support and employer networking
  • Funding for up to five years
  • Additional funding to attend conferences and workshops
  • Funding for a research period in a laboratory abroad (Mobility Fund).
  • Help with organisational issues (e.g. visa, health insurance etc.)
  • No tuition fees are charged


During the one-year qualification phase, CEPLAS Graduate School students receive a stipend of 800 €/month to cover their expenses for cost of living.  During their dissertation research phase, CEPLAS PhD students receive a contract according to German pay scale (E12/E13) for up to four years. This contract includes benefits according to German law (health insurance, unemployment insurance, etc.).  Funding is dependent on successful performance.  PhD students who fail during the qualification period (e.g. do not pass the subject modules with the necessary performance) can continue by pursuing a Master´s degree outside the CEPLAS Graduate School.
There are no tuition fees associated with this program, except for an approx. 300 € fee per semester for enrolment at the University. This grants you student’s rights including free local public transportation in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Mary Ngigi (class 2020 - qualification phase):
"I am glad to have joined the CEPLAS Gradschool program where I have gained invaluable experiences on plant science. During the one-year qualification phase I have acquired theoretical knowledge on topics within CEPLAS research areas. I have also been exposed to various experimental techniques through the lab rotations in form of internships. Additionally, the monthly early career researchers’ seminars have offered me a platform for productive exchanges and networking with other multi-diverse scientists as I grow into a scientific career.

Niklas Kiel (class 2020 - qualification phase):
"I am very happy to be part of the CEPLAS Gradschool,especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we are only a small number of students the lectures are very interactive and we get into close contact with CEPLAS PIs. Through this, I learned a lot theory about Plant Biology as well as numerous methods to answer scientific questions. Another thing I like about the cluster is the multidisciplinary character of many projects within CEPLAS. These are based on numerous collaborations between CEPLAS labs, mediating a high exchange of scientific ideas.

Sebastian Triesch (class 2019 - PhD phase):
"The CEPLAS grad school paved my way into the complex field of plant sciences. The comprehensive classes built the theoretical framework for intense lab rotations with topics ranging from developmental biology to mathematical modeling. Being part in such a diverse, interdisciplinary group is a great experience and the CEPLAS support allows you to focus on your research and make valuable contacts in the scientific world."

Speaker of the CEPLAS Graduate School

Prof. Dr. Bart Thomma


0221 470 89261

Institute for Plant Sciences, Cologne Biocenter
University of Cologne

Zülpicher Str. 47b

50674 Cologne


Deputy Speaker of the CEPLAS Graduate School

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Stich
CEPLAS Benjamin Stich


+49 2118113395

Institute for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics of Plants
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Carl-von-Linné-Weg 10

22.07, Level 01  46, Postbox 009

50829 Cologne



Dr. Nadine Rademacher


+49 211 81 11389

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Universitätsstraße 1

22.07, Level 01  29, Postbox 007

40225 Düsseldorf

Heinrich Heine University
University of Cologne
Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
Forschungszentrum Jülich