scientists working together in a lab

Graduate school

Structured PhD Program at the Max Delbrück Center


At the MDC, we believe that, to become a great scientist, one needs to train a diverse set of competences. We therefore offer a structured program, in a research-intensive environment, supporting our doctoral researchers to develop both personally and scientifically.

The MDC Graduate School provides a structured training program for doctoral researchers within the MDC Research Program "Systems Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases".

Doctoral researchers at the MDC conduct their research in the areas of Cancer Research, Cardiovascular and Metabolic DiseasesDisorders of the Nervous System, Medical Systems Biology, Clinical ResearchImmunology & Inflammation, Single Cell approaches, Translational Vascular Biomedicine and Data Science & Artificial Intelligence.

The Graduate School currently hosts more than 350 PhD researchers with the share of doctoral researchers coming from abroad reaching 65%.


Close day-to-day supervision of doctoral researchers by the group leader is complemented with a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC), consisting of the PhD supervisor and two additional scientists. Annual TAC meetings provide advice and formalized guidance of the doctoral project progress, from the research project outline to the preparation of the dissertation.


In addition to annual Thesis Advisory Committee meetings (TACs), training at the MDC Graduate School includes: 

  • scientific and research-related training, including lectures, seminars and workshops
  • a menu of personal skills development activities (soft skills, language courses, career development)
  • outreach and presentations activities, such as presentations at meetings/ conferences or science communication activities
  • a variety of additional activities (e.g. scientific event organisation)
Career Development

The MDC Graduate School curriculum is intended to provide each doctoral researcher with the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully complete the dissertation project, and move on to the next step in their careers, inside or outside of the academic research.

Whether you are planning to continue your path within academia, or you would like to explore industry, management, or alternative directions, activities throughout your doctoral studies at the MDC are designed to inspire and prepare you for your next career step. 


The MDC is organizing numerous scientific events, conferences, and symposia over the year, including the annual PhD Retreat, Graduation Ceremony, annual PostDoc Day, Career Day and a variety of topic-specific events within the research programs.

Many of those events, such as PhD Retreat or the IPSCC - International PhD Student Cancer Conference, are organized with the support of doctoral researchers who are interested in event planning.

Doctoral Degree

The MDC doctoral researchers register at a university in order to receive their doctoral degree. The MDC Graduate School has established partnerships with several Berlin universities, allowing researchers to obtain degrees from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, or Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

Most doctoral researchers opt for one of the above mentioned universities, but it is also possible to obtain the degree from any other university, as long as joint supervision with the MDC is accepted. 

The MDC Graduate School offers assistance with university procedures of Berlin partner universities


The MDC doctoral researchers are fully funded through an initial 3-year employment contract with the MDC. 

Salaries are competitive to the national standards, according to 65% TVöD 13 (monthly net payment of approximately 1600 EUR). Health and social insurance are included in the contract, as well as pension scheme.

In many cases, contracts are extended for an additional year. All doctoral researchers are expected to complete their doctoral research and thesis in 4 years.

The university tuition fees per semester are approximately 350 EUR, and include public transportation ticket.


Read more about the people who make the core of the Graduate School here


The MDC Graduate School curriculum consists of different modules, encompassing individual supervision, scientific and personal skills training, presentation and outreach activities, and more. 

Orientation session

The MDC Graduate office regularly offers 2-day orientation sessions for the new students, where they discuss university regulations, MDC training activities, Graduate school structure, curriculum and credit system, as well as general topics such as good scientific practice, collaboration or open science, in a small group of new MDC doctoral students, presenting both the Campus Buch and Campus Mitte. MDC orientations sessions are a good opportunity to meet new colleagues, learn about science at the MDC and much more. 

Orientation session: Communication workshop

Supervision and research progress

Over the course of their studies, each doctoral researcher will have at least three meetings with a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC), consisting of the PhD supervisor and two additional scientists from the MDC or partner institutions. These meetings are intended to provide researchers with advice and formalized regular guidance of the dissertation project progress.

Science and research-related training

The MDC offers a number of lectures, seminars, and courses, necessary for the development of early-career researchers. Courses organised on campus include computational training, biostatistics, data analysis, programming, machine learning, imaging, experimental science and methods, analytical tools and more. Good scientific practice training is obligatory for all doctoral researchers.

Doctoral researchers can apply for travel grants to support their participation in international scientific courses and workshops, or extended visits at a partner laboratory abroad.

Emanuelle Charpentier presents the CRISPR-Cas system in front of the MDC audience. Image: Anyess von Bock.

Personal skills training

The MDC offers a range of personal skills courses on campus, tailored to the needs of early-stage researchers, including soft skills courses (e.g. scientific writing, communication and presentation, teamwork and networking, intercultural competence etc.), career development training (e.g. career pathway opportunities, grant & fellowship applications, management & leadership) and language courses.

The MDC international PhD Program offers the opportunity for PhD students to attend excellent talks, given by outstanding researchers across diverse research fields, as well as to discuss and network with the invited speakers. 
Julia Markowski, PhD student 

Presentations and outreach

PhD researchers are required to present their work to the scientific community on occasions such as the MDC student seminar presentationPhD retreat, campus symposium or international conferences. Other opportunities include: 

The MDC Graduate School supports participation in international conferences via travel grants.


Additional activities

PhD researchers at the MDC may get involved in the organization of events such as Graduation ceremony, PhD retreat or other campus events (invitation of external speakers, seminars, journal clubs, Career day etc.).



The MDC Graduate School currently supports over 380 doctoral researchers working in one of the 82 research groups at the institute or at one of our partner institutions.

The MDC Graduate School, as well as the research schools and exchange programs, are each headed by one or more Program Speakers, and supported by Program Coordinators.


Graduate School 

MDC Graduate School Program Speaker 


MDC-NYU Exchange Program

Program Speaker

Project Manager


HEIBRiDS Data Science School 

Program Speaker

Program Coordinator 


iNAMES - MDC-Weizmann Helmholtz International Research School in Imaging and Data Science

Program Speaker

Program Coordinator

Former programs

SignGene – German-Israeli Helmholtz Research School

Program Speaker


Program Coordinator 

Dr. Hanna Singer

Student Representatives and Helmholtz Juniors
Representing the student body, the PhD Representatives meet regularly with the program speakers and coordinators, as well as with the MDC directorate and they participate in the association of Helmholtz Juniors.

We wish to establish a platform for the students on campus to communicate and initiate a discussion on the issues that concern you. Please come talk to us about any concerns or ideas you might have. It is important that the PhD students have a voice and a structured way of communicating their needs to the other branches of the institute.

The PhD student representatives are Olya Oppenheim (Gerhardt lab), Samantha Mendonsa (Chekulaeva lab), Ahla Ghauri (Lee lab), Kerstin Johanna Fentker (Jentsch lab), Sandhya Balasubramanian (Di Virgilio lab), Leonie Milena Rosenberger (Uckert lab), Jacobo Lopez Carballo (Gotthardt lab), Nirmeen Elmadany (Kettenmann lab), Thu Thi Pham (Pischon lab), Somesh Sai (Sauer lab), Elisabeth Baumann (Gerhardt lab), Marta Bastos de Oliveira (Gerhardt lab).

Don’t hesitate to contact us at

We also participate in Helmholtz Juniors , which consists of doctoral student representatives from all 18 Helmholtz Research Centers across Germany. This allows scientists across the Helmholtz Association to discuss issues relevant to all centers.

In case of work-related problems, MDC PhD students can seek advice from one of the Ombudspeople.

An ombudsperson acts as trusted intermediary and supports in case of problems related to the work at the MDC, independently and confidentially. An ombudsperson counsels, gives advice or helps moderate a discussion.

PhD Ombudspersons

The PhD ombudspersons are elected by the student body and are available to all PhD students, responding to all concerns. They are a contact point for questions, help to resolve misunderstandings, and identify solutions and strategies for conflict resolution. Upon request, the PhD ombudsperson may mediate a discussion between PhD student and supervisor. Feel free to contact your ombudsperson.

Currently, Daniela Panakova and Matthias Selbach will support you.



Research Ombudspersons

The position of Research Ombudsperson was established in accordance with the recommendations of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and is responsible for safeguarding standards of good scientific practice. In cases of scientific misconduct, the ombudsman is the first point of contact for all researchers at the MDC and can advise and assist them in conflict situations.

The Ombudsperson is a MDC group leader, appointed to the position by the directorate of the MDC in agreement with the Scientific Council.



Living in Berlin

Frequent and radical changes through Berlin's turbulent and noticeably present history have transformed the face of the city many times over. But despite this, the city has succeeded in becoming a thriving metropolis, with a population of 3.7 million people.

Extraordinary wealth of cultural opportunities attracts increasing numbers of visitors, making Berlin one of the most popular destinations in Europe. It boasts a lively scene with lots of pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafés. Densely urban areas coexist with large green spaces, nature reserves, lakes and rivers, all within the city boundaries, offering a truly metropolitan lifestyle.

MDC on two campuses

The MDC is situated at two locations in Berlin: majority of infrastructure is located on Campus Berlin-Buch, a modern science and biotechnology park with a clear focus on biomedicine.

Since April 2019, the laboratories and offices of the MDC-BIMSB are located in our new building on Campus-Mitte.

BIMSB is a part of MDC and located in Berlin-Mitte.