About the Symposium

Join us for the 22nd 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, our Symposium centers on the theme “The Roaring 20s: A New Decade for Life Sciences”.

Over the next ten years, vast progress will be achieved within the life sciences and new challenges are emerging. We are dedicated to bring together outstanding researchers from a broad range of disciplines that implement highly promising approaches to tackle the current scientific questions as well as the global problems we face as a scientific community and as humanity. We will address issues ranging from basic research questions in the life sciences to the most recent developments in synthetic biology, disease management and neuroscience. Furthermore, we will address the intricate relationship between living organisms and their environment - focusing on ecology and evolution – and on the discussion about how to communicate our science to the society we are part of.

Come and join us at the 22nd EMBL PhD Symposium, for two days of exciting and future-oriented science.

We had imagined that 2020 would turn out a tad differently, but then again... who hadn't.

The EMBL PhD class of 2019 was just starting to settle into their new PhD lives when the pandemic hit, not only us, but the whole world. After an initial struggle we decided to make the best out of the current situation, which includes changing our vision for the 2020 EMBL PhD Symposium. We were very much looking forward to welcoming many students from around the world here at EMBL to experience a great symposium with many interesting talks and discussions. However, considering the unpredictability of travel and the general assembly situation for our speakers and participants we reached the decision to change gear:

Now, we are happy to announce that we will be able to include even more students in the first virtual and free of charge EMBL PhD Symposium!

With the amazing help of the Course and Conferences Office and the Photo Lab here at EMBL, we will offer live talks from our invited speakers followed by discussion rounds. There will be virtual poster sessions with interaction possibilities and even a number of short talks by fellow students. We are also trying our best to integrate virtual networking sessions to integrate the collective spirit we were envisioning for our on-site 2020 EMBL PhD conference. Join us in November and for a great start into ‘The Roaring 20’s: A new decade for life sciences’.


Christa Schleper Christa Schleper Jean-Léon Maître Jean-Léon Maître Lisa Maier Lisa Maier Liz Hambleton Liz Hambleton Luigi Naldini Luigi Naldini Marileen Dogterom Marileen Dogterom Matteo Carandini Matteo Carandini Miguel Nicolelis Miguel Nicolelis Monika Lessl Monika Lessl Muzlifah Haniffa Muzlifah Haniffa Nadanai Laohakunakorn Nadanai Laohakunakorn Ralf Bartenschlager Ralf Bartenschlager Ralph Bock Ralph Bock
Photo of Christa Schleper

Prof. Dr. Christa Schleper

University of Vienna

Christa Schleper is professor at the University of Vienna, Austria, since 2007 and head of the Archaea Biology and Ecogenomics Unit. She studies the ecology, physiology, molecular biology and evolution of Archaea. Schleper has worked at the MPI Martinsried, at Caltech and Univ. of Sta Barbara, at the University of Darmstadt, and as full professor at the University of Bergen, before she moved to Vienna. She is an EMBO member and in the Austrian Academy of Sciences, received an ERC Advanced Grant in 2016, and was highly cited researcher in 2019. She is also a co-organizer of the new Climate Change and Climate Crisis lecture in Vienna.

Photo of Jean-Léon Maître

Dr. Jean-Léon Maître

Insitut Curie

Jean-Léon Maître is a group leader at the institut Cure in Paris, France studying mammalian pre-implantation development with a focus on cell mechanics and cell-cell interactions. Jean-Léon received a PhD in the laboratory of Carl-Philipp Heisenberg at the Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics (Dresden, Germany) and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (Klosterneuburg, Austria) for his work on cell cortex tension and cell adhesion during zebrafish gastrulation. During his postdoc at EMBL Heidelberg with Takashi Hiiragi, he worked on the mechanics of the pre-implantation embryo in the mouse supported by an EMBO long term fellowship and a Marie Curie IntraEuropean fellowship. Jean-Leon was awarded an ERC starting grant in 2017 and is an EMBO young investigator.

Photo of Lisa Maier

Dr. Lisa Maier

University of Tübingen

Dr. Lisa Maier did her PhD in the lab of Prof. Dr. W.-D. Hardt at ETH Zürich, Switzerland, where she studied the role of the microbiota during Salmonella Typhimurium induced colitis. "The influence of non-digestible carbohydrates on the intestinal colonization with enteropathogens" was the topic of research during her first post-doc in the same lab in 2014. From 2015 to 2018 Dr. Lisa Maier studied "drug-microbe interactions in the human gut microbiome" in the lab of Dr. A. Typas and Dr. K. Patil at EMBL Heidelberg. In her first-author publication in Nature in 2018, the potential risk of non-antibiotics promoting antibiotic resistance has been shown. Currently, starting from 2019, Dr. Lisa Maier is independent junior research group leader at University of Tübingen.

Photo of Liz Hambleton

Dr. Liz Hambleton

University of Vienna

Dr. Elizabeth Hambleton is a Group Leader in the Division of Microbial Ecology within the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science at the University of Vienna. Hambleton received her PhD from Stanford University, where her work was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and conducted her postdoctoral work in the Centre for Organismal Studies at the University of Heidelberg. Throughout her career, Hambleton has been an expert in developing the sea anemone Aiptasia as a laboratory model to investigate the molecular mechanisms of coral-algal symbiosis. Since its establishment in 2020, her group is studying the evolution and molecular mechanisms of diverse, ecologically important animal-algal ‘photosymbioses’ using a combination of single-cell transcriptomics, metabolomics, mass-spectrometry imaging, and functional manipulation in new model systems.

Photo of Luigi Naldini

Prof. Dr. Luigi Naldini

Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele & San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy

Luigi Naldini is the Director of the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy and professor at the San Raffaele University in Milan, Italy. For the past 25 years, he has pioneered the development and applications of lentiviral vectors for gene transfer, which have become one of the most widely used tools in biomedical research and, upon recently entering clinical testing, are providing a long-sought hope of cures for several currently untreatable and otherwise deadly human diseases. His work also contributed to advance the use of artificial nucleases for targeted genome editing in cell and gene therapy. Luigi received his medical degree from the University of Torino, Italy, and his PhD from the University of Rome. He is Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and has been President of the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ESGCT). He was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) and from ESGCT, the Jimenez Diaz Prize, the Beutler Prize from the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and the Jeantet-Collen Prize for Translational Medicine. He was nominated “Grande Ufficiale dell’Ordine Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana”, one of the highest ranking honor in Italy.

Photo of Marileen Dogterom

Prof. Dr. Marileen Dogterom

Delft University of Technology

Prof. dr. Marileen Dogterom is a University Professor at the TU Delft and Medical Delta Professor at Leiden University. She is internationally renowned expert in experimental cell biophysics with a pioneering track record in biophysical research of the microtubule cytoskeleton. Over the years, her group has systematically worked on increasing functional biological complexity in reconstitution experiments, which paved the way for her current and future ambition to build synthetic cells. She published ~100 papers in high-ranking physics and biology journals. Dogterom actively and frequently collaborates with leading national and international researchers in both physics and biology. Since 2017, she leads the Dutch Consortium BaSyC (Building a Synthetic Cell) and is one of the initiators of the European Synthetic Cell Initiative.

Photo of Matteo Carandini

Prof. Dr. Matteo Carandini

University College London

Matteo Carandini is the GlaxoSmithKline / Fight for Sight Professor of Visual Neuroscience at University College London (UCL), where he co-directs a laboratory together with Kenneth Harris. His research focuses on the computations performed by large populations of neurons in the mouse brain. Carandini holds a Laurea summa cum laude in Mathematics from the University of Rome and a PhD in Neural Science from New York University. Before joining UCL in 2007, he ran laboratories in Zurich and San Francisco. He is a leader of the Neuropixels consortium and a founding member of the International Brain Laboratory.

Photo of Miguel Nicolelis

Prof. Dr. Miguel Nicolelis

Duke University

Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., is the Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience at Duke University, Professor of Neurobiology, Biomedical Engineering, Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychology and Neuroscience, and founder of Duke's Center for Neuroengineering. He is Founder and Scientific Director of the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute for Neuroscience of Natal. Dr. Nicolelis is also founder of the Walk Again Project, an international consortium of scientists and engineers, dedicated to the development of an exoskeleton device to assist severely paralyzed patients in regaining full body mobility. Dr. Nicolelis has dedicated his career to investigating how the brains of freely behaving animals encode sensory and motor information. As a result of his studies, Dr. Nicolelis was first to propose and demonstrate that animals and human subjects can utilize their electrical brain activity to directly control neuroprosthetic devices via brain-machine interfaces (BMI).Dr. Nicolelis is a member of the French and Brazilian Academies of Science and has authored over 200 manuscripts, edited numerous books and special journal publications, and holds three US patents.

Photo of Monika Lessl

Dr. Monika Lessl

Bayer Foundation

Monika Lessl is Executive Director of the Bayer Foundation and Head of Corporate R&D and Social Innovation at Bayer AG. She is a member of Bayer’s Global R&D Executive Committee and the Global Medical and Regulatory Governance committee. Her focus is on driving organizational and societal transformation by strengthening the role of science and promoting innovation and sustainability through strategic initiatives, governance processes and partnerships. She holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, a Diploma in General Management from Ashridge Business School, London and is a former fellow of the Robert Bosch Foundation. Monika is a Board member of the Futurium, Berlin’s museum of the future and acts as a jury member of the European Innovation Council and the German Ministry of Science and Education.

Photo of Muzlifah Haniffa

Prof. Dr. Muzlifah Haniffa

Newcastle University

Muzlifah Haniffa is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, Lister Institute Research Fellow and Consultant Dermatologist based in Newcastle University. She graduated from medical school in Cardiff and trained as a junior doctor in Cambridge. She received her dermatology specialist training in Newcastle. She was awarded an Action Medical Research Training Fellowship and a Wellcome Trust Clinical Intermediate Fellowship. Muzz was the recipient of the Academy of Medical Sciences Foulkes Foundation Medal (2019) and the European Federation of Immunological Societies ACTERIA Prize in Immunology and Allergology (2018). Muzz is a leading member of the Human Cell Atlas initiative and pioneered the application of single cell genomics to decode the developing human immune system, and the human skin in health and disease. She is passionate about mentoring and diversity in science.

Photo of Nadanai Laohakunakorn

Dr. Nadanai Laohakunakorn

The University of Edinburgh

Dr. Nadanai Laohakunakorn, originally from Bangkok, obtained his BA/MSci in Natural Sciences (Physics) from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2010. He remained in Cambridge to carry out his PhD under the supervision of Prof Ulrich Keyser, where he studied nanopores and single-molecule biophysics. In particular, his work focused on electrically-driven fluid flows generated within the confined geometries of nanopores, and he developed techniques to measure and characterise these effects using optical tweezers. After defending his thesis in 2015, he moved to Lausanne where he worked with Prof Sebastian Maerkl at EPFL, on the new and growing field of cell-free synthetic biology. His work there focused on combining microfluidic devices with cell-free gene expression systems for high-throughput and rapid prototyping of genetic parts and circuits. In 2019 he received a Chancellor's Fellowship in Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh, where he has established a lab for quantitative and automated engineering of cell-free systems.

Photo of Ralf Bartenschlager

Prof. Dr. Ralf Bartenschlager

Heidelberg University / DKFZ

Ralf Bartenschlager is Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Molecular Virology at Heidelberg University and head of the research division "Virus-Associated Carcinogenesis" at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. His research focusses on the molecular and cellular biology of infections with viruses, primarily hepatitis B and C virus, but also flaviviruses such as Dengue virus and Zika virus and more recently, SARS-CoV-2. The main questions addressed are how viruses reprogram cellular pathways and organelles for efficient viral replication, how viruses activate and counteract the innate antiviral defense and how these insights can be used to develop novel antiviral strategies.

Photo of Ralph Bock

Prof. Dr. Ralph Bock

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology

Ralph Bock is the director of the department Organelle Biology, Biotechnology and Molecular Ecophysiology at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam. He is internationally known for his work on the genetics of plant cell organelles. Before moving to Potsdam in 2004, Ralph Bock worked as a full professor and director of the Institute of Biochemistry and Biotechnology of Plants at the University of Münster. Prior to that he was a research group leader at the University of Freiburg. Ralph Bock has been a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 2010, and in 2015 he became a member of EMBO. In 2017 he was awarded the Martin Gibbs Medal by the American Society of Plant Biologists.


Day 1, Friday, November 27th

09:00 - 09:10 Symposium Opening & Welcome

Session 1 - Cell Biology

9:10 - 9:40 Christa Schleper
9:40 - 10:10 Jean-Leon Maitre
10:10 - 10:40 Muzlifah Haniffa
10:40 - 11:00 PhD talk – Ashish Kumar Singh
11:00 - 11:15 Short Break
11:15 - 12:00 Virtual Coffee / Speed Networking
12:00 - 13:00 Lunch Break

Session 2 - Synthetic Biology

13:00 - 13:35 Marileen Dogterom
13:35 - 14:05 Nadanai Laohakunakorn
14:05 - 14:20 PhD talk – Jia Liang Sun-Wang
14:20 - 14:45 Short Break

Session 3 - PhD Talks

14:45 - 15:00 PhD talk – Shayan Shamipour
15:00 - 15:15 PhD talk – Anna Wychowaniec
15:15 - 15:30 PhD talk – Kavan Gor
15:30 - 15:45 PhD talk – Katarzyna Kuzmicz-Kowalska
15:45 - 16:00 Short Break
16:00 - 17:00 Workshops
17:00 - 18:30 Virtual Poster Session
18:30 - 19:30 Pubquiz
Times are displayed in CET. Digital posters and pre-recorded short talks as well as discussion channels​ will be available for registered participants throughout the whole virtual meeting.​

Day 2, Saturday, November 28th

Science Communication

10:00 - 10:45 Monika Lessl – Bayer Foundation

Session 4 - Medicine & Diseases

10:45 - 11:15 Lisa Maier
11:15 - 11:45 Luigi Naldini
11:45 - 12:00 PhD talk – Devon Legge
12:00 - 13:00 Lunch Break
13:00 - 13:20 PhD talk – Alan Chramiec
13:20 - 13:50 Ralf Bartenschlager
13:50 - 14:00 Short Break

Session 5 - Environment

14:00 - 14:35 Elizabeth Hambleton
14:35 - 15:05 Ralph Bock
15:05 - 15:20 PhD talk – Kevin Yonathan
15:20 - 15:40 Short Break

Session 6 - Neuroscience

15:40 - 16:15 Matteo Carandini
16:15 - 16:45 Miguel Nicolelis
16:45 - 17:00 PhD talk – Lukasz Bijoch
17:00 - 17:15 Closing Remarks
17:15 - 18:45 Virtual Poster Session
Times are displayed in CET. Digital posters and pre-recorded short talks as well as discussion channels​ will be available for registered participants throughout the whole virtual meeting.​


Abstract submission: closed
Short talk selection: closed
Registration: closed

Registration is now closed.

  Fee Registration
Participants Free Deadline passed
Press Free Deadline passed
EMBL Staff (including new EMBL PhD Students) Free Deadline passed

Follow us on our social media accounts to stay tuned!


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


Gold Sponsors

Bayer Foundation

Bronze Sponsors


Event Sponsors

Biology Open TRR83

Also kindly supported by:

EMBL CPP founder partners

Leica Microsystems Olympus

EMBL CPP corporate partners

10x Genomics BD Bio-Rad Boehringer Ingelheim Eppendorf Glaxo Smith Kline MACS-Miltenyi Biotec Stilla Technologies ThermoFisher Scientific

EMBL CPP associate partners

Merck New England Biolabs Nikon Promega Roche Sanofi Sartorius


Have a question? Please feel free to contact the PhD Symposium 2020 Organising Committee:

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