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Master in Genes in Behaviour and Health (RM)

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
2 years
Full time
Master's degree

Program description

Genes in Behaviour and Health: Research Master

While the 20th century was the century of physics, we have now entered the century of the genome. Twin studies and more recently molecular genetic studies have highlighted the influence of our genetic code on our behaviour and health. To adequately understand and influence behaviour and health, we need to increase our understanding of the way our genes play their part, by itself and in interaction with our environment.

The research master Genes in Behaviour and Health is a two-year full time programme that will equip you with the knowledge and understanding of the relevant research methods to design and carry out high-quality research within the field of behaviour genetics and genetic epidemiology. In choosing this research master you will take the first steps to become part of a new generation of talented researchers capable of contributing to the rapid spread of omics from curative medicine to wider applications in the behavioural and health sciences involving prevention and care.

Opting for the research master’s programme brings you into an inspiring research environment. The Department of Biological Psychology is famous for its Netherlands Twin Register, an unique data repository, containing genetic and environmental information for more than 5000 twin families, who are followed longitudinally. You will be taught by expert staff members and by researchers from other institutes worldwide regularly visit to give lectures and workshops.

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Admission requirements

We are looking for highly motivated students with an interest in the application of genetics in the behavioural or health sciences, with sufficient background in statistics, biology and psychology. The general requirements for admission to the Research Master's programme are:

  • An academic Bachelor's Degree (or equivalent) in Psychology, Health Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Bioinformatics, Educational Science or a closely related subject area
  • An active interest in research as demonstrated in research oriented courses, internships and/or thesis
  • Education must have included research oriented courses (methods, statistics) (12 EC)
  • Good average grades. Your average grade for your academic bachelor's is 7.5 or higher (or the international equivalent, e.g. a B+ or a GPA of 3.3). In its assessment, the admission board focuses at the grades obtained for courses on statistics, research methods, courses related to more biologically orientated courses (biological psychology, neuropsychology, neuroscience, genetics) and thesis. Please note: Exceptions are possible for profiles of ancillary activities which demonstrate a great motivation for the Research Master Genes in Behaviour and Health, community involvement and/or entrepeneurship
  • Highly motivated as demonstrated by motivation letter.
  • Proficiency in English. English language skills for those who did not follow earlier English-language education will need to be demonstrated, as reaching an IELTS score of 6.5, TOEFL paper-based test score of 580, a TOEFL Internet-based test score of 92-93 or Cambridge Advanced English classification of A , B or C. The Admissions Board will evaluate your application, which includes a written motivation and two letters of reference.

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Program content

Year 1

Introduction to omics
Lecturers: Dr. Rene Pool
Students are provided with basic background knowledge on the organization and transcriptional regulation of the human genome, and how this forms the cornerstone of the biological pathways that influence behaviour and health. Key techniques in molecular genetics are reviewed.

Gene finding: GWA studies and their follow-up
Lecturer: Dr. Jouke-Jan Hottenga
Students learn the basic computational skills needed to conduct gene finding studies, using the latest techniques applied. They will gain hands-on experience finding genes for psychological traits and learn how to evaluate the importance of their genetic findings using techniques such as GCTA, LD regression, and the application of meta-analyses across multiple gene finding studies.

Behavioural Genetics
Lecturers: Prof. dr. Conor Dolan, Dr. Camelia Minica, Dr. Lannie Ligthart
Focusing on classical twin studies as well as extended pedigree analyses, students learn to formulate structural equation models in R and OpenMx to investigate the heritability of traits within the area of psychology, behaviour and health and test gene x environment interactions. Input for the analyses will be generated from datasets that have been or are used within the Netherlands Twin Register, providing real-life examples of the route from data to publication.

Epigenomics and Sequencing in Behaviour and Health
Lecturers: Prof. dr. Dorret Boomsma, Dr. Jenny van Dongen
Though our genetic material make be fixed at base, the expression of our genes is subject to outside influences. This course builds further on the base provided in period 1 and teaches students how to analyse a specific form of gene expression regulation: epigenetics. Epigenetic analyses based on methylation marks will be conducted using actual data from the Netherlands Twin Register.

Imaging and Cardiovascular Genetics
Lecturers: Dr. Dennis van ’t Ent, Prof. Dr . Eco de Geus
To understand the pathway from genes to health, endophenotypes may play an important role. Here two important phenotypes are highlighted, brain function and autonomic nervous system function and the way these are influenced by genetics. Students learn how to assess variation in brain and autonomic functioning by experimental techniques like MRI, ECG and impedance cardiography. They get hands-on experience in (1) using the VU-AMS monitor to collect data and analyse the involvement of specific genes in cardiovascular function using data collected in twin-families, (2) analysing fMRI data sets collected in the context of imaging genetics studies.

In addition to these courses, you choose one elective course to extend your study to a specific areas of interest. You may want to focus on psychiatry, clinical psychology, neurodevelopment, brain imaging, or personalised medicine. The course may be one provided within the faculty itself, but may also be chosen from programmes at another faculty at the VU or at another university.

Internship I
The knowledge and experimental and data-analytical skills you obtained in the first year will be applied at the end of the year in a first internship in which you engage in a research project.

Year 2

Exposome and gene-environment interaction
Lecturers: Prof. dr. Meike Bartels, dr. Michel Nivard
In this course students learn how to use large population-based information databases (e.g. neighbourhood characteristics, electronic patient files, cancer registration), in the study of human genetics. Combining information available from publicly shared databases may generate new testable hypotheses, but also presents computational challenges (e.g. record linkage with careful attention to privacy / de-identification steps).

Complex trait genetics
Lecturers: Prof. dr. Dorret Boomsma, Dr. Jenny van Dongen
In this course the focus is on the theoretical foundation of biometrical and quantitative genetics and the insights needed to understand genetic findings from empirical studies. Our genetic make-up has evolved over thousands of years, leading to large and small individual differences within and between populations. The implications of such genetic variation is discussed.

Personalised medicine in mental and physical health
Lecturers: Dr. Gonneke Willemsen, Dr. Eveline de Zeeuw
It is now clear that genes and environment each play a role in our mental and physical health. In this course the latest research on psychiatric genetics and the implications of genetic findings for stress research are presented. A particular topic is how the interplay of genes and environment may be taken into account in personalised medicine.

Grant writing and science communication
Lecturers: Prof. dr. Eco de Geus, Dr. Elsje van Bergen
Grant writing has become an essential aspect of academic life. To be able to write a successful grant one needs a good overview of the studies to date on the topic, to identify the gaps in our knowledge that need to be filled and of course write a good grant proposal. Successful applicants will share their knowledge and will help students write their own grant proposal. Essential in a grant proposal is also the societal importance and impact. This requires a desirable trait in any research master: good communication of science results, not only to colleagues but also to the general public. The second part of this course therefore focuses on science communication via newspaper articles, websites and social media.

Elective 2
As in year 1, again you choose one elective course to in addition to the above courses to extend your knowledge in a specific area of interest.

Internship II
In a second internship, encompassing period 4 to period 6 of the second year, you will independently conduct a research project, often in an external (inter)national research setting. This internship will be completed by the writing of a Master thesis, according to the submission criteria of a peer-reviewed journal relevant to the topic.

Tuition fees

  • Tuition fee for EU: € 1,084
  • Tuition fee for NON-EU/EEA: € 11,606


Upon completion of this program, graduates will be awarded a Master's in Genes in Behavior and Health.

Continuing studies

The rapid growth of genetic knowledge and research has led to a great demand for people with the knowledge and skill to link genetics to human behaviour and wellbeing. Young researchers with knowledge on behavioural sciences, statistics, genetic epidemiology, statistical genetics and omics are very much needed in the growing and promising field of genetics. This results in excellent career perspectives.

Most graduates from the Research Master Genes in Behaviour and Health will continue to pursue a career in science and undertake a PhD at a university, either in the Netherlands or abroad. Others might get employed as a researcher at a national or international applied research institute. The RM program provides the upcoming academic researcher with the theoretical basis, methodological proficiency and research practice needed to pursue an academic research career. Outside academia, jobs may be found in biotechnology oriented top sectors focused on health or medical technology where graduates can work as consultants, researchers or big data analysists.

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About this institute

Welcome to Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (‘VU Amsterdam’) is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 175 English-taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to more than 26,000 students from all over the world. Students and staff...

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Why study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

With more than 24,000 students, of which 4,088 are international, VU Amsterdam conducts cutting-edge research into problems of societal and scientific importance.

They distinguish themselves in research and education through four interdisciplinary themes:

  • Human Health and Life Sciences
  • Science for Sustainability
  • Connected World
  • Governance for Society

As a student this will help you to look beyond the boundaries of scientific disciplines, and to seek for tangible solutions for a better world.

In addition, VU Amsterdam regards diversity, whether in culture, conviction, nationality or prior education, as source of innovation and progress, and hence as special strength.

The Dutch higher education system has been ranked in the top 10 by Universitas 21. In the first Times Higher Education University Impact Ranking, VU Amsterdam is ranked 16th worldwide. In this ranking, universities are assessed based on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to measure the impact of the universities on society. In the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018 (Shanghai Ranking) VU Amsterdam holds the 104th position. The international QS World University ranking 2021 places the Vrije Universiteit at number 236 in the world, which means the Vrije Universiteit belongs to the top 20% of the world.

At VU Amsterdam, the teaching style can be described as student-centred: they encourage students to develop their own opinions through independent and creative thinking. This means that teaching is mainly conducted in small tutorials, where interactivity is the norm rather than the exception. At every opportunity, students are encouraged to engage in constructive dialogue with their professors.

Contact info

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Netherlands, the

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