Ecology

For science and sustainability

Studying nature for knowledge and sustainability

Ecologists investigate the relationships between organisms and their environment. As a master’s student you will study how nature works both as an aim in itself (to understand and explain why the world looks like this) as well as to develop the tools to predict and combat problems caused by pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. You will study Ecology from a plant, animal and systems perspective. Moreover, ecological and evolutionary processes are investigated in their broadest sense, from the molecular level all the way up to the regional and global scale, where field observations and experiments are used to identify evolutionary and/or ecosystem patterns and functions.

This VU masters’ programme in Ecology and Evolution has an explicit research-oriented character and is designed to provide its students the knowledge, skills and insights to operate as an independent professional scientist in the fields of ecology and evolution and to become a promising candidate for a subsequent PhD position or other research-related function in a fundamental or applied ecological field.

The Master’s programme in Ecology and Evolution is a joint master’s programme of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam. The track offers the same programme to students of both universities. Lecturers from VU and UvA participate in each course. Students of both universities are automatically registered as a ‘bijvakstudent’ (external student) at the other university.

Degree
Students who are registered at VU Amsterdam and have successfully completed the Ecology and Evolution programme will obtain an MSc diploma in Ecology with a specialization in Ecology and Evolution, those registered at UvA will obtain an MSc diploma in Biological Sciences, with a specialization in Ecology and Evolution.

The two-year programme is full-time, covering 120 EC. Courses are mainly scheduled in the first semester. The remainder of the each year is spent on two research projects and a literature thesis. The programme has the following four components:

Components of the programme 

1. Compulsory courses (18 EC)

2. Elective courses (select 12-18 EC from the list in the handout/study guide).
Detailed descriptions of all these components can be found in the Study Guide Ecology.
You can also consult this handout and/or the year schedule fon an overview of all the courses.

In addition, students are allowed to take ecological courses from other master’s programmes instead of the elective courses offered in the Ecology and Evolution programme. These must be ecological or evolutionary courses or courses otherwise fitting to their profile (and need to be approved by the Examination Board).

3. Research projects (72-78 EC)
Students carry out two research projects/internships. Depending on the number of credits points the student obtains in elective courses both internships together will cover 72 or 78 EC. The minimum duration of a research project is 30 EC. Hence, 60-65% of the Master’s programme consists of two research internships. This allows the student to participate actively in a current research project, put newly-acquired knowledge and research skills into practice, gain valuable work experience and obtain a good impression of the future field of action. Moreover, it forms the starting point of a future professional network. An extensive guideline is available to help organize and complete internships.

To ensure that students reach the quality we aspire, the first internship has to be carried out at the VU or UvA. Though not obligatory, students are encouraged to complete the second internship elsewhere, at another university or research institute in the Netherlands or abroad. Both projects focus on an ecological and/or evolutionary subject, which can range from using a molecular, ecophysiological, behavioural to theoretical or ecosystems approach, or a combination thereof. Societally oriented projects performed elsewhere, dealing with an ecological problem are accepted, provided that they include sufficient academic level, clear research questions and proper supervision.

4. Literature thesis (12 EC)
Students are required to write a literature thesis of 12 EC. The literature thesis can focus on a fundamental ecological question, but may also take a more applied or societal approach. 

Some recent research projects in Ecology and Evolution


• Climate change and food web interactions on salt marshes
• Impact of urbanization on natural and sexual selection pressures
• Effects of invasive plants on insect communities
• Ecotoxicology of nanoparticles in the soil
• Mutualism: Tricks and cheats in plants and their symbionts
• Fire Ecology: Plant traits and flammability
• Arctic Ecology: Plant communities under global change
• Modeling: The interplay between individual life history and population dynamics
• Effects of population density on male accessory reproductive organs 

and many, many other topics in a very wide range of ecological and evolutionary fields (details about topics for future research projects are available via the VU’s Department of Ecological Science). This is also the place where you can find all the current research topics of the department. These include topics in Systems Ecology, Biodiversity, Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Molecular Ecology, Evolution, Animal Behaviour.

Double degree - International Master in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution

After a successful first year (60 ec) during which you follow our regular programme at VU, you have to option to do your second year (60 ec) of courses and an internship at either:

- University of Århus (Denmark),
- University of Göttingen (Germany)
- University of Rennes (France)

After successful completion of these two years, you will receive a double degree, meaning that you receive a diploma from VU MSc Ecology as well as the partner university’s MSc degree. For more information about this international master’s programme: http://www.imabee.eu

As a Master’s graduate in Ecology, you have a wide range of career options. The demand for ecologists is considerable these days. About 50 percent of our graduates continues their studies, pursuing a PhD project.
Others (10-15%) find jobs as researchers in applied environmental sciences and the remaining in societally related fields. They deal with topics such as:
• Nature management, conservation and restoration
• Landscape planning
• Plant breeding
• Environmental consultancy
• Teaching
• Nature education and scientific communication
• Policy supporting research, development, and  implementation
• Environmental toxicologist

For more information about the professional careers of Ecologists/Biologists in the Netherlands, please visit the Netherlands Institute for Biology.

Are you curious about how our alumni are getting on? Read the story of Mirte

There are several possibilities for obtaining funding. Among them are:

•    VU Fellowship Programme (VUFP)
•    Holland Scholarship Programme (HSP)
•    Orange Tulip Scholarship (OTS)
•    Fulbright scholarship
•    STUNED Scholarship Programme
•    Indonesia Endowment Fund of Education (LPDP)
•    Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP)
•    Direct Loan Programme 


For details, see: Information about scholarships, fellowships and grants

The Master’s programme in Ecology at VU Amsterdam is characterized by the following aspects:

  • We study the ecology of all forms of life: animals, plants, fungi, microbes.
  • We integrate research at all levels of organization: from genes to individuals to populations to ecosystems.
  • Ecology is central for modern day issues such as climate change, biodiversity, evolution, nature conservation, ecosystem functioning, which are all important issues in our programme.
  • We have excellent research facilities and innovative labs to teach you state-of-the-art techniques.
  • We investigate problems of fundamental and societal relevance using manipulative experimental setups, comparative methods or modeling, both in the field as well as in the laboratory.

International Setting

  • We offer an international programme in English and our students come from all over the world.
  • We have a highly-skilled team of lecturersof international reputation with a world-wide network of collaborations.

Teaching environment

  • All courses are interactive in nature.
  • Students work in small groups under supervision of our academic teaching staff for assignments and essays.
  • The programme regularly receives praise for its flexibility and student orientation.
  • We offer an inspiring learning environment where interaction and personal attention are key concepts.

The organizers

The teaching programme is organized by the Department of Ecological Science of the VU Amsterdam and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics of the University of Amsterdam.

Together these groups form a highly skilled and internationally respected team of researchers and lecturers, with outstanding publication records, world-wide networks of collaboration and great enthusiasm for this Masters’ programme.

Overview Ecology

LANGUAGE OF INSTRUCTION

English

DURATION

2 years

APPLICATION DEADLINE

1 June for Dutch students. 1 April for EU/EEA and non-EU/EEA students.* * EU/EEA students with an international degree who do not need housing services through Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam can still apply until 1 June.

START DATE

1 September

STUDY TYPE

Full-time

SPECIALIZATIONS

Ecology & Evolution

FIELD OF INTEREST

Natural Sciences

Some recent research projects in Ecology and Evolution

• Climate change and food web interactions on salt marshes
• Impact of urbanization on natural and sexual selection pressures
• Effects of invasive plants on insect communities
• Ecotoxicology of nanoparticles in the soil
• Mutualism: Tricks and cheats in plants and their symbionts
• Fire Ecology: Plant traits and flammability
• Arctic Ecology: Plant communities under global change
• Modeling: The interplay between individual life history and population dynamics
• Effects of population density on male accessory reproductive organs 

and many, many other topics in a very wide range of ecological and evolutionary fields (details about topics for future research projects are available via the VU’s Department of Ecological Science). This is also the place where you can find all the current research topics of the department. These include topics in Systems Ecology, Biodiversity, Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Molecular Ecology, Evolution, Animal Behaviour.
The Master’s degree in Ecology ultimately offers access to a number of national and internatiional PhD degree programmes. Our department’s PhD programme is part of the graduate school Production Ecology & Resource Conservation (PE&RC) The PhD programme always consists of a research project, leading to a PhD thesis/dissertation, and of several compulsory or optional course modules. For more information on PhD programmes and Research Schools please check:


Research schools
Department of Ecological Sciences 

Dutch students

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide on your admission after having evaluated your complete online application.

In order to gain admission to one of our Master’s programmes, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 EC or equivalent. We do not require a GRE or GMAT test score.

Direct admission.
In general, you can be admitted to the Ecology and Evolution programme if you have completed a Bachelor’s degree in Biology in The Netherlands. Students who are selected of the Double Degree programme, are also directly admissible to the programme.

Furthermore, admission is provided to VU students with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences, Health and Life Sciences or Earth Sciences, with an examination programme that should minimally include at least the following components:

• Minor Evolutionary Biology and Ecology (30 EC)  or equivalent
• Sufficient statistical knowledge (i.e. 12 EC)

Dutch Bachelor’s degree in another subject.
If you have a Bachelor’s degree in another subject, the Admission Board will decide whether you can be admitted. You will need to motivate that you have obtained sufficient knowledge, understanding and skills at the Bachelor's degree level, obtained at an institution of academic higher education:

a. Knowledge and understanding:

• Basic biological knowledge in the fields of Biochemistry and Cell Biology (insight into molecular and cellular processes in living organisms),
• Genetics (both at the organismal and population level)
• Evolutionary biology (origin and development of life, processes of speciation, relationship between and within taxa, body plans of the most important groups),
• Ecology (understanding of ecosystems, the ecological processes that play a role within them and the interrelationship of those processes, behavioural ecology)
• Physiology (the function at supra-cellular level, insight into the construction and function of the main tissues, organs and organ systems and the regulation of their operation)
• Knowledge and understanding of basic statistical (e.g. t-test, regression and correlation analysis, analysis of variance, non-parametric tests) and mathematical principles and techniques (e.g. differentiation and integration, ordinary differential equations).

b. Skills:

• The ability to collect data in a systematic way by means of observations during (laboratory) research and fieldwork, using literature review or internet sources,
• The ability to manage the collected data and observations in relation to each other, save, process, interpret them and write a scientific report that meets the bachelor level,
• The ability to clearly define a biological question, along with accompanying assumptions and to determine a strategy for answering the question (under guidance),
• The ability to analyse research on main lines, both with regard to the design and conduct of research and to the interpretation of results.

In addition to the mentioned requirements above, the Admission Board will also assess requests for admission in terms of the following criteria:

• a. talent and motivation;
• b. proficiency in methods and techniques; i.e. the ability to work with computer programs in the field of: word processing, spreadsheets, modelling, statistical processing, graphics, presentations, management of databases and consultation of scientific literature.

In all cases, the final decision for admission will be based on the evaluation of these requirements in combination with a judgment of the scientific quality of the applicant’s Bachelor’s programme.


Contact information for questions regarding eligibility for both specializations
If you do not have a BSc in the appropriate discipline, if you have a Dutch HBO/HLO degree or if a period of more than 5 years has elapsed since you received your Bachelor’s diploma, you are strongly advised to contact the coordinator of the MSc Ecology programme before you start the online application in order to evaluate your chances of being admitted by the Admission Board.
 
Note that no rights can be derived from the reply given by the coordinator regarding your admission. Only with the “admission email” you will be officially notified about your conditional or unconditional admission.

In some cases, it is possible to include the premaster as part of your HBO study. You will need to ask permission of the Examination Board from your institution, which may permit you to take the premaster courses as your minor.

The pre-master’s programme encompasses 6-30 EC and can differ per student. The exact content will be determined by the deficiencies remaining despite the previous education of the candidate.

The pre-masters programme is generally composed of several course components from the BSc Biology programme (but components from programmes are possible), depending on the prospective students needs. One logical option is to do the 30 EC minor Evolutionary Biology & Ecology

Please look at the study guide, for information about the content of the courses.

Step 1: Meet admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online

Please prepare the following documents. You can find an explanation of each document on the application page. All documents should be provided in English.
• Copy of your valid passport or ID (only for EU residents)
• Curriculum Vitae
• Letter of Motivation
• Transcript (Provide a certified translation if it is not in Dutch or English)
• A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education
• A list of all the main literature used during your previous higher education
• BSc Thesis  (or another sample of academic writing)

The above documents should provide a clear and comprehensive description of the following:
• The statistical methods and analyses you are acquainted with;
• The ecological, evolutionary and genetic concepts/theories you are acquainted with;
• The textbooks that have been used for the above subjects;
• Detailed information on your BSc thesis, internships and working experience, if applicable;
• The experience you have with lab and field work;
• The address of the webpage where the Admission Board can find further information regarding the content and learning objectives of the courses in your Bachelor’s programme;
• Your current position/profession.

After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. Once you have completed the application, our student advisors will contact you via email.

Step 3: Await decision on admission
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer during busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you are admitted, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. That is the point when you can start planning your move to Amsterdam!

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. Here you will find an explanation about how to proceed after admission. When all conditions of your admission have been met, you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!

International students

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application.

Students from outside the EU.
If you have a Bachelor’s degree from outside the EU, the Admission Board will decide whether you can be admitted. In addition to relevant course and lab-work, students from outside the EU should also possess the following: average grades in the top 30% for course work in subjects relevant to Ecology and Evolution. E.g., 7 or higher for Dutch grades, 14 or higher in the French system, B or A for the USA or UK and 2 or 1 for German grades.

Main admission criteria.
In order to gain admission to the Master programme, you will need to have a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university. A minimum of 180 EC or equivalent is required, including at least three full years of academic study.
The main admission criteria to be admissible for the master’s programme are:

a. Knowledge and understanding:

 • Basic biological knowledge in the fields of Biochemistry and Cell Biology (insight into molecular and cellular processes in living organisms),
 • Genetics (both at the organismal and population level)
 • Evolutionary biology (origin and development of life, processes of speciation, relationship between and within taxa, body plans of the most important groups),
 • Ecology (understanding of ecosystems, the ecological processes that play a role within them and the interrelationship of those processes, behavioural ecology)
 • Physiology (the function at supra-cellular level, insight into the construction and function of the main tissues, organs and organ systems and the regulation of their operation)
 • Knowledge and understanding of basic statistical (e.g. t-test, regression and correlation analysis, analysis of variance, non-parametric tests) and mathematical principles and techniques (e.g. differentiation and integration, ordinary differential equations).

b. Skills:

 • The ability to collect data in a systematic way by means of observations during (laboratory) research and fieldwork, using literature review or internet sources,
 • The ability to manage the collected data and observations in relation to each other, save, process, interpret them and write a scientific report that meets the bachelor level,
 • The ability to clearly define a biological question, along with accompanying assumptions and to determine a strategy for answering the question (under guidance),
 • The ability to analyse research on main lines, both with regard to the design and conduct of research and to the interpretation of results.

In addition to the mentioned requirements above, the Admission Board will also assess requests for admission in terms of the following criteria:

 • a. talent and motivation;
 • b. proficiency in methods and techniques; i.e. the ability to work with computer programs in the field of: word processing, spreadsheets,modelling, statistical processing, graphics, presentations,management of databases and consultation of scientific literature.

In all cases, the final decision for admission will be based on the evaluation of these requirements in combination with a judgment of the scientific quality of the applicant’s Bachelor’s programme.

Language Requirements

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam also requires international applicants to take an English test. You can, however, begin your application without having the test results. Please be aware of the fact that it can take a long time to receive the results of English proficiency tests, so plan your test on time! In case you have not taken a test yet, we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. Deadlines for submitting the test results are as follows:
Students who require a visa: June 1
Students who do not require a visa: August 30
Below you will find the minimum English test scores for the Ecology programme:

IELTS (academic):
 Minimum Overall Band Score 6.5
- Minimum Sub-score Listening 6.0
- Minimum Sub-score Reading 6.0
- Minimum Sub-score Writing 6.5
- Minimum Sub-score Speaking 6.0

TOEFL:
Paper-based test 580
- Minimum Sub-score Listening Comprehension 58
- Minimum Sub-score Structure and Written Expression 59
- Minimum Sub-score Reading Comprehension 58
Internet-based test 92
- Minimum Sub-score Reading 18
- Minimum Sub-score Listening 19
- Minimum Sub-score Speaking 19
- Minimum Sub-score Writing 24

Cambridge English:
Cambridge Advanced Exam A, B, C
Cambridge Proficiency Exam A, B, C

Copies of your English test results can be sent to the following addresses: 

admissionsfels@vu.nl
Please refer to the Language Requirements webpage for the general requirements regarding language proficiency.

If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.

Step 1: Meet admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online

Please prepare the following documents. You can find an explanation of each document on the application page. All documents should be provided in English.

• Copy of your valid passport or ID (only for EU residents)
• Curriculum Vitae
• Letter of Motivation
• Transcript (Provide a certified translation if it is not in Dutch or English)
• A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education
• A list of all the main literature used during your previous higher education
• BSc Thesis  (or another sample of academic writing)
• 2 Letters of Recommendation

The above documents should provide a clear and comprehensive description of the following:

• The statistical methods and analyses you are acquainted with;
• The ecological, evolutionary and genetic concepts/theories you are acquainted with;
• The textbooks that have been used for the above subjects;
• Detailed information on your BSc thesis, internships and working experience, if applicable;
• The experience you have with lab work;
• The address of the webpage where the Admission Board can find further information regarding the content and learning objectives of the courses in your Bachelor’s programme;
• Your current position/profession.


After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. Once you have completed the application, our international student advisors will contact you via email.

Step 3: Await decision on admission

The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer during periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you are admitted, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. That is the point when you can start planning your move to Amsterdam! 

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!

Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. When all conditions of your admission have been met, you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!

As an international incoming student, you can read more about practical matters and starting your studies in the Netherlands in our ‘Getting Started’ guide.

For further information about admission to the programme and other question related to the programme you can contact the master coordinator. 

Joris M. koene

VU Amsterdam
Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences
De Boelelaan 1085, room H-142
1081 HV Amsterdam
T +31 (0)20 59 87046
E joris.koene@vu.nl

For questions regarding your application, registration or general inquiries, please contact the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences International Student Advisor:

Sandra van Daalen
T: +31 (0)20 59 87459
E: admissionsfels@vu.nl

General information about VU Amsterdam

Please phone us at +31 (0)20 59 85000 (Monday-Friday 9:00 to 12:00). You may also email us at study@vu.nl.

Contact our student ambassadors

If you are wondering what it is like to live and study in Amsterdam from a current student perspective, do not hesitate to contact our student ambassadors; they would love to share their experiences with you!


Master’s day: 4th of November 2017 and 10th of March 2018