M.Sc. in Genes in Behavior and Health (Research) Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Nature and nurture: how do they interact and correlate? Is health and wellbeing in our genes or is the environment the most important source of differences between people? And can we use DNA to predict our health?
Both twin studies and molecular genetic studies have highlighted the influence of our genetic code on behavior and health. To adequately understand and influence behavior and health, we need to increase our knowledge of the way our genes play their part, by themselves and when interacting with our environment.
The interplay of genes and the environment
During the two-year Genes in Behaviour and Health Research Master’s program, you’ll delve into these questions in depth to understand the causes of individual differences in behavior and health and learn about the interplay of genes and environment.
Team of excellent researchers
You will be taught by an extraordinary group of top researchers.
What is the influence of genetic and environmental factors on mental illness and lifestyle? Why is quitting smoking so much easier for one person than for another?
How we develop, what we observe, what decisions we make: everything is behavior. That behavior is influenced by where and how we grow up and the predispositions passed on to us by our parents. The interplay between all these factors shapes who we are, what we do, and how we view the world. To what extent can these differences between people be attributed to genetic factors and/or environmental factors?
Be part of a new generation of talented researchers
The two-year Research Master’s program 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 behavior/molecular genetics and genetic epidemiology. In choosing this program, you’ll 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 behavioral and health sciences involving prevention and care.
Well-known Twin Register
Opting for the Research Master’s program brings you into an inspiring research environment. The Department of Biological Psychology is famous for its Netherlands Twin Register: a unique data repository containing genetic and environmental information for more than 50,000 twin families, who are followed longitudinally.
You will be taught by expert staff members and researchers from other institutes worldwide who regularly visit to give lectures and workshops. Teaching takes place in small groups, providing ample opportunities for interaction with staff.
In the first year, you’ll gain 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 behavior and health. You’ll also learn the basic computer skills needed to conduct gene-finding studies.
You’ll focus on classical twin studies as well as extended pedigree analyses, to learn to formulate structural equation models to investigate the heritability of traits within the area of psychology, behavior, and health, and to test gene x environment interactions and correlations.
Other courses focus on Epigenomics and Sequencing in Behaviour and Health and statistical programming. In addition, you’ll take an in-depth programming course, covering R and some Python.
At the end of the year, you’ll apply your knowledge in an internship in which you’ll carry out a research project in close collaboration with an experienced VU supervisor. These internships are often an integral part of active academic projects and frequently contribute to the publication.
- Internship 1
- Introduction to omics
- Statistical Programming in R and Python
- Behavioural Genetics
- Gene Finding: Genome-Wide Association Studies and beyond
- Epigenomics and Sequencing in Behaviour and Health
- Imaging and cardiovascular genetics
In the second year, you’ll learn how to use large population-based information databases in the study of human genetics.
You’ll focus on the theoretical foundation of biometrical and quantitative genetics, and the insights needed to understand genetic findings from empirical studies. For example, one course is all about a rapidly developing and growing field: personalized medicine and health. You’ll also choose one elective course to extend your knowledge in a specific area of your interest.
To help you write a good grant proposal, the lecturers will share their knowledge. You’ll also actively practice scientific communication through interviews, newspaper articles, websites, and social media.
Finally, as part of a second internship, you’ll independently conduct a research project, which will be completed by writing your Master’s thesis.
- Internship 2
- Complex Trait Genetics
- Nature of nurture: gene-environment correlation and interaction in the family
- Personalized Health and Medicine
- Grant Writing and Science Communication
The Genes in Behaviour and Health Research Master’s program equips you with the theoretical basis, methodological proficiency, and research practices needed to pursue an academic research career.
Most graduates from the program, therefore, continue to pursue a career in scientific research. Of course, a career in biotechnology-oriented sectors, focused on health or medical technology, is also a great opportunity.
What can you do after your Master's degree?
Start your career
Most graduates from the Genes in Behaviour and Health Research Master’s program continue to pursue a career in scientific research, and take a Ph.D. position at a university, either in the Netherlands or abroad. Others find roles as researchers at national or international applied research institutes.
Outside academia, you could start a career in biotechnology-oriented sectors focusing on health or medical technology. You could work as a consultant, researcher, or big data analyst.