Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular) | University of Oxford
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Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular)

The study of living things at the molecular level has undergone tremendous expansion in recent years, leading to ever-increasing insights into topics as various as the origin of life, the nature of disease and the development of individual organisms. Powerful new techniques, such as those of molecular genetics and NMR spectroscopy, enable us to analyse biological phenomena in more and more precise molecular terms. These studies have led to commercially valuable developments in drug design and synthesis, forensic science, environmental sensing and a whole range of other areas. Furthermore, advances in biochemistry are largely responsible for the breakdown of traditional boundaries between cell biology, medicine, physics and chemistry as their applications become increasingly wide reaching.

The Biochemistry Department in Oxford is one of the largest in Europe, and is subdivided into research areas: Cell Biology, Development and Genetics; Chromosomal and RNA Biology; Infection and Disease Processes; Microbiology and Systems Biology; and Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics. The department is extremely active in research, with about 300 postgraduate students and research staff. The breadth and excellence of these activities are reflected in the scope of the undergraduate course and underpin the teaching.

The department has superb research and teaching facilities and excellent IT resources together with access to a wide range of online and hard-copy journals.

An important aspect of the Oxford Biochemistry course is its fourth-year project, lasting 18 full-time weeks, which allows you to explore in detail both laboratory-based research and specific recent advances in biochemistry. You choose the project yourself. Under the supervision of a group leader, you will design your own experiments and will learn to plan research programmes and present your results and ideas – orally and in written form – to other workers in the field. The experience gained is much valued by employers. The project also gives you the opportunity to reflect on your aptitude and enthusiasm for a research career.

Research placements/international opportunities

A wide choice of fourth-year research projects is available both within the Biochemistry Department and in related departments, such as Molecular Medicine, Clinical Biochemistry, Pathology and Pharmacology. It is also possible to carry out your project outside the University or indeed the UK.


Biochemists are playing an increasingly wide role in biological, environmental and clinical fields, with employment areas stretching from healthcare through forensic science to the food and pharmaceutical industries. Typically about 60% of our biochemistry graduates go on to do research or further study, mostly in the biochemistry field, while others find employment in industry, commerce or other areas, such as finance and the law. Further details of careers in biochemistry can be found on the UK Biochemical Society website

Recent biochemistry graduates include a PhD researcher in clinical medicine, a financial analyst, a market research executive, and a research assistant at a Chinese university.

Erin, who graduated in 2010, is a clinical scientist for the NHS. She says:  ‘My degree not only gave me the knowledge and qualification necessary for a career in Clinical Biochemistry, but the methods of teaching employed at Oxford University have helped me develop an investigative and independent way of thinking, perfect for this career which applies scientific principles to clinical situations.’

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry or Human Sciences.

A typical week (years 1-3)

There are three terms in the Oxford academic year, each eight weeks long. Students usually arrive a week early in the first term of their first year for welcome and induction activities. 

During years 1–3, your work is divided between lectures (about ten a week), tutorials (one or three a week) and practicals (averaging one full day a week). The remaining time is spent on private study (set reading, or problem-solving exercises). Tutorials are usually 2-4 students and a tutor. Class sizes may very depending on the topic but are usually no more than 10-12 students. The ratio of demonstrators to students during practical sessions is usually about 1:12. 

Most tutorials and lectures are delivered by staff who are tutors in their subjects, many of whom are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research. Some tutorials and lectures may be delivered by postdoctoral researchers, while tutorials are occasionally delivered by postgraduate students. Departmental classes and practicals are supervised by a senior member of staff and largely delivered by postdoctoral researchers or postgraduate students who are studying at doctoral level. 

Year 4: extended terms

In the final year of the Biochemistry course, students also work an extended first term to begin their research project. You will need to be in Oxford for 12 weeks in the first term, followed by a two-week break over Christmas. You will then complete your project in the first six weeks of the second term, and then submit your project dissertation and deliver an oral presentation at the beginning of the final term.

In the remaining two weeks of the second term, and throughout the eight weeks of your final term, you will study two further courses that you choose from a list of options (see table below). These are assessed at the end of the final term.

This additional work in your final year means that you will graduate with an MBiochem - a masters degree - as well as invaluable research experience that will be excellent preparation for further study or a range of careers.

Your final degree class is derived from a combination of marks from second, third and fourth-year courses.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

1st year

Five courses are taken:

  • Molecular cell biology
  • Biological chemistry
  • Biophysical chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Mathematics and statistics


First University examinations:Five written papers; satisfactory practical record

2nd and 3rd years

Five courses are taken:

  • Structure and function of macromolecules
  • Energetics and metabolic processes
  • Molecular biology and genetics
  • Cell biology and integration of function
  • Data analysis and interpretation


Final University examinations, Part 1: Six written papers; satisfactory practical record

4th year (extended first term)

A research project (full time, 18 weeks) plus two courses taken from a list of six options. The list typically includes subjects such as:

  • Bionanotechnology
  • Cancer biology
  • Clinical and applied immunology
  • Membrane transport
  • Neuropharmacology
  • Signalling and coordination in plants
  • Structural proteomics
  • Virology


Final University examinations, Part II:

Project dissertation and oral presentation; options written papers and/or submitted coursework

The course structure is currently under review, the results of which are likely to affect students starting from October 2020. Details will be on the Biochemistry website as soon as these become available.

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

  • A-levels: A*AA with A* in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry or Biology, or a closely related subject
  • Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
  • IB: 39 (including core points) with 7 in HL Chemistry and 6 in two other relevant subjects at HL or SL
  • Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and international qualifications)

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved. (See further information on how we use contextual data.) 

Candidates are expected to have Chemistry to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or any other equivalent, plus another science or Mathematics. Mathematics to A-level or the equivalent is recommended to students in completing the course and, although not required for admission, may make an application more competitive.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

Biology beyond GCSE or the equivalent (eg AS-level, Scottish Highers, Standard Level in the IB) can be helpful to students in completing the course, although is not required for admission. More detailed information is available on the department website.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)


These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2019.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)

For more information please refer to our course fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for the academic year starting in 2019 are estimated to be between £1,058 and £1,643 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support


A tuition fee loan is available from the UK government to cover course fees in full for Home (UK)/EU students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your course fees up front.

In 2019 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of around £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less. This support is available in addition to the government living costs support.  See further details.

(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man


Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional Fees and Charges Information for Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular)

All students are required to wear laboratory coats and safety glasses during practicals. These can be purchased from the department at a subsidised cost of £10.

In the final year of the Biochemistry course, students work an extended first term to begin their research project. You will need to be in Oxford for 12 weeks in the first term, followed by a two-week break over Christmas. You will then complete your project in the first six weeks of the second term, and then submit your project dissertation and deliver an oral presentation at the beginning of the final term. In the remaining two weeks of the second term, and throughout the eight weeks of your final term, you will study two further courses that you choose from a list of options. These are assessed at the end of the final term.

The extended terms mean that you will need to budget for higher living costs in the final year, as you will be required to be in Oxford for longer than the standard terms. The additional work in this final year means that you will graduate with an MBiochem - a master’s degree - as well as invaluable research experience that will be excellent preparation for further study or a range of careers.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work and written tests

You do not need to take a written test or submit any written work as part of an application for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

As Biochemistry is not taught as an A-level subject, tutors will not expect you to have a detailed knowledge of the subject. However, if you are shortlisted for interview, tutors will be looking for an informed interest in the subject (originating from news items, books, magazine articles etc) together with an ability to use information (from other school or college subjects, particularly Chemistry) to analyse and solve problems and to construct your own opinions. 

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Biochemistry website.

Suggested reading

A suggested reading list for prospective Biochemistry applicants can be found on the Biochemistry website.


Claire Hogben

Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.


'I really like the way that Oxford teaches. It is very different from other universities where you pick options a lot sooner. The course allows you to see what’s out there and really lays the foundation work that is absolutely needed if you want to go into science careers when you finish. I also like the 18-week project that is at the end of my fourth year. I’m really looking forward to it as I’ll get the chance to work for an extended amount of time in a lab. It will definitely help me to decide whether a job in research/PhD is for me!'


The most unexpected thing about my course:

The breadth and detail of topics covered: I learnt an unbelievable amount over my four years.

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

Not to panic or stress about the workload. Work is hard and often tackles challenging concepts but if you've been accepted you should be confident in your own abilities and know that you can handle it.

Also don't be afraid to get stuck into extra-curricular activities. There are so many clubs available and it's a great way to meet people as well as allowing you to develop your non-academic talents/hobbies.

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

Allow me to mature as an adult and a student as well as introducing me to so many great friends.

My favourite Oxford memory is...

Winning varsity matches for the Blues swimming team. Post-exam celebrations and graduation. As well as countless memories with the friends I made.

I'd just like to add:

That I can't wait to start my DPhil back in Oxford in October. 


First job after graduating

I decided to broaden my horizons and reapply the following year. Through the careers service I was able to undertake a placement teaching English as a foreign language in Poland.

Current job

I'm employed by the NHS as a Clinical Scientist specialising in molecular genetics. My job is very analytical and involves identifying 'spelling mistakes' in DNA and determining if the changes are responsible for the clinical presentation of the patient.

How did Oxford prepare you for this type of work?

A sound all round knowledge of biochemistry is extremely useful for understanding and using the scientific literature to help interpret the data from a particular patient’s sample.

What was the most important thing your time at Oxford taught you?

My time at Oxford made me feel like it was normal to spend 'free time' studying and reading for pleasure. It also helped me learn to speak up and increased my confidence. My time at Oxford was only the start of the journey.

I would say to potential students that, no matter what happens to them next, that the future is up to them. Don't be afraid to follow opportunities simply because you are interested in them and ask for help when you need it.


First job after graduating

I worked as Education and Outreach Officer for the British Pharmacological Society. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next - I knew I wanted a break from studying, and I wasn't convinced that research science was for me, so I started looking for jobs in outreach and widening participation, as it was something I'd done quite a bit of as a volunteer while at uni.

Current job

I am on the NHS Scientist Training Programme training as a Clinical Biochemist. Clinical biochemists are the scientists working in hospital laboratories to interpret the results of a huge variety of tests performed on patient samples, and also work with clinical and scientific staff to develop new tests and methods, and to improve existing ones. The programme is a three year work based scheme, and I am also completing a masters at the University of Manchester alongside this, which is fully funded.

It's incredibly satisfying to think that your daily work is directly influencing someone's health and life.

How did Oxford prepare you for this type of work?

Most obviously, the broad knowledge of biochemistry that I learned has been invaluable as a starting point for learning the more specialist clinical biochemistry that is part of my current training. I learned a lot about being able to work independently and to proactively seek knowledge and opportunities, which is critical when training in a busy hospital department. I also feel lucky to have completed an undergraduate degree with a masters year included - this has given me invaluable skills in and understanding of research, which is incredibly useful when approaching research in my current role.

What was the most important thing your time at Oxford taught you?

It taught me to work independently, to be proactive in my learning and to manage my time well to complete lots of different projects simultaneously (both academic work and other commitments).

The opportunity to pursue activities outside of academic work was incredibly useful, and I believe invaluable in helping me to secure my first job after graduating. I learned a lot through volunteering, managing projects and leading teams of volunteers, and these are skills I still draw on regularly - and I think set me apart from others with similar degrees or subject knowledge.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college

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