Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular) | University of Oxford
Biochemistry
Image of DNA molecules.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular)

UCAS codeC700Duration4 years (MBiochem)
Entrance requirements

A*AA with A* in Maths or a science (or equivalent)

Subject requirements  Chemistry and another science or Maths
  Maths
  Biology (beyond GCSE)
Admissions test(s)NoneWritten workNone
Admissions statistics*

Interviewed: 59%
Successful: 16%
Intake: 104
*3-year average 2016-18

ContactEmail Biochemistry

Subject requirements:       Essential       Recommended       Helpful – may be useful on course

Biochemistry is the use of molecular methods to investigate, explain and manipulate biological processes. The study of life at the molecular level continues to undergo dynamic expansion, 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 valuable developments in drug design and synthesis, forensic science, environmental monitoring and a whole range of other areas. Furthermore, advances in biochemistry are largely responsible for the breakdown of traditional disciplinary boundaries between cell biology, medicine, physics and chemistry.

The Biochemistry Department in Oxford is one of the largest in Europe, and is subdivided into the following 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 digital resources together with access to a wide range of online and print journals.

Research placements/international opportunities

An important aspect of the Oxford Biochemistry course is its fourth-year project, lasting 23 full-time weeks, which provides an opportunity to pursue an in-depth research project under the supervision of an academic member of staff. You choose a project, plan your research programme, design your experiments and present your results to other researchers 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.

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

students socializing Student in a lab
“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 master’s year included - this has given me invaluable skills in and understanding of research, which is incredibly useful when approaching research in my current role.”
REBECCA
 “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!”
JEMMA

A typical week (Years 1-3)

During Years 1-3, your weekly timetable will be divided between lectures (eight to ten a week), tutorials and classes (1 to 3 a week) and practicals (averaging 1 full day a week). The remaining time will be spent on independent 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

In your fourth year, you will choose and complete a project, lasting 25 full-time weeks, which allows you to explore in detail both laboratory-based research and specific recent advances in biochemistry. Alongside the first 3 weeks of the project there will be some advanced skills training. Apart from the project, you will have the task of writing an extended essay in the form of a review article.

You will need to be in Oxford for 12 weeks in the first term, followed by a two-week break over Christmas. You will continue your project over the 8 weeks of the second term and first 3 weeks of the third term, submitting your project dissertation thereafter. You will also deliver an oral presentation on your project.

Under the supervision of a group leader, you will design your own experiments, learn to plan research programmes and present your results and ideas – orally and in written form – to other workers in the field. The research project is written up in a dissertation in a form suitable for publication. While the experience gained and extra maturity acquired during the fourth year is much valued by employers, the project will also give you the opportunity to reflect on your aptitude and enthusiasm for a research career. 

This additional work in your 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. The final degree class is derived from a combination of marks from the assessment on the work done in the second, third and fourth years. 

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

Course structure

YEAR 1
COURSES

Five courses are taken:

  • Cellular biochemistry
  • Molecular biochemistry
  • Mechanistic biochemistry
  • Physical biochemistry
  • Quantitative biochemistry

ASSESSMENT

First University examinations: 5 written papers; satisfactory practical record

YEARS 2 AND 3
COURSES

Teaching is done along five themes: 

  • Tool boxes for biochemistry
  • Information transfer in biological systems
  • Molecular processes in the cell
  • Cellular chemistry
  • The cell in time and space

ASSESSMENT

Twice-yearly summative assessments (4 x 2 hours)

Final University examinations, Part 1: 7  written papers; satisfactory practical record

YEAR 4 (EXTENDED FIRST TERM)
COURSES
  • Research project:
    This provides the opportunity to be embedded in a research group and carry out an in-depth research project (23 weeks, full time plus 2 weeks for writing). Advanced skills training alongside the 1st 3 weeks of the project. 
  • Coursework:
    Extended essay in the form of a review article

ASSESSMENT

Assessment of the research project, along with broader research skills displayed in the written work - the project dissertation and the review article. 

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

Academic requirements 

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)

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

Subject requirements

  Essential: Chemistry to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or any other equivalent, plus another science or Mathematics.
  Recommended: 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.
  Helpful: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.

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.

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

Applying

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 admissions 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.

Careers

Biochemists play an important 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.’

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.)

Latest information for UK and EU undergraduates who will begin their course in 2020 can be found here. Further information for EU students starting in 2020 is available here.

The fees and funding information below relates to those who will start at Oxford in 2019.

Fees

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

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU£9,250
Islands
(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£9,250
Overseas£32,715

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

Home/EU

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.

Islands
(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

Overseas

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.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provides applicants with statistics about undergraduate life at Oxford. But there is so much more to an Oxford degree that the numbers can’t convey.

The Oxford tutorial

College tutorials are central to teaching at Oxford. Typically, they take place in your college and are led by your academic tutor(s) who teach as well as do their own research. Students will also receive teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. However, tutorials offer a level of personalised attention from academic experts unavailable at most universities.

During tutorials (normally lasting an hour), college subject tutors will give you and one or two tutorial partners feedback on prepared work and cover a topic in depth. The other student(s) in your college tutorials will be from your year group, doing the same course as you and will normally be at your college. Such regular and rigorous academic discussion develops and facilitates learning in a way that isn’t possible through lectures alone. Tutorials also allow for close progress monitoring so tutors can quickly provide additional support if necessary.

Read more about tutorials and an Oxford education

College life

Our colleges are at the heart of Oxford’s reputation as one of the best universities in the world.

  • At Oxford, everyone is a member of a college as well as their subject department(s) and the University. Students therefore have both the benefits of belonging to a large, renowned institution and to a small and friendly academic community. Each college or hall is made up of academic and support staff, and students. Colleges provide a safe, supportive environment leaving you free to focus on your studies, enjoy time with friends and make the most of the huge variety of opportunities.
  • Each college has a unique character, but generally their facilities are similar. Each one, large or small, will have the following essential facilities:
    • Porters’ lodge (a staffed entrance and reception)
    • Dining hall
    • Lending library (often open 24/7 in term time)
    • Student accommodation
    • Tutors’ teaching rooms
    • Chapel and/or music rooms
    • Laundry
    • Green spaces
    • Common room (known as the JCR).
  • All first year students are offered college accommodation either on the main site of their college or in a nearby college annexe. This means that your neighbours will also be ‘freshers’ and new to life at Oxford. This accommodation is guaranteed, so you don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to live after accepting a place here, all of this is organised for you before you arrive.
  • All colleges offer at least one further year of accommodation and some offer it for the entire duration of your degree. You may choose to take up the option to live in your college for the whole of your time at Oxford, or you might decide to arrange your own accommodation after your first year – perhaps because you want to live with friends from other colleges.
  • While college academic tutors primarily support your academic development, you can also ask their advice on other things. Lots of other college staff including welfare officers help students settle in and are available to offer guidance on practical or health matters. Current students also actively support students in earlier years, sometimes as part of a college ‘family’ or as peer supporters trained by the University’s Counselling Service.

More about Oxford colleges and how you choose