Biology

Please note: this Biology course has been changed since the Undergraduate Prospectus was printed. The course structure has changed, and there is now the opportunity to study for a fourth year and graduate with a Master's degree (MBiol), in addition to the existing BA degree.  

Biology is an exciting and rapidly developing subject area. The study of living things has undergone tremendous expansion in recent years, and topics such as cell biology, developmental biology, evolutionary biology and ecology are advancing rapidly - all of these areas are covered in the taught course. This expansion has been accompanied by a blurring of the distinctions between disciplines. A biologist with an interest in tropical plants may use many of the tools and techniques that are indispensable to a molecular geneticist; contemporary evolution can be studied in laboratory and field settings; and behaviour of animals and plants needs computational perspectives. Our modular structure encourages this cross-disciplinary approach.

The Biology degree is taught jointly by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology. Additional resources include: Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Botanic Garden, Herbarium, Arboretum, the John Krebs field station and Wytham Woods.

Students can choose to leave after three years and graduate with a BA, or they can continue to a fourth year and graduate with an MBiol. Progression to the MBiol is contingent on satisfactory academic performance in the first three years. The fourth year consists of an extended project, which can be lab or field based, plus advanced research skills training.

Skills training is an integral part of teaching across all years and there is a compulsory one-week field trip for all first-year students to Pembrokeshire to study ecology. Skills training in second year is also compulsory and covers a whole range of more advanced practical and quantitative skills essential for a modern biologist. At the end of second year, students can choose from a range of extended skills courses that last one or two weeks: examples include ecological fieldwork (in the UK and overseas), genome sequencing and genome editing. In the third year, students specialise on a narrower range of options but skills training continues – this time in the form of learning how to engage with and critique a scientific paper. All overseas work requires financial contributions from the student.

Careers in Biology

The new Biology course was introduced for the first time in 2019; hence we do not have any graduates yet. The following comments are taken from interviews made with students graduating from the three-year BA in Biological Sciences.

Over half of Oxford biologists embark on a professional, scientific or technical career after graduation; this includes areas such as industry, finance, medicine, the law, teaching, the media or conservation. More than a third go on to further study such as a research doctorate or a postgraduate course in an applied field.

Example 1: After graduation, Jenny spent several years in a medical communication agency environment and now has her own business, working directly with major global pharmaceutical companies. She explains: ‘The tutorial system and writing opportunities during my degree were critical in developing the skills needed to analyse and interpret data, present them clearly and concisely in context and discuss results of clinical trials.’

Example 2: Hannah, now a research assistant at the Royal Veterinary College, reports: ‘My degree gave me a keen interest in my subject and the skills to pursue it. So far I have tracked rhinos across deserts, chased birds across oceans, and am currently working with chickens!’

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular), Biomedical Sciences, Earth Sciences (Geology), Geography or Human Sciences.

A typical week

Almost all teaching takes place in the Science Area and in the first year can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Lectures: around eight hours a week
  • Research skills training: around seven hours a week
  • Class discussions: around one hour a week
  • Tutorials: one hour a week, plus preparation time.

In the second and third year, variable hours are also spent on coursework elements. Tutorials are usually 2-4 students and a tutor. Lectures and practical class sizes will vary depending on the options chosen. They will normally range from around 115 students in the class to as few as 20 students in the class.  

Most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by staff who are tutors in their subject. Many are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research. Some teaching may also be delivered by postgraduate students who are usually studying at doctorate level.

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

1st year
Courses

One course which integrates three themes:

  • Diversity of Life
  • How to Build a Phenotype
  • Ecology and Evolution

Skills training which includes quantitative methods and a field course to Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

Assessment

First University examinations: Three written papers:

  • Short-answer paper
  • Essay paper
  • Research skills paper

Coursework: four practical write-ups

2nd year
Courses

Students choose three themes from the four on offer.

Students may attend lectures in all themes.

Themes:

  • Genomes and Molecular Biology
  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Behaviour and Physiology of Organisms
  • Ecology and Evolution

Skills training, which includes a compulsory element plus extended one and two week specialist courses.

Assessment

Final University examinations, Part I:

Two written papers:

  • Essay paper covering the four themes
  • Research skills paper

Coursework:

  • Two practical write-ups
  • Detailed report on two-week extended skills course
3rd year
Courses

Eight specialist options are offered. 

Students are expected to take four, which are chosen freely.

A full list of current options is available on the Biology website.

Assessment

Final University examinations, Part II:
Three written papers:

  • Synthetic essay paper
  • Applications essay paper
  • Research skills paper

Coursework:

  • Critique and synthesis of a chosen research topic, presented as a scientific report
  • Critique and synthesis of a second chosen research topic, presented orally
4th year (optional MBiol*)
Courses

Advanced skills training.

Extended research project.

Assessment

Project (25% of MBiol)

* Students can choose to leave after three years and graduate with a BA, or they can continue to a fourth year and graduate with an MBiol. Progression to the MBiol is contingent on satisfactory academic performance in the first three years. 

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

A-levels: A*AA –Biology (or Human Biology) is required and the A* must be in a science or Mathematics (see the full list of subjects in which an A* grade will be acceptable)

Candidates are required to have Biology (or Human Biology) to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent. Another science or Mathematics are also recommended.

We expect you to have taken and passed the practical component in any chosen science subjects.

Please note these requirements listed above are for entry in 2019.

For entry from 2020, A-level Biology (or equivalent) will be required and a second A-level (or equivalent) must be in Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics. The general entry requirements for A-level students will remain A*AA  (see the full list of subjects in which an A* grade will be acceptable)

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.) 

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.)

Fees

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