Are you thinking of studying Biology?
Biology – referred to by some universities as Biological Sciences – is the study of all living things, from miniscule micro-organisms such as bacteria right the way up to human beings, and from plants and fungi to the strange creatures that inhabit the depths of the world’s deepest oceans.
One need only consider the extraordinary diversity and complexity of life in all its forms to realise that Biology is a vast and varied subject, and if you’ve grown up feeling inspired by David Attenborough documentaries, this could very well be the degree for you.
What kind of things can I expect to study?
You’re likely to follow a more rigid set of introductory subjects for your first year, before being given more option to specialise for the remaining years of your course. Scope for specialising is huge, ranging from the cellular level to entire ecosystems and habitats. The study methods you’ll use are varied too, and will include lectures, lab work, research projects and field trips. Some of the subjects you’re likely to cover are explained below.
Molecular and cellular biology and biochemistry
As the names imply, these disciplines are concerned with the study of life at a molecular level, looking at the molecular structure of cells and the workings of interactions taking place within them; DNA is one example of something you’d study as part of this.
Zoology and animal behaviour
Zoology is the study of animals in their innumerable shapes and sizes, from single-celled organisms to blue whales, including the habitats they live in. You can expect to study things like evolution, genes, anatomy, behaviour and populations as part of your zoology studies.
Botany – also known as Plant Biology – is the study of plants, including their cell structure, reproduction, taxonomy, metabolism and all other aspects of plant life. The study of plant life is particularly relevant to various aspects of human life, including agriculture and food, textiles, construction and genetic modification.
This branch of Biology looks specifically at human beings and the functions of the human body. It’s likely to include study of diseases, and you’ll develop an understanding of how the body reacts to the demands placed on it.
You’ll study different ecosystems and the life forms that inhabit and interact with them, and you’ll learn about the issues affecting the different environments that life has adapted to, both terrestrial and marine.
What do I need for a Biology degree?
A-level Biology is essential for a Biology degree, and universities will usually ask for at least one other science subject; Chemistry, Physics and/or Maths are especially helpful. Geography and Psychology may be accepted as additional science subjects at some universities.
What skills will I acquire?
As well as the scientific skills a Biology degree teaches – such as working effectively in a clinical laboratory and interpreting statistics and other data – it also confers many transferable skills that can be applied to many other work environments. Your problem-solving skills will be honed, and your mathematical abilities will be developed during the course of this degree. As with any degree, Biology produces students who can communicate effectively and work well alone or within teams.
Will I get to travel as part of my degree?
Certain elements of a Biology degree lend themselves to the possibility of fieldwork, in particular the ecological/environmental aspects and marine biology. To give you an example, at Oxford, first-year Biology students go on a week-long ecological field course to Pembrokeshire in Wales, and there are further opportunity for UK and international travel for research projects later in the course. Zoology students at Reading get to go on a second-year field trip to Madagascar, a unique island ecosystem renowned for the incredible diversity of its wildlife.
What careers are possible with a Biology degree?
Many Biology graduates go on to postgraduate research, eventually achieving a doctorate and becoming full-time researchers. Other options include Research and Development roles within sectors such as food, water or healthcare; many Biology graduates work in hospitals or the pharmaceutical industry, for example. Another obvious application for a Biology degree is work in ecology and environmental conservation; some Biology graduates may also go on to work in zoos or in wildlife protection. That said, the skills you’ll pick up after studying Biology will come in useful for numerous other career paths, including teaching, finance, law, the Civil Service and many others.
Biology is such a diverse subject that it’s not surprising that there are a few related courses that let you specialise to a greater degree. Here are some other courses you might want to consider if you’re contemplating applying for Biology.
- Zoology – if you’d like to focus exclusively on the study of animals, Zoology is for you.
- Human Sciences – this degree allows you to concentrate solely on studying Human Biology.
- Biochemistry – if you most enjoy studying Biology at the molecular level, you may find that Biochemistry is more suitable for you.
- Chemistry – Chemistry might be a better choice if you think you’d also be interested in studying inorganic materials and physics as part of your degree.
- Geography and/or Geology – these subjects may suit you better if you’re more interested in studying the environments to which life has adapted.
A final thought on Biology
Biology is an enjoyable subject that’s ideal for those who are interested in studying the world around them. It’s a subject that gives you a deeper appreciation of the complexity of life and the ways in which it has the capacity to adapt to the world’s many different ecosystems. At the same time as giving you subject-specific knowledge and scientific skills, it also teaches you a great range of transferable skills that will greatly increase your employability. Whether your interests lie in the tiniest life forms or the way in which populations work, or anywhere in between, you’re unlikely to experience a dull day when studying this endlessly fascinating subject.