Biological Sciences

Please visit the Biology webpages on the University of Oxford's website for full details and information on the application process.

A large number of Pembroke graduates continue research to M.Sc. and Ph.D. status or follow vocational careers in field-based conservation. Other graduates enter industry, scientific journalism, publishing, computing, teaching or commerce.

Pembroke's tutors are themselves all engaged in research across the breadth of the field. Professor Alex Kacelnik is an expert in animal behaviour; with a particular speciality in the study of the tool-making behaviour of crows and cockatoos. Professor Nick Kruger's research explores the metabolic networks of plants.

 

Course Details

Biological Sciences at Oxford is a single honours degree course taught jointly by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology. The undergraduate degree in Biology at Oxford has been extensively revised in the last few years to reflect the importance of both pure and applied biology throughout the plant, animal and microbial kingdoms. The course is structured to allow greater variety of choice whilst preserving in-depth treatment of key topics. It begins with a first year that covers all the main areas of biology - the origin of life and the diversity of living organisms, from cells and molecules through to populations and ecosystems. The emphasis of this initial year is on giving everyone a foundation in the range of topics now covered by modern biology so that they will be in a position to make an informed choice of specialist areas for their second and third years. There are also courses on computing and data handling as essential tools for any biologist.

The second year is unified by two compulsory courses; one in Evolution & Systematics and the other in Quantitative Methods & Statistics. Evolution is a central theme running through the whole of biology. It is also an area where Oxford has exceptional teaching and research expertise and this is used to construct a course that emphasizes the interactions between different levels of biology. Statistics and data handling are important tools for every biologist, helping us to design both observational and experimental studies and then making sense of the data, and computers play an important role in contemporary biology. These courses provide the core on which to build a coherent modern synthesis of biology.

The rest of the course is organised into several broad subject areas, presented in a way that allows progression from basic knowledge in the second year to advanced topics in the third year.

In the second year lectures are offered under the six themes listed below. Students are encouraged to attend lectures within all themes but are likely to specialise in four or five.

• Animal Biology 
• Plants and People 
• Cell & Developmental Biology 
• Adaptations to the Environment 
• Ecology 
• Infectious Disease: Pathogens and Parasites

In the final year, the six general themes diversify into about twenty specialist options which cover the full breadth of active research in the departments. Students are recommended to take a minimum of six specialist options but can take more if they wish to do so. There is no restriction on the combination of these options that you choose, allowing you to continue studying across the whole of biology or to specialise in a particular area of the subject.

During their third year all students undertake two independent specialist course assignments; one in the form of an extended essay or another piece of written work, and the other as an oral presentation. The precise format of these assignments is specified by the particular themes, but there is complete freedom in the choice of topic within the areas covered by or related to the course options.

All undergraduates also undertake a research project during their second and third years, supervised by a member of academic staff. The topic may be the student’s own idea or one chosen from suggestions by members of the departments.  Students carry out practical research, either in the laboratory or field, analyse data using rigorous scientific method and conventions, and write a report. Often this work is at the cutting edge of the subject, and this provides an exciting opportunity to gain first-hand experience of original research. The results from many of these projects have been published in scientific journals.

Throughout the course, lectures and practical classes are supported by around one tutorial per week with supplementary classes as appropriate. The members of the biology teaching group at Pembroke have diverse interests including animal behaviour, ecology, environmental and conservation biology, plant physiology, cell biology, mathematical modelling and evolution. The College tutors provide much of the teaching in the sections of the course involving these areas and organise tutorials for other subjects amongst the specialist teaching staff in the Departments of Plant Sciences, Zoology, Physiology and Biochemistry.

In addition, many Oxford biology students organise expeditions of their own to different parts of the world (Indonesia, Peru and Siberia are three recent examples) and make use of the expertise of members of the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology to help plan their expeditions.

Dr Nick Kruger is a Lecturer in Plant Biochemistry and Metabolic Physiology at the Department of Plant Sciences. His research interests focus on metabolic control theory and the regulation of plant carbohydrate metabolism which determines the production of the raw materials that supply food, fibre, fuel and feedstock for human use.

Professor Alex Kacelnik is the Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the Department of Zoology and is the E.P. Abraham Fellow at Pembroke. He works on problems of decision making in animals and humans with a special interest in the relations between learning and evolutionary ecology.

Dr Mark Fricker is a lecturer in Cell Biology and Plant Physiology at the Department of Plant Sciences. He works on the development and application of advanced microscope imaging techniques that help in visualising dynamic cellular processes in 4-D.

 

Other useful links

Biological Sciences at Oxford