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Biological Sciences

Oxford has a world-wide reputation in Biology for both teaching and research.  Biology is a major growth area in science at present and the Biological Sciences degree course covers modern developments and techniques, and makes full use of Oxford's major research expertise in animal, plant and molecular biology.  Faculty in the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology have excellent links with government, national research organizations and industry in Britain and throughout the world. In a recent audit of the Biological Sciences course by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), we were awarded maximum points (24 out of 24).

If you come to read for a degree in Biological Sciences at Oxford, you will spend the first two years encountering the full range of biology, developing an understanding of biological processes at the levels of molecules, cells, organisms and populations.  In your third year you will be able to specialize to a greater extent, pursuing to the forefront of the latest research findings those subjects that interest you most, while retaining a broad overview of important concepts of Biology.  Assessment of students in the Biology course does not rely on a set of ‘traditional’ final examinations, but uses extended essays, second year exams and project work which together count about 50% towards your final degree classification.

Advantages of Keble

We are close to the where the Department of Zoology (temporarily relocated) and Plant Sciences, and are immediately adjacent to the Radcliffe Science Library (the Science division of the Bodleian) and the Hooke Lending Library.  The University Museum, famous as the site of the Huxley-Wilberforce debate, and housing its very fine zoological collections, is immediately across the road from Keble.

Careers for biologists

About one third of Oxford biology graduates go on to higher degrees, either in research or to obtain further biological qualifications before continuing as professional biologists. Over 95% of Oxford graduates find employment within 6 months.  Biologists are particularly employable, since their skills of data handling and of integrating different sorts of information are recognised as valuable by employers in a wide range of fields.

Course structure


Complete and up-to-date information on the course and how to apply can be found on the subject's page on the University's admissions website.

The first year of the course is composed of three courses covering different levels of complexity from cells and genes, through to organisms and ecology. Lectures and tutorials will be complemented by a new practical course giving a coherent introduction to lab and field techniques. There will also be a course on quantitative methods and data handling, and a one-week field course in Pembrokeshire.

The second and third year courses have been significantly reorganized. The new second year course consists of themes that reduce artificial divisions by kingdom (i.e. animal or plant biology), and there is now no requirement to specify main subject areas at this stage. Thus students can sample all areas of biology.  Additional emphasis has been placed on emerging topics relevant to society such as GM crops, bio-fuels, stem cells and ageing.  The second year will include a research project which can be in any area in biology, and can be lab or field based. The project is written up as a dissertation which contributes 15% of the marks in the final examination. The third year course has been re-grouped into around 20 advanced topics, again with no restriction of choice. Work in the 3rd year includes two course assignments (an extended essay and a presentation) which contribute 15% towards the final degree classification. In addition to lectures, a blend of tutorials and classes is retained throughout the course.

Typical pattern of teaching

The teaching in the Departments comprises lectures, classes and practicals, organised in a series of blocks.  This is backed up by an intercollegiate system of tutorials, where you will meet your tutors usually once a week.

Field classes or field courses supplement these, in Oxford (for instance at the University's Wytham Wood) or further afield, such as the higher plants field course in Portugal and a third-year course on tropical forest ecology in Borneo.  In addition, many Oxford biology students organise expeditions of their own to different parts of the world (Indonesia, New Zealand and Siberia are three recent examples), making use of the expertise of members of the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology to help in planning these.

Qualities sought for entry

We look for people with a genuine enthusiasm for biology, who can prove their interest and commitment by showing they have undertaken relevant extra-curricular activities or reading or projects.  Biology candidates have a particularly wide range of academic backgrounds, since syllabuses are very varied, which we take into account during selection.

For candidates taking A levels, the recommendation (as in the University Prospectus) is as follows:

Essential: Biology (full A level)
Recommended: Another Science or Mathematics
Biology tutors across the University have agreed that conditional offers for those taking A levels, are going to be A* A A , with A* in a science or maths, unless there are unusual educational circumstances. For IB candidates the requirement is at least 39 points, with 7 in Biology (preferably) or another science or Mathematics.

Interview: Candidates will not be required to do a written test after they have arrived for interview.  The interview will be concerned solely with academic matters, to assess your interest and enthusiasm in the subject, and to discuss biological problems.

For further information see the Biology page of the Oxford Undergraduate Prospectus.


Approximate yearly intake Keble: 4
Department Website Biological Sciences


Via the College Office.


Professor Stephen Kearsey, MA DPhil, is our Fellow in Zoology, and holds a University Lectureship in the Department of Zoology.  His research group studies eukaryotic chromosome replication and cell cycle control. (see his departmental website for further details).

Dr Christine Booth, DPhil, is a Fellow by Special Election. She teaches biochemistry and cell biology.