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M.Sc. in Biology (Integrative Bioscience)
University of Oxford

Overview

 

 

What does the degree involve?

The one-year M.Sc. in Biology, administered from within the Department of Zoology of the University of Oxford, provides a broadly-based education in biological research methods and a first rate training for a future career in biological research, either academic or industrial.

The degree involves a small class of students of high academic quality, providing the opportunity for intimate personal tuition by leading academics. If you are accepted for the degree, you will undertake two individual research projects in dissimilar areas of biology, and will take six academic taught courses. These contain substantial practical components and cover a wide range of biological fields, designed to stretch your understanding and competence beyond their present limits. In addition, the Professional Development Programme and the formal Core Skills Training will give you a head start by imparting skills and competence that most graduate students are only able to acquire the hard way, by trial and error over several years. The full official specification for the degree can be downloaded from this website and further details of the academic content are given below.

Together, these components of the M.Sc. in Biology at the University of Oxford make it an ideal foundation for a future career in biological research, either academic or industrial. A majority of the students who have taken the degree (which started in 1995) have gone on to do doctorates, several of them in Oxford with supervisors that they got to know during their M.Sc. course, while others have gone straight into jobs in biological research, scientific journalism, science teaching, and intellectual property rights law.

 

Academic content

The syllabus for study includes five principal components:

  • Research in the Biosciences
  • Core Research Skills:
    • Techniques in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics
    • The Acquisition, Handling and Analysis of Bioscience Information
  • Professional Development Programme for Bioscientists
  • Research Projects

  • Research in the Biosciences

    The main academic teaching of the degree is delivered in taught courses of lectures with associated practicals, demonstrations and seminars, detailing research approaches, methodologies and results in specific subject areas of the biosciences. The subject areas for each coming year are approved annually each spring by the organising committee.  Students are required to take five courses, for each of which they must submit practical notebooks.  In addition, they must show advanced knowledge of three of these subject areas by submitting extended essays on topics relating to them.

    For the academic year 2010/11, these courses are:

        • Research in Animal Behaviour
        • Research in Cell and Developmental Biology
        • Research in Mathematical and Computational Biology
        • Research in Ornithology
        • Research in Ecology and Conservation of Biodiversity

    Alternative or additional courses may be offered in future years.

     

    Core Research Skills

            Techniques in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics

    Molecular biology techniques play an ever-increasing role in almost every biological research area, from cell biology to field ornithology. Because of this, we provide a course introducing you to these fundamental techniques at the very beginning of the degree. This required course will consist of informal lectures with associated practicals, demonstrations and seminars, detailing the principal research approaches and methodologies in molecular biology. Students are required to submit a practical notebooks for this course, and to show advanced knowledge of this subject by submitting an extended essay on a topic relating to it.

     

            The Acquisition, Handling and Analysis of Bioscience Information

    These integrated lectures and classes provide training in transferable core research skills in the following areas:

        • Statistics for biologists
        • Experimental design
        • Data handling and manipulation
        • Safety and good research practice
        • Research techniques
        • Computing and information technology
        • Libraries and databases

     

    Professional Development Programme for Bioscientists

    To provide transferable personal skills for a career in scientific research, this programme involves taught classes with interactive discussions and practical assignments in the following areas:

        • Creativity, teamwork and leadership
        • Time management and learning skills
        • Communication and presentation skills, verbal and written
        • Career planning, assessing personal skills and values, CVs and interview techniques
        • Exploitation of science: getting ideas to the marketplace, patents and intellectual property rights
        • The relationship between academic and industrial research
        • Government science policy and research funding
        • Ethics in scientific research

     

    Research projects

    Running partially in parallel with the taught courses, each student will undertake two research projects in dissimilar areas of bioscience, the first in the winter/spring and the second in the summer. These are normally conducted in the University of Oxford biomedical departments, but one may be undertaken at an approved external organisation, for example the Medical Research Council labs at Harwell, or pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Each involves a 3 month period of intensive supervised original laboratory, museum or field research under a research supervisor, on a subject selected by the student in consultation with the Degree Co-ordinator.

     

     


    Academic timetable

    The M.Sc. in Biology Degree runs for a full calendar year, from the beginning of October till mid September in the following year.

    It is possible for a candidate to fulfil all the coursework requirements by the end of August, enabling North American candidates in particular to start courses for the following academic year that commence early in September.  However, the candidate will have to return for two days in mid September to deliver the final Research Presentation and undergo viva voce examination.

    Term / Week

    Week Starting

    Academic Courses

    Research Projects and Other Courses

     

    0

     

    Oct

     

    6

     

    Induction

     

     

     

    M

    I

    C

    H

    A

    E

    L

    M

    A

    S

    1

     

    13

    Techniques in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics

    (Six days)

    PDC

        Creativity and leadership

        Careers

        External lab visits

     

     

    Statistics

     

    Computing

    2

     

    20

    3

     

    27

    Research in Animal Behaviour

    (Six days)

    Research in Cell and Developmental Biology

    (Six days)

    Research in Mathematical Biology

    (Six days)

     

    (2 or 3 days per week)

    4

     

    Nov

     

    3

    5

     

    10

    6

     

    17

    7

     

    24

    8

     

    Dec

     

    1

     

    9

     

    8

    10

     

    15

     

     

    22

     

     

     

     

    29

    -1

     

    Jan

     

    5

    1st project

    0

     

    12

     

     

    H

    I

    L

    A

    R

    Y

    1

     

    19

    2

     

    26

    3

     

    Feb

     

    2

    4

     

    9

    5

     

    16

    6

     

    23

    7

     

    Mar

     

    1

    Research in Ornithology

    (One day)

    8

     

    8

     


    9

     

    15

    10

     

    22

    11

     

    29

     

     

    Apr

     

    5

    -1

     

    12

    0

     

    19

     

     

    T

    R

    I

    N

    I

    T

    Y

    1

     

    26

     

    2

     

    May

     

     

     

     

     

    3

    Research in Ecology and Conservation of Biodiversity

    (Six days)

    Research in Ornithology

    (Three days)

    2nd project

    3

     

    10

    4

     

    17

    5

     

    24

    6

     

     

    June

     

    31

    7

     

    7

    Research in Ornithology

    (Field trip to Skomer)

    8

     

    14

     

     

    9

     

    21

    10

     

    28

    11

     

    Jul

     

    5

     

     

    12

     

     

    19

     

     

    26

     

     

    Aug

     

    2

     

     

    9

     

     

    16

     

     

    23

     

    30

     

     

    Sep

    6

     

     

     

    13

    viva voce Examination

    Return to index

    Examination

    The following is the formal description of the examination, abstracted from the University of Oxford Examination Decrees and Regulations:

    Each candidate must follow a course of study in Biology for at least three terms and for a substantial part of the three subsequent vacations, as determined by the course timetable.
    There will be no written examination. Candidates shall be examined in all of the following ways:

    1. Each candidate will be required to submit to the examiners two copies of a typewritten or printed essay of not more than 3,000 words (excluding bibliography, tables, figures and appendices) on each of three topics specified or agreed by the course organisers, one essay relating to the Techniques in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics course and the other two essays relating to two of the Research in the Biosciences courses chosen for further study;
    2. Each candidate will be required to submit to the examiners one practical notebook for each of the six subject areas taught;
    3. Each candidate will be required to submit to the examiners two copies of a typewritten or printed dissertation of not more than 10,000 words (excluding bibliography, tables, figures and appendices) on each of the two research projects chosen for study;
    4. Each candidate will be required to give two public presentations on subjects of his or her choice related to the research projects, on dates to be determined by the examiners.
    5. Each candidate will be examined viva voce.
    6. Candidates must have demonstrated understanding of and competence in the topics covered by the Core Research Skills teaching and the Professional Development Programme, to the satisfaction of the organising committee.

    The examiners may award a distinction for excellence in the whole examination.

    Graduate Administrator
    Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, United Kingdom
    Phone +44-(0)1865-271286; Fax +44-(0)1865-310447; E-mail graduate.office@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Degree Director
    Dr David Shotton Department of Zoology david.shotton@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Degree Co-ordinator
    Dr Nathan Pike Department of Zoology nathan.pike@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Directors of Graduate Studies

    Prof. Stuart West (Training and Career Development)

    Department of Zoology
    stuart.west@zoo.ox.ac.uk

    Dr Tom Pizzari (Doctoral Admissions)
    Department of Zoology
    tommaso.pizzari@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Dr John Iles (Student Progress) Department of Zoology john.iles@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organiser of the Experimental Design course
    Dr Thomas Bell Department of Zoology thomas.bell@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organiser of the Statistical Analysis course
    Dr Michael Bonsall Department of Zoology
    michael.bonsall@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organiser of the Research in Animal Behaviour course
    Dr Nathan Pike Department of Zoology nathan.pike@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organiser of the Research in Cell and Developmental Biology course
    Dr David Shotton
    Department of Zoology
    david.shotton@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organisers of the Research in Ecology and Conservation of Biodiversity course
    Prof. David Macdonald
    Dr Joelene Hughes
    Department of Zoology
    Department of Zoology
    david.macdonald@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    joelene.hughes@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organiser of the Research in Mathematical and Computational Biology course
    Dr Nathan Pike Department of Zoology nathan.pike@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organisers of the Research in Ornithology course
    Dr Andrew Gosler Department of Zoology andrew.gosler@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Dr Joseph Tobias Department of Zoology joseph.tobias@zoo.ox.ac.uk
    Organisers of the Techniques in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics course
    Dr Dawn Field
    Dr Andrew Singer
    Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
    Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
    dfield@ceh.ac.uk
    acsi@ceh.ac.uk

    plus

    • many other academic staff teaching in each of the courses,
    • museum, library, careers service, and computing service staff teaching core skills,
    • invited specialists teaching on the Professional Development Programme, and
    • two research project supervisors per student

    Marta Szulkin
    Currently a D.Phil. student in Evolutionary Ecology (Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford)

    Degrees held:
    M.S. & B.Sc. in Hydrobiology (Biology), University of Warsaw
    M.Sc. in Biology (Integrative Bioscience), University of Oxford

    My main interests are in evolutionary ecology orientated towards the study of inbreeding and inbreeding avoidance in natural populations. My work combines the analysis of Great Tit (Parus major) breeding biology long-term datasets with field work carried out during spring time in Wytham Wood. The Master of Biology (Integrative Bioscience) degree gave me a fascinating overview of many fundamental and cutting edge aspects of biology. The research projects carried out during my Master's allowed me to acquire molecular and data analysis skills, which proved useful for investigating the phylogeny of extinct raptors and carrying out sex-ratio experiments using the Blue Tit as a model system. Most importantly, the techniques and knowledge acquired during the M.Sc. in Biology provided a highly valuable foundation for my D.Phil.