About the course
As a biologist you explore the true science of life. There is an ongoing need for the application of biological research, and some of the greatest scientific accomplishments of the future are likely to result from this. We’re investigating bioengineering projects, the development of renewable resource, and the potential for genetics and genomics to revolutionise medicine and health.
The vast and diverse world of living organisms offers a huge range of potential for study and work, and at Essex we give you the opportunity to explore the impact of climate change on coral reefs, the biology of sporting achievements, and cancer and stem cell biology, to the development of new artificial blood products.
You have a large degree of flexibility in order to tailor your degree to your interests, whether they be cellular or molecular biology, or field-based ecological science. You can choose from a wide range of areas, including:
- Animal behaviour and ecology
- Plant biotechnology
- Coral reef ecology
- Cancer biology
You learn modern lab techniques, take part in specialist field trips, and play your own part in adding to the ever-growing knowledge within biological sciences.
“I chose to study BSc Biological Sciences at Essex because it’s a very broad course with lots of choice for optional modules. The thing I enjoyed most was the field trip to Indonesia, as it was interesting to experience another culture and see the diversity of coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific."
Matt Wilby, BSc Biological Sciences 2015
Our BSc Biological Sciences is approved by the Royal Society of Biology.
Your education extends beyond the University campus. We support you extending your education through providing the option of an additional year at no extra cost. The four-year version of our degree allows you to spend the third year studying abroad in an English-speaking country or employed on a placement, while otherwise remaining identical to the three-year course.
Studying abroad allows you to experience other cultures, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised. Recent destinations for our students include:
- Northern Arizona University
- University of New Mexico
- University of Arkansas
- Macquarie University
- Monash University
Alternatively, you can spend your third year on a placement year with an external organisation. This is usually focussed around your course, and enables you to learn about a particular sector, company or job role, apply your academic knowledge in a practical working environment, and receive inspiration for future career pathways.
Organisations our students have recently been placed with include GlaxoSmithKline, Proctor & Gamble, Aquaterra, Astrazeneca, Genzyme, Reckitt Benckiser, Thermofisher, and Isogenica.
Our expert staff
As one of the largest schools at our University, we offer a lively, friendly and supportive environment with research-led study and high quality teaching. Two-thirds of our research is rated “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” (REF 2014), and you learn from and work alongside our expert staff.
Our research covers a wide spectrum of biology – from the cell right through to communities and ecosystems. Key academic staff for this course include Dr Alex Dumbrell, who specialises in ecology and biodiversity, Dr Tracy Lawson, who researches stomata, using chlorophyll and thermal imaging to measure plant productivity, and Dr Phil Reeves, who works on the molecular mechanism of vision loss.
The University of Essex has a Women's Network to support female staff and students and was awarded the Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award in November 2013 in recognition of its continuing work to support women in STEM.
Recent spending by our University has allowed for major refurbishment and expansion of our School of Biological Sciences, including:
- Work in an open and friendly department, with shared staff-student social spaces
- Conduct your final-year research alongside academics and PhD students in shared labs
- State-of-the-art research facilities, from cell imaging systems, to CO2 incubators, to underwater video cameras.
- Teaching facilities including new undergraduate laboratories
- You may get the chance to carry out fieldwork at one of our international field stations in Portugal or Indonesia
Demand for qualified biologists continues to grow.
Our students have taken up a wide range of careers in research laboratories, consultancies, business and industry, conservation practice and environmental assessment. Others have gone on to work in sales, publishing and management, while others still have chosen to enhance their career opportunities by studying for MSc or PhD degrees.
Recent graduates have gone on to work for the following high profile organisations:
- The Sainsbury Laboratory
- ALS Laboratories
- Care UK
- The Shard
We also work with the university’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.
We offer a flexible course structure with a mixture of compulsory modules and options chosen from lists. Below is just one example of a combination of modules you could take. For a full list of optional modules you can look at the course’s Programme Specification.
Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore all modules listed are subject to change.
The building blocks of life, plants and animals depend on the actions of individual cells. Investigate the biochemical characteristics of the small molecules and large macromolecules that allow cells to function. You examine the origins of life, cell structure and function, energy transductions, synthesis of molecules, and the eukaryotic cell cycle.
Why do we all look different? Are some illnesses hereditary? Are animals born ready-suited to their environment? From the early theories of Mendel to modern studies in molecular genetics, you explore how scientists have answered these questions over the last 150 years.
Examine how the structure and function of DNA allows genetic material to be expressed, replicated and inherited, and consider how genetic variation leads to adaptive evolution. From developing new technologies in gene cloning to the applications for modern medicine, you explore how geneticists are building on the earlier achievements in this fundamentally important field to enhance our understanding of life on earth.
Get to know the culprits of some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
Despite major advances in treatment and prevention, incidences of infectious disease continue to rise. Vast diversity, rapid evolution and the opportunistic nature of micro-organisms present a significant challenge. You examine how different viruses and bacteria invade, interact and replicate within living hosts, and explore the consequent impact on ecology, industry and disease.
A series of four practical sessions allows you to get hands-on and develop valuable skills. You learn how to purify, observe, count and kill micro-organisms in our purpose-built labs, gaining experience of aseptic techniques, serial dilution, response to antibiotics, and staining.
Living life on a knife’s edge – explore the vital role plants play in our biosphere, their diversity and intricate relationships that support our planet. Examine the value of these natural resources; examine the consequences we face when the balance is disturbed.
From studying how plants affect and are affected by their environment you learn what we can expect from a changing world. Examine how we influence the world around us. You apply this knowledge to the field, learning to collect, present, analyse and eventually interpret data.
Understanding the fundamentals of ecology and plant diversity allows you to explore possible solutions to our environmental problems.
The diversity of life on planet Earth is breath taking. We share our home with a vast number of species, a large portion of which are animals. We will discover the diversity of animal forms and functions and the role of natural selection in determining individual behaviour such as foraging, breeding and predator escape. You also investigate the idea that nothing in ecology and evolution makes sense in isolation.
Develop your skillset and boost your CV. This module prepares you for the coursework, laboratory practicals and research projects that you will encounter during undergraduate study. Get to know referencing systems and learn how to effectively communicate scientific information. Use scientific units and simple algebra and demonstrate understanding of logarithms, exponentials, geometry and elementary calculus. Learn how to design experiments, handle data and display, interpret and analyse basic statistics.
Teaching and learning will be through a mixture of lectures, classes, practicals and tutorials, with an emphasis on developing the key transferable skills needed for a career in biosciences.
Explore the building blocks of life. From the proteins that make up our genetic code to the lipids that envelope our cells, explore the structure, function and biological role of the major macromolecules.
You investigate the basic principles of protein structural bioinformatics and protein structural evolution, examine how ligand-binding equilibria may form the basis of diverse biological phenomena, learn the structure and properties of monosaccharides and polysaccharides and review the major types of lipids.
This module develops key skills in analysis and interpretation of data, biochemical methodology and calculation of biochemical parameters.
The marine realm covers 70% of the Earth's surface. It contains ice-covered seas and hydrothermal vents, muddy estuaries, deep ocean trenches and the clear blue open sea. The oceans and seas are also integral to the whole earth-ocean-atmosphere system, which controls the climate and conditions for life on Earth.
Discover the different marine environments, the organisms that inhabit them and their ecological interactions. You also investigate the physical and chemical conditions that determine the diversity of marine life and consider how human activity is influencing marine ecosystems, through overfishing, pollution, and climate change.
Develop your practical and critical thinking skills during this week-long summer module. Basic knowledge gained from molecular biology is now being applied to solve industrial scale biological problems. You will rationally design bacteria by engineering DNA and transforming your microbe in the lab before presenting your results to peers.
New approaches to environmental biology focus on examining species interactions, rather than individual taxa in isolation, requiring a sophisticated, interdisciplinary skill set, which incorporates field, lab, and high-tech remote sensing work. Our one week, residential field course in Portugal is designed to get you thinking like a researcher, and to develop your knowledge of the most recent approaches in field biology. You will acquire crucial field-work skills alongside skills in experimental design, data analysis, and oral presentation. Please note that the cost of this trip is approximately £150.
In this career-focused module you develop skills specific to your discipline, such as information retrieval, data-analysis and interpretation techniques, as well as a broader range of transferable skills, such as communication, team-work, numeracy and attention to detail. Learn how to best approach job applications, including CV and cover letter writing, aptitude testing and the interview process.
We all know food is the fuel of life – but how do our bodies turn the things we put on our plate into the energy we need to function? Study the processes that coordinate metabolism of proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, paying particular attention to organ specialisation, hormonal control, metabolic homeostasis and appetite and body weight. The consequences of disturbances to metabolism will also be discussed.
The aim of this module is to provide a view of how a fundamental understanding of plant processes can impact on the production of plants for the 21st century. Learn the essential processes and constraints on plant growth and development, and explore how innovative technological approaches in plant sciences may provide real solutions to our future predicted global food shortage. You’ll look into key aspects of plant physiology such as different photosynthetic mechanisms, and modern approaches to manipulating plant performance and growth.
Examine how competition, predation, herbivory, mutualism, disease and parasitism affect the distribution, abundance and growth of populations, and how populations interact to affect the structure and dynamics of ecological communities. You apply this ecological knowledge to real-world problems, such as pest control and conservation.
Human activity is resulting in an ever-accelerating rate of extinction of biodiversity. Many species in the tropics are becoming extinct even before they have been described by science, while many more are threatened worldwide, including in the UK. Considering the need for biodiversity conservation, you work alongside some of the key employers in the sector including Essex Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency. Topics include sustainable fisheries and agriculture, climate change, environmental law and captive breeding and re-introduction.
Our oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the planets water. This vast underwater world supports a huge diversity of living organisms – get to know them.
You learn how to assess biodiversity, measure species distribution and regulate populations. Systems of particular focus include biodiversity hot-spots such as coral reefs and rocky shores. You also have chance to practically apply your skills, examining the biodiversity of muddy and sandy shores, and investigating the morphological and genetic diversity in marine amphipods.
Microbes have been on the Earth for at least 3.5 billion years; they tolerate or require a huge range of physico-chemical extremes and perform a remarkable array of functions. This module will examine the diversity of microbes, and how they can be applied for the benefit of society and the environment, for example by bioremediation of contaminated land, recovery of oil and metals, production of biofuels and therapeutic compounds.
The importance of marine vertebrates to our aquatic systems cannot be underestimated, yet some of our most iconic underwater species are under serious threat. This module focuses on the taxonomy, physiology, ecology and conservation of the top predators and keystone species, including (but not limited to), whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, manatees, marine turtles and sea snakes.
Molecular biology is central to our knowledge of how biology "works" at a molecular level. This module explores the breadth of processes involved in the regulation of gene expression and the proteins that are made. You also discover the ever-expanding range of molecular biology techniques, including PCR, cloning and mutagenesis, and how these are applied to investigate and treat disease.
You’ll gain an insight into biology and ecology of tropical coral reef systems. By explaining the nature of the connection between coral reefs and tropical biomes, we help you gain a thorough understanding of the ecological functioning of coral reef systems. We explore the biology of coral reef systems, the landscape ecology of tropical coastal marine systems and examine the importance of the threats to these systems and the options for management.
We are in the age of genomics and scientists have devised new technologies that can generate whole genome sequences in days which would once have taken years to achieve. Learn the high-throughput techniques of next-generation sequencing used to study genomes, the proteome and the interactome. Investigate how nucleotide sequences are analysed, applying the analytical tools used by research scientists and understand how new genes are discovered and their functions revealed. You also discover how our knowledge of gene structure is being applied in the emerging field of synthetic biology to create new organisms and modify existing ones by gene editing.
Coral reefs are overexploited, threatened by multiple anthropogenic stressors and in need of protection through appropriate management. Develop practical skills in coral reef monitoring, assessment and research. Receive training in scuba diving, species identification, and scuba- and snorkel-based assessment and monitoring techniques. Learn how to design, implement and report on scientifically robust underwater research. You have the opportunity to undertake a speciality field-course and can be awarded a Coral Reef Research diver certification from the Profession Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
Our bodies are under attack. So how do we defend ourselves against foreign invaders? Explore the anatomical and structural components of the immune system and assess what happens in the event of immunodysfunction.
Utilising real-world case-studies (eg. AIDS), and looking at specific examples (eg. allergy and transplantation) you will review important aspects of clinical immunology and immuno-pathology, gaining an understanding of auto-immunity and immune-deficiencies. You will also consider the future of human immunology – evaluating how far vaccines can protect us against disease. Using the knowledge you have gained you will be able to identify areas of current immunology understanding that could lead to positive medical intervention.
If we were to compile the DNA sequence of the human genome into a book, it would be 200,000 pages long, and would take 10 years to read. The ability to effectively interpret and analyse large-scale genetic and genomic data sets is a crucial skill for next-generation biologists. The module provides a basic introduction to R, the programming language of choice for biologists industry and academia. You learn to write scripts and functions, read and write data files in different formats, use basic plot functionalities and perform basic statistical analysis.
The study of cells is at the centre of modern biology. Learn how cellular components determine cell structure and function, how cells communicate and how signaling pathways regulate cell fate. You also explore the regulation of the cell cycle and cell death and learn about changes that occur in cells that have become cancerous.
A solid understanding of cell biology opens doors to more specialist topics, such as plant biotechnology and cancer biology.
This module gives you the chance to conduct an individual scientific investigation on a topic relating to your degree specialisation. Develop skills to identify a suitable question and then design an experimental approach to obtain data addressing this question. This module assesses your analysis and presentation of these data in a suitable scientific paper format report and the research, understanding and critical writing about the scientific literature relating to your project as well as your oral project presentation skills and response to questions, the planning and management of your project work, your progress reflection and your employability skills.
This module aims to prepare you for carrying out an individual scientific investigation on a topic relating to your degree. Develop skills to identify a suitable question and then design an experimental approach to obtain data addressing this question. The assessment focuses on your analysis and presentation of these data in a suitable scientific paper format report, on the research, understanding and critical writing about the scientific literature relating to your project. Your oral project presentation skills and response to questions, the planning and management of your project work, your progress reflection and your employability skills will also be evaluated.
How does modern biology affect our day-to-day lives? Consider the impact of recent advances on society. Transgenic crops, ever-increasing (and sometimes unwanted) prolongation of life, cloning of animals – to what extent can science be allowed to manipulate nature? And who has the final say?
Fill the skills gap. Bioinformatics is a rapidly growing discipline based on the need to obtain biologically-meaningful information from the huge volumes of DNA-sequence, gene expression and protein structure data. Traditionally the niche area of computational biologists, there is an increasing need to for every type of biologist to be able to handle large datasets. You learn by solving problems, working through example datasets in order to understand and learn how to utilise and interpret commonly used methods.
Investigate the relationship between water chemistry and habitat structure, and biological diversity of coastal environments. Getting hands-on in the local Colne/Blackwater estuary you gain experience in assessing environmental variables, sampling protocols and general fieldwork skills. You learn to identify a wide variety of animals and plants at different salinities, as well as associated habitats such as freshwater grazing marshes and salt marshes. You are also trained in commonly used lab techniques, such as measuring phosphate concentrations and sediment properties.
The study of human genetics is one of the fastest moving areas of scientific research today. Get to know some important emerging themes from the human genome sequence into the emerging fields of epigenetics and non-coding RNAs. You examine variations in genome sequence and structure in human populations, and consider the evidence for selection in human populations. Consider the evolution of the X chromosome and its regulation by the process of X-inactivation. You also investigate the significance of imprinting and epigenetics in human disease.
The module describes the fundamental principles of cell signalling and communication in the context of development, health, biological stress, and disease. You explore the biochemistry of signal transduction, control, integration, and signal processing as implemented by biological systems, and consider the newly developed tools of post-genomic biology.
This module provides you with experience of carrying out an individual scientific investigation on a topic relating to your degree. Develop skills to identify a suitable question and then design an experimental approach to obtain data addressing this question. Assessment will focus on your analysis and presentation of these data in a suitable scientific paper format report and on the research, understanding and critical writing about the scientific literature relating to your project.
Be introduced to the key concepts of animal behaviour from an ethological and comparative cognition viewpoint. By taking a critical look at published work and research and identifying the frameworks that underlie animal behaviour, you will become familiar with aspects such as the evolution of behaviour and the cognitive capabilities of different species.
You’ll be introduced to the key concepts of evolutionary theory as pertaining to human psychology, and will engage with current literature in this rapidly advancing area of science. You will develop your understanding of the relevance of evolution to the scientific study of human behaviour and cognition. You’ll also identify the basic concepts and frameworks that underlie evolutionary approaches to psychology, as well as the major findings and fields within evolutionary psychology.
Today’s global society has 8 billion mouths to feed. So how can we use our knowledge of modern plant science to improve agricultural productivity? From genetically-engineered disease resistance, to using water and nutrients more efficiently, you consider the potential impact and implications of the latest thinking and technology.
How does the immune system know when to trigger a response, and how are immune responses regulated? You’ll examine the immune process at a molecular level and also developmental aspects of immunity and it will assist you in understanding current developments in the field. You’ll look at the way cellular and molecular components of the immune system are integrated to provide immunorecognition in health and disease. Explore how landmark concepts in immunology evolved from hypothesis to experimental discovery, and consider the ways in which clinical immunotherapy approaches allow scientists to manipulate the immune system.
Pollution is the introduction of substances that are harmful to the environment. It can be local or widespread. Using a range of examples you consider the major pollutants in atmospheric, terrestrial and aquatic environments, their sources and ecological effects, as well as potential ways of controlling them.
Anthropogenic stressors are putting more and more species at risk of extinction. How can we protect them? Zoos undoubtedly play a major part – you examine their role in species re-introductions and in-situ conservation, paying close attention to animal welfare and behaviour. You also examine the conservation of habitats, identifying how nature reserves are selected and managed, as well as taking part in site assessments to analyse coastal grazing marsh and quarry restoration.
The aim of this module is to provide you with current knowledge and understanding of cancer. We will discuss general aspects of cancer biology (cancer statistics and risk factors, origins and multistage nature of cancer, metastasis and angiogenesis). The identification and isolation of oncogenes and tumour suppressors and the mechanism of action of their products will be analysed. We will explore cancer molecular biology and signalling pathways in cancer. We will discuss cell cycle and apoptosis and their role in the maintenance of normal cell populations and in the emergence of cancer. The principles of some of the current approaches in cancer therapy will be discussed.
Freshwater systems play an essential role in the ecology of many species. Explore the major types of freshwater habitats (streams, rivers, ponds, lakes) and examine how anthropogenic stressors such as water extraction, pollution and climate change place them under threat.
Fisheries provide food and employment to millions of people across the globe. Get to know the social and economic drivers of fishing and explore the subsequent impact on marine ecosystems. You gain an understanding of the scale and significance of fisheries and learn to critically analyse the methods used to assess their efficacy.
On a placement year you gain relevant work experience within an external business or organisation, giving you a competitive edge in the graduate job market and providing you with key contacts within the industry. The rest of your course remains identical to the three-year degree.
On your year abroad, you have the opportunity to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised. The rest of your course remains identical to the three-year degree.
- Learn through a combination of lectures, laboratory sessions and coursework
- Gain experience collating and interpreting data, and reporting findings clearly and concisely
- Participate in specialist field trips
- Degrees are awarded on the results of your written examinations together with continual assessments of your practical work and coursework
UK entry requirements
A-levels: BCC, including Biology at grade B. Where applicable a pass is required in science practical element of A-level Biology, Chemistry or Physics.
GCSE: Mathematics C
IB: 28 points, including Higher Level Biology grade 5 and Standard Level Mathematics or Maths Studies grade 4, if not taken at Higher Level. We are also happy to consider a combination of separate IB Diploma Programmes at both Higher and Standard Level. Please note that Maths in the IB is not required if you have already achieved GCSE Maths at grade C or above.
Exact offer levels will vary depending on the range of subjects being taken at higher and standard level, and the course applied for. Please contact the Undergraduate Admissions Office for more information.
International and EU entry requirements
We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries.
for further details about the qualifications we accept. Include information in your email about the
high school qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.
English language requirements
English language requirements for applicants whose first language is not English: IELTS 6.0 overall. Different requirements apply for second year entry, and specified component grades are also required for applicants who require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK.
Other English language qualifications may be acceptable so please contact us for further details. If we accept the English component of an international qualification then it will be included in the information given about the academic levels listed above. Please note that date restrictions may apply to some English language qualifications
If you are an international student requiring a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK please see our immigration webpages for the latest Home Office guidance on English language qualifications.
If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.
Applications for our full-time undergraduate courses should be made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Applications are online at: www.ucas.com. Full details on this process can be obtained from the UCAS website in the how to apply section.
Our UK students, and some of our EU and international students, who are still at school or college, can apply through their school. Your school will be able to check and then submit your completed application to UCAS. Our other international applicants (EU or worldwide) or independent applicants in the UK can also apply online through UCAS Apply.
The UCAS code for our University of Essex is ESSEX E70. The individual campus codes for our Loughton and Southend Campuses are ‘L’ and ‘S’ respectively.
Applicant Days and interviews
Resident in the UK? If your application is successful, we will invite you to attend one of our applicant days. These run from January to April and give you the chance to explore the campus, meet our students and really get a feel for life as an Essex student.
Some of our courses also hold interviews and if you’re invited to one, this will take place during your applicant day. Don’t panic, they’re nothing to worry about and it’s a great way for us to find out more about you and for you to find out more about the course. Some of our interviews are one-to-one with an academic, others are group activities, but we’ll send you all the information you need beforehand.
If you’re outside the UK and are planning a trip, feel free to email email@example.com so we can help you plan a visit to the University.
Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex. In 2017 we have three undergraduate Open Days (in June, September and October). These events enable you to discover what our Colchester Campus has to offer. You have the chance to:
- tour our campus and accommodation
- find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
- meet our students and staff
Check out our Visit Us pages to find out more information about booking onto one of our events. And if the dates aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.
If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.
Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. Take a look at our list of exhibition dates to see if we’ll be near you in the future.