2020 applicants
School of Life Sciences

Undergraduate study

Biology science equipment in the lab

More than looking down a microscope

Our School of Life Sciences trains the biologists of the future.

From biomedical scientists who help diagnose disease, to marine biologists who see first-hand the impact of climate change, a life sciences degree can set you up for a rewarding career in your field of interest.

At Essex we know that choosing the right degree can be hard. Do you go for biochemistry or biomedical science? Why should you pick the BSc Marine Biology over BSc Biological Sciences? How do you choose between genetics and human biology?

To help with this our School offers a wide range of specialist modules, giving you an opportunity to try other areas of interest. This means that if you suddenly discover a new passion for a different area of life sciences, you may be able to change your course. And if you choose a broader degree, such as our BSc Biological Sciences, then our module choices mean you can still specialise in an area of interest such as ecology and conservation.

We get you ready for future employment by embedding the skills you need in our courses. Throughout your time with us you’ll have opportunities to apply for work experience placements, take part in paid and volunteer opportunities on campus, and join field trips across the UK or abroad. All of these possibilities enhance your skills, and can go on your CV as examples of your passion and commitment to your life sciences interests.

Whatever the future holds, the science of life has a place in it.

Explore our undergraduate courses
Why choose us?
  • 94% of our students from the School of Life Sciences expressed overall satisfaction with their course (NSS 2020).
  • 89% of our School of Life Sciences students are in employment or further study (Graduate Outcomes 2020)
  • Our lecturers are active researchers, so the latest research is embedded in our teaching.

COVID-19 and Teaching in Life Sciences

Will COVID-19 change the way my course is taught?

If for any reason you are unable to travel to campus to start the academic year, all teaching will be available virtually. This means that you can start, or continue, your programme off-campus, wherever you are, with full flexibility to transfer to on-campus learning as soon as you are able to. However we will need students to be on Campus for the start of the Spring Term, as practical teaching is required for you to meet the module learning objectives. 

We know that as budding scientists you value your laboratory and field training and we are planning to deliver practical sessions or field courses during your studies and, where possible, complement these with virtual environment settings such as Labster.

There will also be podcasts, audio clips, key papers to read that have revolutionised your subject, amazing experiments to conduct and field sites to visit. You will embark on your BSc and never look at a living organism in the same way again.

What will this mean for my learning experience?

For the 2020 academic year, we are focusing on ensuring that we are able to deliver a quality education and that your teaching and learning can continue if there is further disruption. That’s why we’ve been working hard to ensure that our students are able to start with us in October – in whatever way possible. The changes we have made to support you and protect your health and wellbeing mean that, for most of our courses, this will include blended learning – with lectures, classes and other teaching taking place both online and face to face. Much of this teaching will be offered “live” (even if online/ virtual) but will also be available to access at times that suit you.   

We know that your learning experience is about more than just attending classes, and our campuses can provide you with all you need to make the most of your studies. This includes private space to study, in your on-campus study bedrooms as well as in PC labs and other spaces on our three campuses for self-study. We can also offer you access to laptops on loan and access to our library services; as well as enhanced wifi provision across our campuses.

We will be having small size (groups of no more than 8) face-to-face weekly academic support tutorials to help you settle in, answer questions and address issues that arise in your courses. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to see and speak to academic staff, personal advisors, and to other students. After all, it’s meeting new people and having the opportunity to exchange and discuss new ideas that university is all about. We can enjoy our time together and still be safe while learning.

Practical classes and field trips form an essential part of your learning experience in studying subjects within the School and these will be scheduled and undertaken in the most appropriate way that ensures the highest standards of health and safety. Such activities are also an excellent opportunity to get to meet and interact with other students on your course and it’s a great experience to learn in a group while acquiring lots of hands-on experience.

What happens if the situation changes before I start or during my time at Essex?

We recognise that some students may have difficulty travelling to campus in time to start the academic year.

If for any reason you are unable to travel to campus to start the academic year, all teaching will be available virtually. This means that you can start, or continue, your programme off-campus, wherever you are, with full flexibility to transfer to on-campus learning as soon as you are able to. However if you are an overseas student and you aren't able to join us on Campus in the autumn, then you will need to be aware of some immigration changes taking place in January 2021.

All of our modules are designed to support you to continue learning and still be able to access one-to-one consultation and guidance that you would normally get from the lecturers on your course, if further outbreaks of infection occur during the year. This means you can join us in full confidence that you can continue and complete your programme of study.

There is lots of helpful information about starting at Essex in our guide for applicants should you have any questions, feel uncertain about something in particular, or, would like up to date information on specific topics if your situation changes. 

What will my broader student experience in the Department and on campus be like?

At Essex we know that your social experience is a vital part of your time with us, and is just as important as your learning experience. 

We will continue to bring our School together when possible next year by holding a range of online and face-to-face events on campus, with appropriate physical distancing measures in place to keep you safe. The Biological Society and Marine Conservation Society will also be holding events.

We have been working in partnership with our Students’ Union to ensure that you can enjoy our clubs, societies, activities and services. We have built in flexibility to enable you to access support and activities, and to shape your experience around your life.

To learn more about the range of events Essex will be hosting, please visit our events calendar. To stay up to date with the very latest guidance on how to visit your campus, view our coming onto campus guide.

How will the University support me during this time?

The health and wellbeing of our students is our priority, and this has been one of the focuses to ensure students can start on campus – safely – in October.

This means we are constantly monitoring advice from the UK Government, Public Health England, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the World Health Organisation.

To protect our community on campus once the academic year starts again in October, we will be looking to introduce the following measures:

  • Enhanced cleaning and sterilising regimes
  • Social distancing in line with international guidance
  • Signage and floor markings in key locations to help you move around our campuses safely

We’re asking you to wear face coverings in all public campus areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain or in specifically designated locations. We’ll be supporting you by giving two washable face coverings to all students.

There is a number of support systems available to you whilst you are at Essex, for whenever you need them and for however long you wish to use them.

These include:

The University also runs a variety of online events throughout the year including at-home yoga and mindfulness sessions.

To find out more about the network of support you will benefit from during your time at Essex, please visit the Student Directory.

Within our department you will be assigned an Academic Tutor, who will be your key contact point throughout your time with us. If you are concerned about your academic progress, or are worried about managing your deadlines, then you can always talk to them. We also have a dedicated team of professional services colleagues in our department office, who will be on-hand to support you and answer any questions you may have.

Within our School you will be assigned an Academic Tutor, who will be your key contact point throughout your time with us. If you are concerned about your academic progress, or are worried about managing your deadlines, then you can always talk to them.

A head and shoulders photo of Phoebe Magnone, a graduate from the School of Life Sciences.
"I really enjoyed studying medical microbiology at Essex. By this point I realised that I wanted to study medicine, and the way this course was run really held my attention. I also found immunology and cancer biology to be very interesting, and all of these have been incredibly useful and relevant for my current course. I'm now on the MBBS Graduate and Professional Entry Programme at King's College London. If I hadn't been at Essex, I wouldn't have realised how much I loved human biology. There was a particular staff member who helped me become more resilient, confident, and independent, things which are essential in medicine, and I will be eternally grateful to her."
Phoebe Magnone BSc Biomedical Science, 2018

Why Life Sciences at Essex?

Pursue your scientific interests

Our range of modules means that you have an opportunity to pursue your interests, as well as try new ones you’ve always wanted to learn more about.

Throughout your degree you’ll undertake a series of core modules that form the backbone of your course. Some of these are consistent across our degrees, which gives you the opportunity to swap course if you change your mind once you’ve started.

You will then have a range of optional modules to choose from. These specialist modules mean that you can pick a particular area of interest to focus on, or try out several areas that have always looked interesting, but that you never had the opportunity study before.

In the field activities

Depending on your degree you may find there are opportunities to join in on our field trips around the UK and the rest of the world (which sometimes involve additional costs). These trips can enhance what you are learning in the lab, or give you a chance to put what you've learnt into practice.

Marine biology

For marine biology students our coastal Essex location gives us easy access to the beautiful East Anglian coast and the Thames Estuary. Many of our marine biology academic staff carry out research in these areas, so you benefit from their experience and expertise in these environments.

We may also run field trips abroad, including Greece and Indonesia (although there are additional costs for these trips). Here you can visit pristine coral reefs, get experience in scuba diving and ship-based data collections, and help in important conservation and research work.

Other degrees

During your time studying our other courses you may have opportunities for field trips around the UK. This can include visits to the Institute of Biomedical Science in London, the Public Health England site at Colindale, and conferences and other relevant professional events.

Investment in facilities

Along with our home in the Life Sciences building, we have a large undergraduate teaching lab in the new STEM Centre.

This innovative teaching space includes a range of specialist equipment for teaching and research, such as our integrated digital microscopes, which allow you to take photos of your findings for future analysis, send them to your lecturer as part of your reports, or share them to the class through digital screens around the lab.

Specialist and transferable skills

In our School we understand that your undergraduate degree is important for your success at finding a job in the future. We work hard to ensure that our degrees equip you with everything you need to start a fulfilling career in your chosen field.

You’ll get a thorough grounding in all the specialist scientific skills that the 21st century biologist needs. You’ll gain experience in making the most of sophisticated laboratory equipment and specialist software, learn how to collate, analyse and report on large datasets, and enhance your numerical, statistical and literacy skills.

We teach you more than science. We offer a “Transferable skills in Life Sciences” module in your first year, which gives you a strong foundation of oral and written communication skills, and planning, study, and research skills. You build on this work throughout the rest of your degree, as these skills feature in many of the modules you take over the following years.

On top of this we also have specialist modules tailored to the employability skills for each degree. These help you understand specific aspects of your professional development that you can refer to when it comes to applying for jobs and entering the world of work.

All this means that you’ll finish your degree with a strong set of complementary scientific and transferable skills, as well as organisational skills and experience of teamwork. These skills are in demand with employers across all sectors, giving you ample examples to mention in job applications and interviews.

Your career

Whatever your future plans, we’re here to help you take the first steps towards your career. Our Careers Services team offer a range of support services including help with writing your CV, events focused on applications and interviews, and mentoring.

Life sciences is an important and growing field of research and employment around the world, and graduates are in high demand. By the time you leave Essex you’ll be equipped with the skills and experience needed to flourish in the world of work. 

Some of the areas our graduates have gone on to include:

  • Public sector, including central government departments such as DEFRA and the NHS, and local government groups such as Suffolk County Council.
  • Private and third sector, including GlaxoSmithKline, BUPA, and Essex Wildlife Trust.
  • Further study, including medical school, or a research degree.

Some of our students also choose to stay with us, or return at a later date, for another year of study by undertaking a Masters degree. This can help you enhance your skills for a particular role that you wish to work towards or be promoted to, such as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company.

Placement year and year abroad

Many of our undergraduate degrees can be taken over four years, with a “placement year” between your second and final years. With advice from our School and the University’s Student Development team, you can search and apply for a work placement with a range of life sciences groups, such as the NHS, medical and conservation charities, and biomedical and pharmaceutical research companies.

Alternatively many of our degrees can include a year abroad. This gives you a chance to experience life and education in another country. You can enhance your language skills if you have already been studying another language, but if foreign languages don't come easy to you then don’t worry! We have partnerships with institutions in English-speaking countries including Canada and Australia.

What if you sign up for a placement or year abroad degree and change your mind? No problem! We know that things can change once you arrive at university. If you decide to, you can simply swap on to a standard three-year degree.

Our expert staff

Our lecturers are experts in their respective fields who have research interests in wide-ranging, high-impact areas such as cancer biology, plant science, and marine conservation.

This means that what you learn in the classroom is cutting-edge and up-to-date - we provide relevant teaching underpinned by the latest scientific research.

Throughout the academic year our School runs a research seminar series featuring guest speakers from other institutions around the world, as well as our own academics and postgraduate students. Undergraduates are encouraged to attend these seminars, which highlight some of the latest theories and discoveries within areas of biology and introduce you to the world of life sciences research outside Essex.


Some of our degrees are accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (IBMS).

This important accreditation reflects on our high quality of teaching throughout your degree, and means you can jump straight in to a career in NHS labs across the country. 

Integrated Masters degrees

We offer Integrated Masters degrees in Biomedical Science, Tropical Marine Biology, and Biochemistry and Biotechnology.

An Integrated Masters degree is an ideal option if you know you would like to continue into to Postgraduate study after completing your undergraduate degree. You may already have a specialist career in mind that will need you to have a Master of Science degree, or you may want to stand out from the crowd when it comes to applying for jobs in the future.

By undertaking an Integrated Masters degree you will automatically move in to teaching for your Masters degree after your final undergraduate year, without needing to apply separately to stay for a Masters degree. Depending on the degree you may also still be able to undertake a Placement year or a Year Abroad during your undergraduate studies.

Part of our community

Our School works hard to foster a feeling of community, bringing together people from all backgrounds who share a passion for life sciences. We offer a lively, friendly, and supportive environment, from the professional services and technicians teams who manage the administrative side of your degree and assist in our labs, through to the academics who teach and support you.

The University's Students' Union hosts a large collection of student-run societies, including the Life Sciences Society, the Marine Conservation Society, and the Green Thumbs Society. Through these societies, you can take part in activities and trips, and make new friends in the School beyond your classes.

A picture of Lucy Gardner, a graduate from the School of Life Sciences.
"I am currently in my first year of studying Medicine at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and I’ve recently completed a two-week placement in ophthalmology in Whipps Cross Hospital. Studying biomedical science at Essex gave me a great foundation of knowledge which underpins so much of what I am now learning in medical school – having studied biochemistry, genetics and microbiology has all been useful."
Lucy Gardner BSc Biomedical Science, 2018