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MSc Biological Sciences

Biological sciences are at the heart of many global challenges including food security, sustainable development, climate change and biodiversity management. 

Our MSc Biological Sciences course provides training in the breadth and depth of whole-organism biology, allowing you to develop a wide range of knowledge across the discipline via our general biological sciences pathway, or to specialise within one of three major areas through dedicated pathways in: Evolutionary Biology, Plant and Crop Science, and Biodiversity and Conservation.

Within the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, our teaching and research expertise extends from cell, genes and biotechnology through to communities, ecosystems, conservation and climate change so whichever pathway you choose, you'll be learning about the latest research in the field from the experts who are making the discoveries first-hand. 

Through field biology training in the Peak District National Park, you'll learn how to carry out your own research, from our experts who are applying the same techniques in their own studies around the globe in locations including Malaysian Borneo, Colombian and Ecuadorian Andes, and the Amazon. You'll even get the chance to carry out your own independent research project in the field or the lab as part of your course. Throughout your training, guest speakers will help you to expand your understanding of the biological sciences with real-world insights, preparing you for an exciting career in environmental research or management around the world.

Choose your specialism

With our flexible courses, you can choose to study across the breadth and depth of whole-organism biology, allowing you to develop a wide range of knowledge across the discipline, or specialise in an area that most interests you within one of our three pathways: Biodiversity and Conservation, Evolutionary Biology or Plant and Crop Science.

Top 20 for Ecology in the world

Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018, ShanghaiRanking

生态学专业世界排名前20

上海交大世界大学学术排名2018

Applying

To apply for this course, complete the University of Sheffield's postgraduate online application form.

Online application form

Early applications are encouraged. Any applications received after all places have been filled will be deferred for entry the following year.

You can find more information about the application process on the University's postgraduate webpages.

How to apply: applying essentials

Contact

Course Director: Dr Tom Webb

If you would like to know anything else about this course, contact: aps.pgadmissions@sheffield.ac.uk

You can also visit us throughout the year:
Postgraduate open days, visit afternoons and online chats

International students
Don't meet our entry requirements? Pre-Masters at our International College

About the course

Our 12-month MSc Biological Sciences course is designed to train you for a career in research or management around the world. Throughout your course, you'll learn about the fundamental concepts and key skills required within biological science before applying these through your literature review and independent research project.

You can choose to explore the breadth of organismal biological sciences, or specialise in an area that most interests you within three pathways:

Evolutionary Biology

Evolutionary Biology is a rapidly moving field thanks to advances in sequencing technologies that are revolutionising the way we tackle key questions. Students on this pathway will learn about the patterns of life history variation seen in nature and the theories behind them, as well as exploring bioinformatic techniques to be able to identify when genes have evolved adaptively.

Plant and Crop Science

Training in Plant and Crop Science is led by the experts behind the Institute for Sustainable Food which brings together scientists and researchers from across the University of Sheffield to find dynamic solutions to the challenges of food security and sustainability. You'll understand the key issues in global food security and explore how plants can truly influence global change.

Biodiversity and Conservation

Biodiversity and Conservation students will develop fundamental knowledge about today’s major conservation issues and their human and environmental drivers including marine plastics, urbanisation, tropical logging and the balance between sustainable food production and biodiversity.

Students on all pathways will study common core modules including Field Biology and Scientific Skills and Project Management. These modules will allow you to develop core knowledge and skills within the biological sciences including field skills, critical reading and writing skills, and the ability to carry out independent research. You'll develop subject-specific knowledge through the study of specialist modules in semester two which will include one issues-based module focussed on the global challenges, latest research developments and the implications for society behind your chosen area. Additional modules will allow you to study your chosen specialism in further depth which may include Biodiversity in Space and Time, and Agricultural Ecology in a Changing World. A full module list can be found below.

The biggest part of the course is the Independent Research Project. Here you'll spend three months researching an area within the biological sciences that matches your future career aspirations, under the supervision of one of our world-leading researchers. You could be field-based, lab-based or complete a computational data driven project which will give you an opportunity to apply the subject-specific knowledge and analytical skills that you've developed throughout your degree as well as developing new skills in the use of cutting-edge research methods.

In addition to technical skills and specialist knowledge of biological sciences and your chosen pathway, throughout your course you’ll also develop transferable skills around problem solving, data management and communication, sought after by employers around the globe. In order to build these skills, you’ll learn through a mixture of practical and field classes, individual research projects, lectures, seminars, tutorials and discussion groups. Assessment includes, but is not limited to, oral presentations, essays, reflective journal entries, examinations, coursework, policy briefing notes and a dissertation.

Read more about this course on the University of Sheffield's webpages for postgraduate students:

MSc Biological Sciences

After your degree

Biological sciences graduates are in demand and with first-hand experience of conducting research in the field and an in-depth understanding of the challenges we face in this area, you'll be ready to pursue a career in environmental research or management.

Graduates will develop the specialist knowledge and transferable skills to pursue careers working around the world or further study to PhD level.

Possible career paths include: working in biotechnology, agri-tech, or conservation and sustainability programmes within government science, NGOs including environmental bodies or wildlife trusts, or in industry. Inspiring the next generation as a university teacher, or solving pressing problems through research.

Further study to PhD level

If you choose to continue your research training, graduates will be well equipped to pursue PhDs in ecology, evolution and conservation and beyond. Doctoral Training Programmes like Adapting to the Challenges of Changing Environment (ACCE) train PhD students in these areas.

Throughout your course, external lecturers will visit to give talks on their chosen career paths, allowing you to gain a better understanding of the vast range of careers available to an MSc Biological Sciences graduate.

The University's Careers Service runs workshops on CV and application writing, job hunting and preparing for interviews. They offer events where you can meet employers, and opportunities to get work experience while you study. The Careers Service will even continue to support you for three years after you graduate.

Entry requirements

For this course, we usually ask for a 2:2 degree in Biological Sciences or other relevant science subject.

Applicants with professional experience may also be considered following interview.

We can also accept qualifications from other countries. You can find out which qualifications we accept from your country on the University's webpages for international students.

Prospective international students: Your country

International pathway programmes

If you are an international student who does not meet our entry requirements, the University of Sheffield International College offers a Pre-Masters in Science and Engineering programme. This programme is designed to develop your academic level in your chosen subject, introduce you to the study skills that will be vital to success and help with language if you need it.

Upon successful completion, you can progress to this degree at the University of Sheffield.

Pre-Masters in Science and Engineering

English Language Requirements

If you have not already studied in a country where English is the majority language, it is likely that you will need to have an English language qualification. We usually ask for:

  • International English Language Testing Service (IELTS): Overall grade of 6.5 with 6 in each component

You can find out whether you need to have an english language qualification, and which other English language qualifications we accept, on the University's webpages for international students.

English language requirements

The English Language Teaching Centre offers English language courses for students who are preparing to study at the University of Sheffield.

English Language Teaching Centre

Funding and scholarships

Funding is available, depending on your fee status, where you live and the course you plan to study. You could also qualify for a repayable postgraduate masters loan to help fund your studies.

Funding your postgraduate course

UK/EU scholarships

100+ scholarships image

We're offering 100+ scholarships worth £10,000 each for home students starting a taught postgraduate course in 2019 that can be used towards fees or living expenses.

Find out more

International scholarships

International scholarships image

We're offering 100 International Postgraduate Taught Merit Scholarships, each worth 25% of the original tuition fee for a postgraduate taught programme starting in September 2019.

Find out more

Alumni rewards

Alumni rewards

If you’ve previously graduated from the University and intend to pursue further studies with us then you may be eligible to receive a 10% discount on your tuition fees.

Find out more

Up-to-date fees can be found on the University of Sheffield's webpages for postgraduate students:

Tuition fees

Sam Fenton

There’s such a wide range of research interests within the department which ensures that every student has the chance to do a project related to their field of interest. The department did a great job at getting me up to speed with any processes and techniques I needed to know which has been a massive asset as I’ve carried out my research.

sam fenton - READ MORE

EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY NEWS

Patterning of tooth-like shark scales




















Rostrum body denticle SEM

Researchers in our department have discovered that Turing’s reaction-diffusion theory also applies to shark scales. This explains how the pattern of shark scales has evolved to reduce drag whilst swimming.

Read more

BIODIVERSITY AND CONSERVATION NEWS

Pollution in cities damaging insects and ecosystems

Caterpillar 500

The combined impact of deforestation and wildlife exploitation on bird numbers is severely underestimated and could lead to some species becoming extinct new research has found.

Read more

PLANT AND CROP SCIENCE FEATURE

The Future of Food




















The Future of Food 500

Our scientists are using their knowledge of fundamental plant processes to research new approaches to sustainable food production.











Read more

Current modules

All students will study:

Field Biology (15 credits)

Students will participate in a range of field visits to representative ecosystems in the Peak District, learning about the habitat, wildlife, and human context, and gaining experience in a range of appropriate methods for data collection. Applying this knowledge, they will identify a research question and present this to the group. They will develop this into a written proposal for a field project, using independent research to generate preliminary data and to place it in the context of previous work. The module will develop subject-specific knowledge, as well as skills in experimental design, critical thinking and writing.

Scientific Skills and Project Management (30 credits)

This module provides training in the skills and approaches necessary to design, manage, conduct, analyse and present research in whole organism biology and environmental science. Generic skills involve designing and planning an effective and reproducible study, making best use of available resources; collecting and managing data to address study aims; and communicating results orally and in writing to different audiences. The module also covers advanced principles of experimental design, data interpretation, and graphical presentation, introduced in the statistical computing environment using a series of workshops and student-centred learning assignments to develop skills and proficiency.

Literature Review (15 credits)

The literature review requires the student to write a critical review of a biological topic of choice. The literature review will involve extensive reading of original research papers, reviews and books together with information extracted from other media. The student will be required to critically analyse hypotheses in the field and critically analyse the quality of the evidence used to support them. Where controversies exist the student should be prepared to indicate which side has the stronger case. The literature review should also identify gaps in our current knowledge and understanding and make suggestions for the future developments in the field.

Independent Research Project (60 credits)

This module gives students the opportunity to develop to a high level skills relevant to a career in environmental research or management. Based on their interests and career aspirations, students will conduct either a laboratory of field-based research project, or a desk-based literature review and dissertation, with potential to work with an external organisation. Common elements include the independent planning and production of an original piece of research, under the guidance of an academic supervisor. The project write-up is targeted to a specific audience – either a scientific research or review paper, or a report aimed at a specific sector.

Students on the Evolutionary Biology pathway will also study:

Evolutionary Principles (15 credits)

This module will introduce the major concepts in evolutionary biology before going on to explore in more depth the patterns of life history variation seen in nature, and an understanding of the main theories/ideas used to explain them. Students will gain an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches used to study evolutionary ecology. Simple models will be used to illustrate ideas throughout the course.

Molecular Evolution and Genomics (15 credits)

This module will introduce the major concepts in molecular evolutionary biology before going on to explore in more depth how DNA sequences and genomes can be used in evolutionary biology. It will examine some of the cases where genes underlying phenotypic variation and adaptive evolution have been identified. It will also explore the insights that have been gained by investigating molecular evolution across the tree of life from microbes to humans. Through a mixture of lectures and computer-based practicals students will learn bioinformatic skills, including phylogenetic reconstruction and investigation of rates and patterns of molecular evolution to identify when genes have evolved adaptively.

Issues in Evolutionary Biology (15 credits)

Evolutionary biology is a rapidly moving field particularly with advances in sequencing technologies that are revolutionising the range of systems and questions that can be tackled. This module encourages a critical analysis of the major topics in evolutionary biology drawing on the research expertise at the University of Sheffield and collaborative partners. It will involve a range of delivery methods including seminars from Sheffield and external speakers, discussion sessions and journal clubs. There will also be a focus on the applying evolutionary understanding to address real-world problems, for example resistance to antibiotics/pesticides and gene drive systems.

Biodiversity in Space and Time (15 credits)

Biodiversity varies enormously from place to place, from hyperdiverse systems such as tropical rainforests to more species-poor systems in polar regions. The evolution of diversity has also not occurred at a constant rate, with bursts of diversification punctuating periods of more stability. As a result, not all areas are equal, and not all species are too: some represent far more unique evolutionary history than others. This module shows how these large-scale patterns can be studied using the methods of macroecology and macroevolution, and will provide both theory and practical training in how to quantify diversity in space and time.

Students on the Plant and Crop Science pathway will also study:

Crop Science, Biotechnology and Breeding (30 credits)

This module consists of four topics: crop physiology, agricultural productivity, crop protection, and breeding and genetic engineering of plants. These emphasise the production of agricultural crops, the biotic and abiotic factors which can affect productivity and the use of breeding and genetic manipulation to improve crop performance. Biotic factors include such topics as weeds, insect pests and pathogens and sink-source relationships in crop plants. Abiotic factors include economic constraints, light interception, effects of pesticides on the environment, genetic manipulation to provide resistance to pests and pathogens and the use of fertilisers and other chemicals.

Agricultural Ecology in a Changing World (15 credits)

This module introduces the concept of agriculture as an ecological system and explores agriculture in the context of global change. Specifically, this unit will consider the value of biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems, the role of ecosystem services in the sustainability of food production and the vulnerabilities of agriculture to a changing climate.

Issues in Global Food Security (15 credits)

Global food security encompasses a range of issues which themselves change rapidly, in response to political shifts or new technologies. This module encourages a critical analysis of current major issues in food security, drawing on interdisciplinary research expertise and experience working in public and private sectors. It features seminars from experts at the University of Sheffield as well as guest speakers, and will involve a range of delivery methods such as discussion sessions and group horizon scanning exercises.

Students on the Biodiversity and Conservation pathway will also study:

Global Conservation Issues (15 credits)

This course provides an overview of the principles of conservation biology through lectures which focus on major real-world conservation issues and specific case studies. Critical thinking is encouraged throughout as students are encouraged to understand the complexity of conservation issues behind simple narratives. Students will further develop their skills in accessing, interpreting and synthesising both the primary scientific literature and official ‘grey’ literature in the field of conservation, as they independently produce a policy briefing on a major conservation issue. This will also give them insights into the science-policy interface, and the skills of writing for policy makers.

Agricultural Ecology in a Changing World (15 credits)

This module introduces the concept of agriculture as an ecological system and explores agriculture in the context of global change. Specifically, this unit will consider the value of biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems, the role of ecosystem services in the sustainability of food production and the vulnerabilities of agriculture to a changing climate.

Changing Global Ecosystems (15 credits)

Human impacts on the world’s ecosystems are profound and without precedent in Earth’s history. Ecosystem science addresses the need to understand the impacts of overexploitation, land-use change and anthropogenic climate change. This module introduces students to the principles of ecosystem science, showing how human impacts combine with natural processes to drive change in a range of tropical, temperate, boreal and marine ecosystems. Lectures and group discussions cover topics such as climatic tolerance, trophic interactions, and carbon sequestration. The practical application of theory will be demonstrated in field visits to long-term experimental sites, where students will conduct a group project.

Biodiversity in Space and Time (15 credits)

Biodiversity varies enormously from place to place, from hyperdiverse systems such as tropical rainforests to more species-poor systems in polar regions. The evolution of diversity has also not occurred at a constant rate, with bursts of diversification punctuating periods of more stability. As a result, not all areas are equal, and not all species are too: some represent far more unique evolutionary history than others. This module shows how these large-scale patterns can be studied using the methods of macroecology and macroevolution, and will provide both theory and practical training in how to quantify diversity in space and time.

Students studying our broad Biological Sciences pathway will be able to choose 60 credits of optional modules from across the three pathways above.


The cost of all core fieldwork and practical project work is included in your tuition fees, this includes both one day field trips and compulsory field courses as well as obligatory safety equipment. Travel to field sites for project work may incur additional costs.

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

We timetable teaching across the whole of our campus, the details of which can be found on our campus map. Teaching may take place in a student’s home department, but may also be timetabled to take place within other departments or central teaching space.