Biochemistry, Genetics, Microbiology and Molecular Biology: course structure

Explore the structure and content of our undergraduate courses across the Molecular Biosciences at Sheffield.

Teaching and learning changes for 2020-21

Due to the coronavirus pandemic we have made some changes to teaching and learning for some courses in the 2020-21 academic year.

Find out about teaching and learning changes

These pages will be updated regularly, so please check back for the latest information about your course.

Our Biochemistry, Genetics, Microbiology and Molecular Biology degrees follow the same course structure to make sure that you get the practical skills and knowledge that every molecular bioscientist needs. Our four-year MBiolSci degrees are the same as our BSc degrees for the first three years, but have an extra year of research training. All students have the same practical sessions in our teaching laboratories, and attend tutorials and many other parts of their course together.

The content of all of our courses is the same in first year, and the second and third years are based on the same range of molecular bioscience modules. This means that no matter which degree title you start with in first year, you'll have the freedom to branch out into other subjects that interest you. It also makes it very easy for you to change your degree title, so that you can graduate with a degree title that reflects the specialisms you chose in second and third year.

The first year is the same on all of our molecular bioscience degrees. This helps to make sure that you get the practical skills and knowledge that every bioscientist needs, and it makes it very easy for you to change to a different degree programme later in your course.

During your first year you'll be assigned a personal tutor who'll stay with you throughout your time at Sheffield, whether you stay on the BSc, switch to the MBiolSci or choose to spend a year working in industry.

Lectures

Your lectures in first year cover the four main subject areas of our courses – Biochemistry, Genetics, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. All students study these topics in first year because it's important for molecular bioscientists to know something about all of these subjects. You'll have a lot more choice and opportunities to specialise later in your degree.

Lab practicals

These sessions are led by academic staff with support from expert demonstrators. You'll be able to learn the scientific skills that you'll put into practice throughout your degree. Topics include:

  • Safe handling of micro-organisms and bacterial growth
  • Use of general lab equipment such as automatic pipettes, spectrophotometers, and microscopes
  • Enzyme activity
  • Bioenergetics
  • Protein purification
  • Bacterial growth
  • Protein expression
  • Gene cloning – plasmids, ligation and transformation
  • Restriction mapping
  • Gene expression
  • Analysis of metabolic pathways

Analysis classes

In analysis classes, you'll develop the practical skills that bioscientists use outside the lab. These take place most weeks and teach you how to interpret findings and make calculations based on your data. They'll also help you prepare for your exams. Topics include:

  • Molarity calculations
  • Practising questions under examination conditions
  • Manipulating data from radio-labelling experiments
  • Using Excel to analyse and display biological data
  • pH and buffers
  • Genome databases
  • Protein purification card game
  • Business game – following a biotechnological process from laboratory to plant

All students will take two compulsory lecture modules in semester one:

  • Biostructures, energetics and synthesis
  • Genes, genomes and chromosomes

In semester two you’ll choose two modules from Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, depending on your course or interests.

Lab practicals

You'll continue to have practical sessions each week, but now you'll be learning more advanced scientific techniques. Topics include:

  • Molecular genetics
  • Protein purification
  • Experimental design
  • Protein structure analysis
  • Bacterial pathogenesis
  • Quorum sensing
  • Gene cloning
  • Gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9

Analysis classes

You'll continue to have analysis classes typically once a fortnight to help you prepare for life beyond university. Topics include:

  • How to read a scientific paper
  • Analysing and presenting scientific data
  • Introduction to computer programming
  • Data skills
  • Genome databases
  • Enzyme purification
  • Skills development workshops
  • Working collaboratively with others

Lectures

Like second year, any compulsory lectures will depend on your course, but you'll continue to have a range of optional modules to choose from too.

Research projects

In third year, you'll complete a research project in an area of molecular bioscience that interests you. For experimental science projects you can be based in one of the research groups in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, or at the University of Sheffield Medical or Dental Schools depending on your topic. It's a great chance to put everything you've learned so far into practice as you work towards completing your research report.

There are several types of project that you can do. Current projects span:

  • Experimental science: Investigate a scientific problem, using state-of-the-art facilities and working alongside research scientists.
  • Clinical diagnostics: Learn how to use the analytical software used by clinical diagnostics staff in NHS laboratories to diagnose leukaemia in collaboration with the Sheffield Children's Hospital.
  • Industrial biotechnology: Understand brewing techniques and isolate and grow yeasts in collaboration with local breweries to understand how mutations in yeast genes affect the flavour of beer.
  • Molecular systems and computing: Analyse and evaluate complex data to investigate fundamental biological processes, with opportunities to learn computer programming.
  • Science communication: Build up a portfolio of writing on a scientific topic of your choice, and evaluate the effectiveness of different communication strategies.
  • Education and outreach: Organise events to get school children better engaged with science – students generally work in primary schools or university technical colleges (UTC) to gain teaching experience communicating science to school children.

Literature review

For your literature review, you'll critically assess the existing research into a scientific topic, and write up your findings in a 5,000 word report. Examples of recent titles include: 

  • The mechanism of action of anti-amyloid compounds in Alzheimer’s
  • Structure based drug design
  • Chromosomal strand break repair and human disease
  • Is there a difference between longevity and ageing?
  • Antigenic variation and the evasion of host immunity
  • Are the research findings of Barbara McClintock fully appreciated?
  • Uncovering the origins of the AIDS pandemic
  • The microbial stress response – how do bacteria cope with stress?
  • The role of the gut microbiota in human health and disease
  • Can the innate immune system be trained to remember?
  • RNA interference or CRISPR mediated genome editing as a panacea for human disease?
  • How does the study of HIV-positive patients and their infecting viral genomes inform the development of an HIV vaccine?

Data handling

To continue building on your scientific analysis skills, you'll complete in-depth training on how to collect and interpret experimental data. Tasks include:

  • Reading and interpreting scientific papers
  • Interpreting data to build a hypothesis
  • Carrying out numerical calculations and interpreting them

  • Research project
  • Advanced literature review
  • Research methodology module
  • Advanced research topics

If you take one of our four-year MBiolSci courses, you'll complete this extra year of research training. It's designed for students who want to pursue a career in industrial or academic research.

Research project

The majority of your fourth year is devoted to an extended research project. Most students are based in one of the research groups in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology or in industry at a company such as AstraZeneca, GSK or Unilever. Some students will base their project at the University of Sheffield's Medical School.

Advanced literature review

Using the skills you've developed from your third year literature review project, you'll critically assess the existing research into your experimental project topic to inform your approach. You'll write a literature survey, similar to ones written as part of a postgraduate thesis.

Introduction to research methodology

Our introduction to research methods module will provide you with opportunities to gain new knowledge and develop additional research skills before embarking on your research project. You'll have the opportunity to:

  • Gain an awareness of the importance of good scientific practice, including ethical and regulatory contexts, the importance of safe working practice, and the evaluation and selection of appropriate statistical analyses of biological data sets;
  • Develop key research skills in sourcing, analysing, summarising and presenting scientific information in a range of formats such as group presentations and individual essays;
  • Learn more about the application of complementary research technologies to address biological questions;
  • Apply your learning in designing a detailed experimental protocol to achieve a specified research goal.

Advanced research topics

As part of our advanced research topics module, you'll attend our regular departmental seminar series to learn about the latest advances in molecular bioscience from some of the world's leading researchers. You’ll write brief reports on selected talks and undertake more extensive research into the scientific literature on a subset of topics that you’ll present and discuss at a Journal Club.


Spending a Year in Industry

If you choose to complete a BSc with a Year in Industry degree, you'll spend 12 months on a paid work placement between your second and third year. This can be a lab or non-lab based position at a local, national or global company. 

Placements aren't guaranteed – it’s your responsibility to secure one but we’ll do everything we can to help.

Find out more


The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it is 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.

Information last updated: 8 September 2020


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