Molecular Biology

Much of the success of modern biology is because of the fusion of biochemistry, genetics and microbiology to form newer disciplines, like molecular biology, which aims to build up a detailed, molecular-level understanding of the structure, function and interactions of cells.

Molecular biology students in the lab

About Molecular Biology at Sheffield

Our molecular biology courses allow you to discover the diverse range of biochemical, genetic and microbiological approaches needed to understand life at a molecular level. You'll study the approaches used to sequence genomes, clone and engineer genes, determine molecular structures and analyse cell growth in humans, plants and microbes. You'll also learn how they enable us to design novel biotechnological solutions to issues of sustainable production and of combatting disease.

All of our students take compulsory modules that span the molecular biosciences, designed to give you the essential skills that every professional scientist needs. As you progress through your degree and discover what you’re passionate about, optional modules will allow you to explore your chosen subject in greater depth, specialise in one area, keep your interests broad, or even switch to another degree programme within the molecular biosciences. You can even choose to add an extra year of research experience as part of your studies, or gain valuable work experience with a placement year. 

Our courses are research-led which means that you'll be exposed to the latest cutting-edge discoveries in molecular biology from day one. Our world-class scientists, your teachers, are using ground-breaking approaches to develop climate-ready wheat that can survive drought conditions, working towards achieving food security; and it’s research like this that you’ll be getting involved in throughout your studies.


As a molecular biology student you'll learn in lots of different ways, from lectures and group tutorials to learning by doing during practical lab sessions and research projects.

Explore the course structure and content

Our staff are committed to great teaching and you'll have lots of opportunities throughout your degree to be creative, think independently, and express your ideas. From data handling and analysis classes that will teach you how to interpret findings and make calculations based on your data, to learning how to handle equipment and design experiments across molecular genetics, DNA manipulation and protein structure determination, you'll get the chance to put your new knowledge into practice in a variety of ways. Throughout your course you'll gain new transferrable skills and the relevant experience that employers are looking for.

Top 10 in the UK for Biological Sciences

The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020

Find out more about our teaching

Molecules to Market

Many of our students are interested in applying their scientific skills and knowledge in industry following graduation, so second year module “Molecules to Market” allows you to get out of the lab to come up with pioneering science enterprise ideas to launch a virtual business.

Students create an original business concept to apply the science they have learnt in their studies into a commercial setting. You'll work in small groups to analyse the market and competitors, create plans for promoting your products, and even consider intellectual property implications, finance and the needs for future expansion. Previous ideas have included using fungus to recycle car batteries, a pill that alleviates the symptoms of a hangover, and using bacteria to recycle plastic.

Bio - Molecules to Market

Research projects

You’ll undertake research projects throughout your degree, getting practical hands-on experience in the laboratory. In your third year, you’ll complete an extended research project in an area of molecular bioscience that interests you either inside or outside the lab. There are several types of projects to choose from depending on your interests and career goals, from experimental science to computing, teaching, clinical diagnostics or science communication. 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.
The genetics of brewing - in the lab

Did you know?

Sir Hans Krebs was the first Professor of Biochemistry in Sheffield, and in 1953 won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the citric acid cycle (also known as the Krebs cycle), while working at the University of Sheffield.

The cycle explains one of the most fundamental processes of life: the conversion of biological molecules into energy within a cell.

Spend a year on a work placement

Our BSc Molecular Biology with a Year in Industry degree allows you to do a year long, paid work placement between your second and third year. You'll pay reduced fees for the year you're on placement and you'll still have access to your tutor and the support you need from the university. Most students earn salaries during their placements too.

Our students have done their placements in lab and non-lab based roles at organisations that include:

  • AstraZeneca;
  • GSK;
  • Pfizer.

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

Find out more

Liam Spencer photo

I worked in the laboratory as a researcher; I would design and perform experiments, analyse data, write up my findings and present my work in regular team and project meetings. All of which I couldn’t have done without my training at Sheffield.

Liam Spencer

BSc Molecular Biology with Employment Experience

Integrated masters

Our four-year integrated masters courses (MBiolSci) are designed for students who want to pursue a career in industrial or academic research, with the majority of the fourth year devoted to a major research project. All of our courses are available as a three-year BSc degree, or a four-year MBiolSci degree and students have the choice between spending a year in industry and completing your project at a company such as AstraZeneca, GSK, or Unilever; or undertaking projects in one of our world-leading research labs within the department or the University of Sheffield Medical School.

Example research projects include:

  • Protein linked chromosomal break repair and human disease;
  • Mechanistic analysis of sister chromatid cohesion;
  • Transcriptional pausing by human RNA polymerase II.

Our four-year MBiolSci degrees are accredited by the Royal Society of Biology which shows employers that you’ve developed the extra skills and knowledge that they’re looking for.

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Amyleigh Watts student profile

Before undertaking my fourth year project, I was unsure whether or not I wanted to pursue a PhD. However, the project really allowed me to develop my laboratory skills, and gave me a feel for what it’s like to work as a researcher. Everybody in the lab I was in was incredibly helpful and welcoming, and it wasn’t long before I decided to start applying for PhDs.

Amyleigh Watts

MBiolSci Molecular Biology

Your career

Our students go on to do great things. Almost half of them decide to continue their studies, by doing a PhD or other postgraduate training, as they begin scientific research careers. This can lead to jobs in universities, research institutes, businesses and the NHS. Our graduates also go straight into industry, particularly in the vast pharmaceutical industry and the growing biotechnology industry. Some work in food manufacturing or brewing.

With a variety of key transferrable skills that employers are looking for, including teamwork skills, critical thinking, and how to present effectively, our students are also well equipped to pursue roles outside of bioscience, from IT and business management, to finance and accounting, to events management and teaching.

Whatever path they choose, we know that 97% of our graduates are in work or further study within six months of finishing their degree (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey 2016-17).

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Steve Cox student testimonial

I am now a science teacher in a secondary school on the Lincolnshire coastline. The experience of taking science into schools in Sheffield vastly helped me to discover ways of making science more interactive, adapting things that I am most interested in to the national curriculum in school.

Steve Cox

BSc Biochemistry

Our courses

Molecular Biology courses – 2020 entry

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. 

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