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    2023 start September 

    Biological Sciences

    School of Biosciences, Faculty of Science

    Specialise in one of three major areas: Ornithology, Plant and Crop Science or Biodiversity and Conservation, or choose to develop a wide range of knowledge across the biological sciences.
    A green bird

    Course description

    Our MSc trains you for a career in research or management around the world. You can specialise in one of our three pathways: Ornithology, Plant and Crop Science, or Biodiversity and Conservation, or you can choose to explore the breadth of organismal biological sciences.

    Throughout your course, you'll learn about fundamental concepts and key skills required within the discipline before applying what you've learnt in your literature review and Independent Research Project.

    Ornithology: You'll be equipped with the tools to sample avian diversity from cellular to population levels, learning about techniques including specimen handling and curation, DNA extraction and analysis, and geographic range mapping. You'll also develop an understanding of the evolutionary and ecological processes that shape bird behaviour, beauty, and community composition, and of the large-scale conservation challenges that threaten the world's birds.

    Plant and crop science: Gain a broad understanding of the agri-food system as a whole. You’ll learn about the major issues in sustainable agriculture, and the cutting-edge techniques used in plant, crop and soil science.

    Biodiversity and conservation: Develop fundamental knowledge about major conservation issues and their human and environmental drivers, including urbanisation, tropical logging, marine plastics, and the balance between sustainable food production and biodiversity.

    Whichever path you choose, you'll be learning about the latest research in the field, from experts who are making the discoveries first-hand.

    You’ll conduct your own fieldwork in The Gambia or a location closer to Sheffield such as the Peak District, and receive training in experimental design and data collection, giving you the key skills to plan and manage your own projects.

    The biggest part of the course is the Individual 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.

    Example research projects include:

    • The grass family (Poaceae): a study system in phylogenomics
    • Genomics in ecology and evolution
    • The Peak District: a study system for biodiversity and management
    • The Heliconius butterfly (Heliconius sara): a model study system in biological sciences
    • Parasitic plants as agro-ecosystem engineers
    • The soil system


    A selection of modules are available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Field Biology

    The broad theme of this course is to investigate the biodiversity of ecosystems and how landscapes can be sustainably managed to deliver on multiple ecosystem service goals. The focus will be on tropical ecosystems with a residential field course in The Gambia, or on temperate ecosystems in the Sheffield region including the Peak District National Park. In a series of site visits students will learn about issues relevant to their programme, which may include the habitats, wildlife, agricultural systems, ecosystem service, and broader human context of the landscape. They will gain experience in a range of appropriate methods for data collection, which may include collection of samples and/or analysis of samples in a laboratory. Applying this knowledge, they will identify a research question in a group, and present this to the rest of the course. Students will develop this into a short group field project. They will then use independent research to generate and analyse data and to place it in the context of previous published work from the scientific literature. The module will develop subject-specific knowledge, as well as skills in experimental design, group working, critical thinking, and writing.

    15 credits
    Advanced Data Handling and Analysis

    The aim of this module is to provide students with advanced training in the use of statistical methods and computers to explore, visualise, analyse and present biological data. Advanced principles of programming for data analysis, data interpretation and statistical analysis, and graphical presentation are stressed. The course is based on the statistical programming language R, and the Integrated Development Environment RStudio. Students will study a choice of two specialist modules selected to support student-specific interests and requirements. In addition, they will be guided through the process of making sense of real world, messy data, developing workflows to tidy data, derive research questions, and they will write a data story using the simple markdown language.

    15 credits
    Advanced Scientific Skills

    This module builds on existing, and further develops, generic scientific skills to equip postgraduate taught students with strong competences in presenting and reporting their research work using written and oral formats, in analysing data and the scientific literature, and in acquiring and extending their critical analysis skills. Teaching will be delivered using a blended approach with a combination of lectures, workshops, tutorials and seminars together with independent study and on-line teaching.

    Taught throughout the academic year, the module will be articulated around three units addressing: 

    Unit 1) Scientific presentation skills. In this unit, students will explore how to develop their academic (writing and oral) presentation skills. Some of the topics taught may include how to formulate a research question and hypothesis, how to find information, and how to structure a scientific essay or report. Students will learn how to communicate effectively their research to a scientific, as well as lay, audience. Emphasis will be placed on short oral communications and poster preparation and presentation.  The learning objectives will be acquired through lectures, workshops, tutorials and independent study.

    Unit 2) Critical analysis skills. This unit prepares students to develop their ability to analyse and appraise the scientific value of the published and unpublished literature. Workshops and lectures will introduce students to the process of critical appraisal of scientific work. 

    Unit 3) Statistics and data analysis skills. In this unit, students will learn methods to gather and analyse large datasets. In particular, workshops and lectures will teach students the basics of R coding and statistics for application in biosciences. The unit may also deliver other forms of data analysis relevant to the programme of study. Teaching within this unit will be delivered mainly through on-line material, lectures and workshops. Independent study will be essential to complete the acquisition of skills.

    15 credits
    Literature Review

    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.

    15 credits
    Individual Research Project

    This module gives students the opportunity to develop to high level skills relevant to a career in research or management. Based on their interests and career aspirations, students will conduct either a practical laboratory or field-based research project, a computational project, a theoretical modelling project or a systematic literature review or other substantial critical review. There is the potential to work with external organisations. A common element is the independent production of a piece of research, with guidance from an academic supervisor in the department. Students will engage with their supervisor(s) and their team to shape and design their own research and conduct this largely independently with the guidance provided. Projects will be allocated to students, matching available supervisor's and student's interests. The project write-up may be targeted to a specific audience, either academics or a group of specialists, and should follow the according format in terms of structure. The student's research is further presented in an oral form to fellow students and/or academics/experts. 

    60 credits

    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 are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.

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    1 year full-time


    You’ll learn through a combination of practical and field classes, individual research projects, lectures, seminars, tutorials and discussion groups.


    Most assessment is through coursework with some written examinations. Your assessment includes, but is not limited to, essays, extended project reports, policy briefing notes, online statistics exams, oral presentations and written grant proposals.

    Your career

    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.

    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.


    Firth Court quad

    The School of Biosciences brings together more than 100 years of teaching and research expertise across the breadth of biology.

    It’s home to over 120 lecturers who are actively involved in research at the cutting edge of their field, sharing their knowledge with more than 1,500 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students. 

    We carry out world-leading research to address the most important global challenges such as food security, disease, health and medicine, ageing, energy, and mitigating the biodiversity and climate crises.

    Our expertise spans the breadth and depth of bioscience, including molecular and cell biology, genetics, development, human physiology and pharmacology through to evolution, ecology, biodiversity conservation and sustainability. This makes us one of the broadest and largest groupings of the discipline and allows us to train the next generation of biologists in the latest research techniques and discoveries.

    Student profiles

    Biological sciences student

    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

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:2 undergraduate honours degree in biological sciences or a related subject.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

    Pathway programme for international students

    If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.

    Fees and funding


    The cost of all core fieldwork and practical project work is included in your tuition fees, this includes travel and accommodation for any one day field trips and compulsory field courses as well as obligatory safety equipment. Necessary vaccinations and visas required for travel, as well as travel to field sites for research project work, may incur additional costs.


    You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

    Apply now


    +44 114 222 2341

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

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