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    2023 start September 

    Sustainable Agriculture

    School of Biosciences, Faculty of Science

    This course will equip you with the knowledge needed to understand the challenges of sustainable agriculture and the skills to pursue an exciting career in the agronomy sector.
    An undergraduate student in a lab coat.

    Course description

    This course will give you 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 crop and soil science.

    You’ll cover topics such as global food security, the origins of agriculture, and agricultural ecology in a changing world.

    The biggest part of the course is the individual research project where you’ll spend three months over the summer working with our world-leading researchers, taking the latest scientific knowledge and applying it in real-world settings to ensure that the production and consumption of the world’s food is sustainable and resilient.

    Example research projects include:

    • Arable weeds and crop production in the UK
    • Parasitic plants as agro-ecosystem engineers
    • The soil system
    • Genomics in ecology and evolution
    • Effects of increased CO2 on ecosystems


    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.

    Core modules:

    Agricultural Ecology in a Changing World

    This unit will introduce the concept of agriculture as an ecological system and explore 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.

    15 credits
    Issues in Global Food Security

    Food security is a pressing concern for humanity, and science is constantly shaping our response to it. 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 TUOS and guest speakers covering topics at the cutting edge of issues in plant sciences and food security, with seminars followed by in-depth discussion sessions with expert speakers. The focus is on applying this knowledge to specific real-world problems and on producing outputs that are accessible non-specialist senior policy makers or managers.

    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
    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 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
    Future Crop Systems

    In this module, we will explore the current issues with our global food system, concentrating on the three major threats to food security; yield gaps, increasing populations and a changing climate. The module will provide the essentials in crop physiology, soil science and plant pathology, and look at the breadth and depth of current research in these areas to develop the cropping systems we need to ensure future agricultural practices are sustainable, sufficient and safe.

    30 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 mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials and discussion groups, practical and field classes, and individual research.


    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

    At Sheffield, we have links with a number of agri-businesses and policy makers in this area who will contribute to your learning throughout your studies during external lectures. These partners are organisations we’ve collaborated with on projects, where our students have done placements, and where Sheffield graduates have gone to work.

    Possible career paths include:

    • Working in the agronomy and agricultural consultancy sectors;
    • Agricultural extension;
    • Farming;
    • Contributing to agricultural and environmental policy for sustainable food production systems.

    If you choose to continue your research training, graduates will be well equipped to pursue PhDs in soil science, crop science, microbiology or food supply and beyond.


    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.

    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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