Biology is no longer about the isolated study of botany and zoology – it has become an integrated discipline that enables students to gain a very broad knowledge of the natural world that “joins-the-dots” between genes and whole organisms and the habitats in which they exist.

In 2019, Oxford’s 3-year biological sciences bachelor’s degree was developed into a 4-year integrated master’s degree in Biology (MBiol).

Teaching

Biology teaching at Somerville is led by our two Tutorial Fellows in Biology, Professor Renier van der Hoorn and Associate Professor Michelle Jackson, and our Lecturer in Plant Sciences, Mr Timothy Walker. Renier’s work focuses on extra-cellular immunity in plants while Michelle’s research looks at individual-to-ecosystem level responses to environmental change, including global heating. Timothy Walker worked as director of the University’s Botanic Garden and Arboretum for 26 years before coming to Somerville, and he teaches on all aspects of whole plant biology (which he would assure you is the best part of the subject!). 

In the first year Somerville students will have the same tutorials, all of which are given by the Somerville tutors. Three broad areas are covered in both lectures and tutorials: building a phenotype (cells & genes), the diversity of life (organisms), and evolution and ecology. There are also practicals and a one-week field trip to Orielton, Pembrokeshire, where students gain experience in everything from rocky-shore ecology to camera trapping and bird ringing.

In the second year everyone studies statistics and the scientific method, but after that there is some choice with students selecting a minimum of 3 out of 4 possible themes. These themes are: (1) genomes & host-microbe interactions; (2) cell & developmental biology; (3) organisms: behaviour & physiology; and, (4) evolutionary ecology including conservation.  Students choose from whom they receive a tutorial each week. These are offered by tutors and researchers, including the Somerville tutors. At the end of the second year there are field-work courses to south Wales to study birds, Borneo to study tropical ecology, and to Tenerife to study the botany of oceanic islands.

In the third year there are eight modules from which students select a minimum of four to study. These fall broadly under the same headings as the second year. Again, students can choose from whom they receive a tutorial each week. In the fourth year the students carry out a substantial research project within one of the University’s biology research groups.

Somerville’s biologists benefit from living a 10-minute walk from the department’s lecture theatres and teaching laboratories, as well as enjoying the university’s exceptional resources for teaching biology, which include the Botanic Garden, Harcourt Arboretum, Natural History Museum, University Herbarium, Wytham Woods and the University Parks.

For more details of the course, please visit the University website: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses-listing/biology.

Community

Somerville accepts six students each year to read Biology. Somerville has an exceptional library of books covering all aspects of the course. Professor Jackson is the College’s Climate Change Champion and chairs our Sustainability Working Group, and many biology students choose to become involved with this or other sustainability efforts in the college and University.

Many distinguished biologists have studied or taught at Somerville, including Victoria Braithwaite, the first person to demonstrate that fish feel pain; Professor Dame Angela McLean, professor of Mathematical Biology and Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government; and the ecologist Loeske Kruuk. The biologist and Professor of Ethology Marian Dawkins is also an alumna recognised for her work on animal welfare. 

Next Steps

Studying biology at Somerville opens many doors for your future career. Approximately 40% of Oxford biologists go on to further research or a course in an applied field, while others opt for careers in teaching, practical conservation, the civil service, and consultancy, to name some paths.

Fellows and Lecturers
  • Jesus Aguirre Gutierrez

    Fulford Junior Research Fellow
  • Sarah Gurr

    Senior Research Fellow; Chair in Food Security, Exeter University
  • Michelle Jackson

    Fellow & Tutor in Ecology; Associate Professor of Freshwater/Marine Ecology
  • Phillip Poole

    Senior Research Fellow; Professor of Plant Microbiology
  • Alex Rogers

    Senior Research Fellow; Director of Science, REV Ocean
  • Kerstin Timm

    Stipendiary Lecturer; BHF CRE Intermediate Transition Research Fellow
  • Renier van der Hoorn

    Fellow & Tutor in Plant Sciences; Associate Professor of Plant Sciences
  • Timothy Walker

    Lecturer in Plant Sciences; Former Director of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum
Where Next?