School of Biological and Marine Sciences

BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

Are you passionate about biology in all of its forms? Do you want to study a broad biology degree without the constraints of choosing a specialism too soon, with equal emphasis on lab and field skills? You will build an understanding of biology from viruses to mammals and from freshwater to hydrothermal vents, gaining state-of-the-art practical and transferable skills highly sought by employers, graduating ready to shape the future of fields from ecosystem management to laboratory research.

In the 2017 National Student Survey, 92% of students felt staff on this course were good at explaining things and 97% found the course intellectually stimulating.* This programme focuses on biology of a wide range of environments from soils and the oceans to hydrothermal vents and volcanic lakes.

Other courses like BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

The wings of butterflies are composed of tiny scales. Black areas are pigmented with melanin, but red, green and blue are caused by microscopic layers of chitin that diffract light giving the appearance of colour. This is known as structural colouration.

Key features

  • In the 2016 National Student Survey, 95% of students felt staff on this course were good at explaining things; 95% felt that the staff made the subject interesting; 86% found the course intellectually stimulating and 91% were satisfied with the course overall.
  • Study the whole spectrum of contemporary biology, on a course consistently praised externally for its outstanding teaching quality and well-constructed programme.
  • Gain theoretical and practical skills in the laboratory and dig deeper into the interplay between biology and real life so you'll graduate with the skills to immediately enter the world of work.
  • Learn on location, through an intensive residential field trip to the Azores (price included in your tuition fees).
  • Experience practical biology in the real world with an optional work placement between your second and final year.
  • Build the knowledge, skills and practical awareness for a variety of careers.
  • Work with your personal and course tutors to develop key graduate skills to boost your employability.
  • Keep pace with the ever changing discoveries, insights and thinking in ecology, biodiversity, cell biology, animal behaviour and physiology.
  • Be inspired by staff who are leading the way in their subjects, carrying out research that turns heads worldwide. 
  • Boost your practical skills using our specialised facilities including controlled environment chambers, experimental glasshouses, and an electron microscopy unit.

Course details

  • Year 1
  • In your first year, you will obtain a strong foundation across the spectrum of the biological sciences. You will begin with an intensive 4 week induction module through which you will obtain key skills in use of the scientific literature, data analysis and interpretation, academic writing and presenting and communicating your findings in both written and oral formats. You will then study cell biology, microbiology and the physiology of animals and plants, whilst furthering your transferable skills. You will undertake laboratory based practicals in a range of different areas that underpin and complement your lecture-based learning. You will undertake a field biology module at Slapton in South Devon (a residential field course included in your tuition fees), during which you will study natural history and taxonomy of wild animals and plants, whilst learning to design and carry out experimental work in the field.
    Core modules
    • BIOL111 Animal and Plant Physiology

      You will gain an understanding of the key principles that underpin comparative physiology, gaining an understanding of the structure and function of animals and plants. You will also develop an understanding of how organisms have evolved to be able to respond to their environment.

    • BIOL119 Introduction to Biology

      You will undertake an intensive 4-week induction to your future as an independent biologist, working alongside all first year students in the School. You will gain core transferable skills in searching for and reading scientific literature; study design; data evaluation, interpretation and presentation; academic writing and oral presentations. You will undertake field/laboratory activities relevant to your degree programme during this module to gather data for your assessments.

    • BIOL120 Cell Biology and Microbiology

      You will build an understanding of the fundamentals of cell biology alongside an understanding of the ecophysiology and importance of microorganisms, including their role in global biogeochemical cycles and their interactions with other organisms.

    • BIOL127 Evolution

      You will be introduced to core concepts of evolution, working from the fundamentals of DNA structure and function in relation to inheritance ranging from genome to individual to individual to population and exploring taxonomic groupings such as species. You will explore patterns of biodiversity that evolutionary processes have given rise to - both in terms of the fossil record and the present day.

    • BIOL129 Professional Development in Biological Sciences 1

      This module runs alongside your other modules in the first year of study, and captures and tracks the skills that you will develop during your other modules - namely those that are highly sought by employers across the biological sciences, including both field work and laboratory work.

    • BIOL130 Biological Sciences Field Biology

      In a field setting in South Devon, you will explore natural history and taxonomy and will gain an understanding of sampling methods and hypothesis development. You will be introduced to the collection of scientific data in the field and the application of knowledge of major groups of organisms and the environment they inhabit to conducting field research.

    Optional modules
    • BHCS1004PP Introduction to Human Pathology

      This cross-disciplinary module provides the learner with an introduction to the study of human disease, exploring historical, social and scientific perspectives as well as an opportunity to explore how modern pathology services are structured and operated.

    • BIOL124PP Biology of Sex

      This module will introduce you to the following topics; the evolution of sex, competition for mates, sperm competition, mate choice, sex & disease and other elements of the biology of sex. Each week will start with a discussion of the main areas of exciting research on that topic, across a range of species including humans. Students will then develop their learning in supervised workshops.

    • BIOL125PP Scientific Method and Ethics in Biology

      This module explores how modern scientific research is conducted; the importance of professional ethics in science, based on principles of rigour, respect and responsibility; the essential elements of effective science communication; and the development of critical scientific thinking involving graphical, numerical and statistical approaches. It includes examples of reliable (`good') and unreliable (`bad') science.

  • Year 2
  • In your second year, you’ll build on your growing knowledge of physiology, plant biology, microbiology and the methods and techniques of biological science. You will undertake a team-based microbiology research project through which you will gain core transferable skills in team work and working with new people alongside core research and bench skills. You will customise your studies through optional modules in ecology and the molecular basis of disease. A key part of your second year is a residential field trip to the Azores - included in your tuition fees - which takes place in late August or early September just before your second year start. During this course you will study life in extreme environments at geothermal springs and volcanic lakes and will undertake ecological studies of invasive and endemic species in the broad range of unique ecosystems that the Azores offers.

    You can alternatively undertake your second year at one of a selection of overseas universities through our Year Abroad scheme. When you return, you will go straight into your final year, so you degree still takes 3 years overall.

    Core modules
    • BIOL211 Microbial Physiology and Biochemistry

      You will explore the diversity of physiological systems across the Bacteria and the Archaea with specific focus on the role of metabolic pathways in the global biochemical cycles, and survival and growth in extreme environments. Through an intensive laboratory research project, you will gain core transferable skills in team work, diplomacy, report writing, organisation and planning alongside scientific skills in experimental design and meta analysis of the literature.

    • BIOL212 Environmental Cell Physiology

      You will understand the ways organisms are affected by environmental factors that ultimately induce changes at molecular and cellular level. You will understand the impacts of hypoxia, oxidative stress, exposure to xenobiotics and seasonality to organisms as well as changes during hibernation, aestivation and development, induced by semiochemicals and the impacts on underlying cell physiology.

    • BIOL213 Methods in Biological Sciences

      You will be equipped to carry out a range of laboratory and field studies in the biological sciences using appropriate methods and taking into account health and safety through the medium of hazard and risk assessments. A residential field course in the Azores (held in September of Stage 2) incorporates both lab and field approaches and you will gain an understanding of experimental design, data handling and analysis.

    • BIOL217 Environmental Plant Physiology

      You will understand plant-environment interactions in a range of habitats, including those impacted by human activity. You will understand and explore the challenges associated with each environment as well as stress responses of plants growing there. You will understand features of plants well-adapted to exploit the opportunities of particular habitats.

    • BIOL226 Animal Ecophysiology

      You will examine the life history and associated normal physiological processes in vertebrates and will examine how disease, environmental stressors, nutrition, and physiological dysfunction impact health, survival, growth and reproduction.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL210 Molecular and Genetic Basis of Disease

      You will understand the range of factors that influence human disease - from genetics to our environment. You will explore these factors at the molecular and cellular level with specific example diseases ranging from single-gene disorders through to multifactorial, multigene disorders. You will also study the practical approaches to the diagnosis and understanding of disease.

    • BIOL214 Ecology

      You will understand the basic concepts needed to solve ecological problems - individual, population and community ecology. You will explore a range of examples from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, which will provide a useful insight into the search for general theories of ecology.

  • Optional placement year
  • Many of our students carry out an optional placement year between their second and final years. You can undertake either two 3 month work placements or one 6 month placement, though many of our students opt to spent up to 12 months at their placement provider. You will be supported by a Placement Adviser - a member of academic staff from the School - who will act as your point of contact with the University. Examples of placement providers that our students have been based at in the past  have been highly diverse, from nature reserves and bird sanctuaries to Aarhus University, Denmark, undertaking research in cold-loving iron-reducing bacteria, including fieldwork to the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle.

    Given the opportunities a Placement Year gives and the positive impact it brings to employability, we strongly encourage all students to give serious consideration to undertaking a Placement Year.
    Core modules
    • APIE303 Biology:Placement

      All students on our degrees have the option of undertaking a (minimum of 6 month) work placement at a company or university anywhere in the world undertaking some kind of work (usually research-based) relating to their programme of study.

  • Final year
  • In your final year of study, you will study from a range of optional modules, allowing you to specialise in plant biotechnology, environmental microbiology, global change biology, bioprospecting, animal nutrition, animal and society and eco toxicology. You will also study our Advanced Skills and Concepts module, within which you will select three 'podules', allowing you to specialise in key practical-focused areas that have been developed to give you industry-relevant skills not typically found within undergraduate programmes. In common with all honours degrees in the UK, a major part of your final year is your research project, in which you will apply the skills and understanding you have developed through your studies to a piece of research, supervised by a member of academic staff

    Core modules
    • BIOL307 Advanced Skills and Concepts

      You will select 3 'podules' - short courses of study that revolve around a particular set of advanced skills or concepts not typically found in undergraduate programmes but often highly desired by employers. In each 'podule', you will be assessed both in the form of coursework (usually addressing the conceptual basis) and in a practical assessment of your ability to carry out a particular method.

    • BIOL311 Ecotoxicology

      You will gain a detailed understanding of concepts and principles of environmental hazard and risk assessment with an emphasis on the evaluation of the ecotoxicological methods used in the assessment of pollutants on the aquatic environment.

    • BIOL315 Personal Research

      You will undertake a lab or field-based research project relevant to your programme of study, supervised by a member of academic staff. Projects are open-ended research in an area usually dictated to some extent by the research interests of the supervisor. You will undertake a period of study gathering and interpreting data, and will write this up in the form of a manuscript for a scientific journal. You will also present your data at a poster presentation at the end of the academic year.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL301 Plant Biotechnology

      You will understand the role of plant biotechnology in food security with consideration of both scientific and social matters, such as ethics.

    • BIOL310 Global Change Biology

      You will gain an overview of the state of the art understanding of the consequences of climate change across all three domains of life. From this, you will understand how climate change biology is essential in conservation theory and practice and the impacts of climate change and both local and global scales.

    • BIOL320 Animal Nutrition

      You will understand the principles and practice of animal nutrition for a range of species. You will understand feeds and their evaluation, diet formulation and feeding methods. You will examine the impact of ingredient, physical, manufacturing and legal constraints on the production of feeds.

    • BIOL321 Pharmacology and Natural Products

      You will understand the diverse range of useful compounds and materials produced by living organisms that can be harnessed by humans. You will understand the chemical and biological diversity of natural products along with strategies for identification, characterisation and extraction.

    • BIOL3313 Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology

      You will understand the environmental microbiology that underpins biotechnologies relating to biofuels, fermented foods and beverages, mining, bioremediation, nuclear waste processing, commodity production, waste treatment and antibiotic production. You will undertake coursework to evaluate the commercialisation potential of a given biotechnology.

Every undergraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the course aims, the course structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest course structure and may be subject to change:

BScBiologicalSciences ProgrammeSpecification September2017 0004

The modules shown for this course are those currently being studied by our students, or are proposed new modules. Please note that programme structures and individual modules are subject to amendment from time to time as part of the University’s curriculum enrichment programme and in line with changes in the University’s policies and requirements.

Entry requirements

UCAS tariff

120 - 128

To include grade B in A level Biology and a C in a second science (Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Environmental Science or Environmental Studies). For candidates that do not have a second science subject at A level, please contact:

18 Unit BTEC National Diploma/QCF Extended Diploma in Applied Science: 128-144 points (DDM-DDD) - note that this is subject to the exact modules you have studied - please contact, stating explicitly the full list of modules within your qualification.

International Baccalaureate 30 diploma points overall, to include 5 diploma points in Biology (Higher Level) plus 5 diploma points in second science at Higher Level. English and Mathematics must be included.

Science-based Access To Higher Education diplomas, 33 credits in science-based units at merit including a minimum of 12 credits in biology units.

We would usually expect GCSE English and Mathematics at grade C / 4, or equivalent.

Please note that we do interview some applicants for this programme, at the Admissions Tutor's discretion.

For a full list of all acceptable qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

English language requirements

For candidates that do not have traditional qualifications, our BSc (Hons) Biology with Foundation Year programme provides a route onto this degree. 

Fees, costs and funding

New Student 2017 2018
Home/EU £9,250 £9,250
International £12,500 £13,000
Part time (Home/EU) To be confirmed To be confirmed
Part time (International) To be confirmed To be confirmed
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per a number of credits. Fees are correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change.

How to apply

All applications for undergraduate courses are made through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). 

UCAS will ask for the information contained in the box at the top of this course page including the UCAS course code and the institution code. 

To apply for this course and for more information about submitting an application including application deadline dates, please visit the UCAS website.

Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email

Undergraduate study in the School of Biological Sciences

Watch and find out more about studying in the School of Biological Sciences at Plymouth.

Potential High Achievers Scheme

In the School of Biological and Marine Sciences we are passionate and committed to both teaching and research and we are looking for talented and motivated students to share in this passion for biology in all its forms. We know that our applicants will thrive in the hands-on environment we can provide, and we want to ensure our best applicants become our future.

The scheme is now open for students who have applied to study, from September 2017, a range of full-time undergraduate courses across the biological sciences subject areas. We will be contacting applicants who are not only on course to achieve top marks but who have an outstanding personal statement, in order to offer them a chance to receive an unconditional offer immediately.

Find out more about the scheme.

*These are the latest results from the National Student Survey. Please note that the data published on Unistats is updated annually in September.