The life sciences include agriculture and forestry, biological sciences, veterinary science and sport science.
Degrees in these subjects are a great preparation to becoming a scientist in a specialist field, for example as a vet, biotechnology researcher or conservation expert.
However, the skills you’ll pick up through these courses, such as problem solving, data analysis and research, are also transferable to jobs that don’t require a lab coat. Non-science career paths include consultancy, teaching, political policy and law.
UK universities have supported many scientific breakthroughs, from the theory of evolution and natural selection, developed by University of Edinburgh and University of Cambridge alumnus Charles Darwin, to the more recent University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine, developed by Professor Sarah Gilbert and her colleagues at the University of Oxford.
Course options for the life sciences in the UK depend on the university. In general, undergraduate courses at UK universities are three years long and require you to pick one subject of study, such as biology or sports science. However, there are exceptions to this rule. At the postgraduate level, courses are specialised further, and you can choose between a taught course or a research dissertation.
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Founded in 1209, with alumni including Isaac Newton, Francis Crick, James Watson and Rosalind Franklin, the University of Cambridge’s long-standing reputation for scientific excellence speaks for itself.
At undergraduate level the university offers the natural sciences course, a three- or four-year programme and the framework within which most science subjects are taught at the university. This includes biology.
The first year is broad, allowing students to pick from modules covering behavioural sciences, cell biology, zoology and many more. You can increase your specialisation in second year, with the option for total specialisation from third year. Veterinary medicine is a separate six-year course.
The land economy course combines international development, economics, law and environmental science to prepare students to tackle 21st century questions about the future of the environment.
The University of Cambridge offers lectures and labs, but is renowned for its supervisions, where students discuss their work each week with a leading researcher in the field. This system of teaching is done in small groups, usually no more than three, so students can get highly personalised mentorship on their academic progress.
Life science courses at the University of Oxford include undergraduate degrees in biochemistry (molecular and cellular), biology and biomedical sciences. Another offering is the human sciences course, which uses an array of arts and science subjects, from genetics and demography to sociology, to study humans from an interdisciplinary viewpoint.
An even wider range of life science courses is available at master’s level and beyond. The university does not offer courses in veterinary medicine, sports science or agriculture and forestry.
As well as lectures and labs, the Oxford has classes known as tutorials, where students discuss their work each week with a leading researcher in the field. This system of teaching is done in small groups, usually no more than three, so students can access highly personalised mentorship on their academic progress.
Imperial College London is the only UK university to focus entirely on science, engineering, business and medicine.
The university is known for its strong global outlook, with around 58 per cent of its student body being international.
Courses offered in the life sciences at Imperial include biology, bioengineering, biochemistry, biotechnology, microbiology, ecology and environmental biology.
You can take these courses as a three-year or four-year programme, which includes a year abroad or a year in industry, as well as courses on management or a foreign language – such as Spanish, French or German – alongside your scientific studies. A three-year course means you will graduate with a Bachelor of Science, but many of the four-year options count as a master’s.
Notable alumni of the institution include Sir Alexander Fleming and Sir Ernst Boris Chain FRS, who together discovered penicillin, and recognition for the university’s ground-breaking work comes in the form of 14 Nobel Prizes.
Located in the heart of London, UCL is a constituent college of the University of London and a member of the Russell Group.
International students make up around a third of UCL’s student body each year.
Courses on offer include biology and biochemistry, and the university has partnerships with the Natural History Museum, the Crick Institute and the ZSL London Zoo, and students can attend lectures from experts working at these institutions.
Within the UCL medical school is a three-year course in sport and exercise medical sciences, an innovative programme that applies sport science knowledge to help patients and populations tackle various diseases.
UCL also offers an undergraduate and postgraduate course in human sciences, which brings together the disciplines of genetics, anatomy, psychology, ecology, sociology and more to create an interdisciplinary programme exploring the human body from all angles. You may also take a foreign language alongside this course.
UCL has been the birthplace of numerous significant scientific discoveries, with 29 Nobel Prizes awarded to UCL students or staff, including John O’Keefe, a current professor in the university’s research department of cell and developmental biology.
The University of Edinburgh is comprised of three colleges: arts, humanities and social sciences; science and engineering; and medicine and veterinary medicine.
Scotland’s university system differs from England’s; it’s similar to the American major/minor system. Undergraduate courses at the University of Edinburgh are usually four years long. You have the option to take two extra subjects alongside your chosen subject in the first two years of study, before specialising entirely on one discipline in the final two years.
At the University of Edinburgh, you can choose between applied sport science and sport and recreation management.
Within the university’s biology courses, you can choose to focus on biotechnology, biochemistry, cell biology, ecology, genetics and many other fields. Students are encouraged to either work or study abroad as part of their course.
Top universities in the UK for life sciences degrees 2022
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Explore the top universities in the UK for life sciences degrees using data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings