Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences (Biochemistry)

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: School of Biological Sciences
Programme accredited by: n/a
Final award: BSc (Hons)
Programme title: Biological Sciences (Biochemistry)
UCAS code: C700
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s):
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr M.P. Gallagher
Date of production/revision: April 2012

External summary

Biochemistry is a degree programme run within the School of Biological sciences, a large School with 6 internationally renowned research Institutes: the Institute of Cell Biology, the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, the Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, the Institute for Stem Cell Research, and a number of interdisciplinary centres. 

Biochemistry is a discipline that underlies the majority of modern biological research. The programme aims to promote an understanding of the molecular basis of the processes that take place in cells and organisms and to develop a critical approach to the experimental basis of this knowledge by encouraging the reading and interpretation of primary literature, and by providing direct experience of research in the form of a practical project.

 The Honours course in year 4 combines coverage of both basic and advanced principles and the approaches involved in a broad range of biochemical methods and principles. Students in years 1-3 have a wide variety of course choices as the Biological Sciences degree programme provides a set of overlapping courses leading to different final Honours schools (see Courses and Progression).

The degree programme in Biochemistry is designed to produce graduates able to pursue successful careers in a range of professional areas. Graduates with good Biochemistry degrees are frequently accepted for postgraduate research in other departments, including departments of molecular, cell or developmental biology and biochemistry. Biochemists are employed in research establishments, by pharmaceutical companies and in health services, The graduate attributes are applicable in a wider context and help graduates find employment in other sectors.

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims to promote an understanding of the molecular basis of the processes that take place in cells and organisms and to develop a critical approach to the experimental basis of this knowledge by encouraging the reading and interpretation of primary literature, and by providing direct experience of research in the form of a practical project.

The programme aims to develop:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Research skills in both laboratory and library
  • Awareness of emerging issues and unsolved questions in a specialist area in Biological Sciences
  • Graduate attributes including a wide range of generic transferable skills

The programme aims to provide a set of learning skills, sound scientific knowledge and an understanding of underlying principles that enables each student to develop both as a scientist and as an individual. Biochemistry is a broad ranging set of overlapping disciplines so that the education provided is aimed at equipping the graduates with a flexible range of options in a multidisciplinary world of work.. Teaching provides both generic and specialist training. Students are taught experimental methods used to investigate areas of biology; how to perform and document experiments in a laboratory; how to draw quantitative conclusions from experimental data and how to present results and theoretical knowledge.  Specific courses develop particular skills within a subdiscipline.  All students will develop the level of understanding that will allow engagement in debates on current topics in a broader context that may extend to:

  • environmental issues
  • health care
  • science technology and biotechnology
  • climate change and its consequences
  • biodiversity
  • sustainability
  • evolutionary relationships including functional and behavioural adaptations
  • management of biological data

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

The core courses taken in semester 1 aim to increase knowledge and understanding of Biochemistry.  The subject is so vast that they cannot be comprehensive, but the courses have been designed to give the student a rounded experience that will be transferable into other contexts. As well as supplementing lectures with their own reading, students will gain knowledge and understanding in other aspects of the course such as Tutorials, Seminars – both in the School and in the Programme - and by preparing for the Synoptic exam.

The foundations are laid in courses in the pre-honours years, when students are introduced to basic concepts in Biological Sciences.  These foundations are based on an understanding of chemistry, mathematics and physics, which are taught in a biological context in courses in the first year.  Core courses in the second year are The Dynamic Cell, which builds up knowledge and understanding of molecular processes in the context of the cell as the unitary level for understanding.  Genetics principles and thinking are introduced in Genes and Gene Action. In third year, the main Biochemistry Courses are Structure and Function of Proteins and Molecular Cell Biology.  These in-depth courses involve the students in more group work, and place them more in the role of investigators themselves seeking to evolve research strategies.  As well as the core courses, the wide range of courses offered in later years allows a student to specialise in particular subject areas. Within each specialised area of Biological Sciences, students learn to:

  • carry out scientific research as an individual within a team (research project)
  • critically analyse current research literature (throughout, especially in seminar programme, synoptic exam, research project, research proposal, tutorials)
  • appreciate the experimental approaches, methods and limitations in the field(throughout, especially in Biochemical Techniques core, seminar programme, synoptic exam, research project, research proposal, tutorials)
  • analyse and solve biological questions (throughout, especially in synoptic exam, research project, research proposal, tutorials)

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

Students ability to appreciate research strategies and to formulate their own is gained primarily in the Research Project.  As well, the research proposal develops ability to research a field and to propose their own research strategy.  The preparation for the synoptic exam, in which they  interpret data from a paper in the primary literature, hones analytic and critical skills.

  • carry out scientific research within a research group or team (4th year research project)
  • develop critical thinking, including the critical analysis of current literature (e.g. synoptic sessions, tutorials and research project)
  • discuss and evaluate scientific arguments (within seminars, tutorials, synoptic exam preparation, research proposal and project reports)
  • exchange ideas with scientific colleagues, including carrying out scientific research within a research group/team (4th year research project, student delivered seminar series)
  • analyse and solve biological questions (synoptic exam and preparation, research proposal)
  • analyse and summarise data, drawing on numerical and statistical analysis skills as appropriate (research proposal)
  • build on existing knowledge to suggest new directions for investigation (research proposal, research project)
  • an appreciation of the experimental approaches, methods and limitations in their field (throughout, particularly in tutorials, synoptic exam preparation, and research proposal)
  • formulate scientific questions and programmes of research, drawing on expertise in the design and rationale of scientific experiments. (particularly in the research proposal and project)

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

Students choose your own research project topic and identify an area for their research proposal.  This includes writing a grant application presented on a BBSRC grant form in the style of a three year project grant.  In the research project students are shown techniques that are new to them, but thereafter it is expected that they won’t need constant supervision.  They are encouraged to use initiative, to solve problems for themselves and to overcome setbacks. They are offered opportunities for feedback on their work but it is up to the students to use them (peer feedback on posters, for example, that students should feed forward into their final submissions; an opportunity to grade an exam answer and to compare it with an expert marker; a DVD of their seminar presentations).

  • summarise and interpret the work of others in the context of previous work and likely developments (particularly research proposal and student given seminar series)
  • evaluate the strength and weaknesses of scientific evidence, thereby being able to arrive at independent conclusions (particularly in seminar series, research proposal and project)
  • analyse graphs, figures and tables (throughout but particularly in tutorials, preparation for synoptic exam)
  • apply logical thinking in the analysis of new material (synoptic analysis) (preparation for synoptic exam).
  • formulate, investigate and discuss questions (particularly in the research proposal)
  • learn and work independently, analysing their own strengths and weaknesses, drawing on written and oral feedback ( throughout, but particularly in session we do on marking exam scripts; feedback via a DVD of their seminars; feedback on drafts of research proposal and project; giving and receiving peer feedback on posters)
  • learn analytical methods and to apply them to problem solving (particularly in the research proposal)
  • engage and draw on an understanding of scientific investigations (particularly in the research proposal and project)
  • build on existing knowledge to suggest new directions for investigation (particularly in the research proposal)
  • understand the relevance and importance of explaining scientific ideas and the impact of science to the wider community (tutorials, topical subjects in seminar series)

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

There are many opportunities to practice and give seminar presentations (seminar series; project presentations; presentations to research lab team; as part of ICA on some courses).  Other courses give the opportunity to make and present an effective poster.  Students are expected to communicate and cooperate effectively with their project supervisor, members of the lab and with their peers in group work tasks. Preparation of the Research Proposal and the Project Report will also develop effective written communication skills.

  • oral and written communication that is logical and coherent (e.g. talks delivered in 3rd and 4th years. Sessions giving experience of marking scripts. Giving and receiving peer feedback on posters. Essay feedback in  all years)
  • using computer, graphical and numerical skills (e.g. in elective and project reports)
  • using communication to work effectively in groups (e.g. in e-learning exercises in 2nd, 3rd and 4th years)
  • writing essays and laboratory reports (e.g. 2nd year laboratory reports, 3rd year essays and 4th year research project and proposal)
  • oral and written communication that is logical and coherent (e.g. 3rd year talks, 4th year paper presentations and research project seminars)
  • using computer, graphical and numerical skills (e.g. in elective and project reports)
  • using communication to work effectively in groups (e.g. in e-learning exercises in 2nd and 3rd year)
  • writing essays and laboratory reports (e.g. 2nd year laboratory reports, 3rd year essays and 4th year dissertation)
  • working in groups for presentations (in third year tutorials)
  • communicating concepts and ideas with the wider public, demonstrating an understanding of the relevance and importance of explaining scientific ideas and the impact of science to the wider community (topical subjects in 4’th year seminar series; tutorials)
  • communicating concepts and ideas with the wider public, demonstrating an understanding of the relevance and importance of explaining scientific ideas and the impact of science to the wider community (topical subjects in 4’th year seminar series; tutorials)

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

In the research lab students are expected to work hard and efficiently.  In course work, deadlines are not necessarily staggered so students have to multi-task and organise their time effectively by forward planning.  Students are expected to be a good team-member in their research project and learn to differentiate when to ask for help and when to work things out for themselves.

  • working in groups on projects, group talks or laboratory work (several tutorials in both 3rd and 4th years; membership of research teams during project)
  • collaborating efficiently and productively with others in the process of learning and presentation (several tutorials in both 3rd and 4th years)
  • developing career plans through individual and class sessions with careers staff and with biology staff (Ph.D talks in 4’th year)
  • building confidence from completion of assignments and from successful work experiences in laboratory, projects, presentations, and essays.
  • organising individual learning, managing the workload and working to a timetable
  • learning to plan effectively, including individual study
  • utilising advice gained from discussions with Personal Tutors, Course Organisers and Honours Programme organisers
  • presenting scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of the aims, methods and considerations in this subject area (particularly the research project dissertation)
  • working independently on the creation of essays and reports. (research project; research proposal)

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

These will primarily be learned in the research project, which contributes one third of the marks for the year.  In addition students learn skills at calculation, estimation and technical knowledge through preparation for the synoptic exam, in tutorials and preparation for and discussion of the seminar papers.

  • use of bioinformatic and other software tools (throughout – particularly in Molecular Cell Biology, Structure and Function of Proteins, Genomes and Genomics, The Dynamic Cell and Quantification in the Life Sciences)
  • use of graphics and data analysis software  (throughout – particularly in Quantification in the Life Sciences)
  • competence in generic laboratory skills (pipetting, use of specialist equipment, solution preparation, handling of biological materials, safety procedures) (throughout – particularly in the Research Project)
  • appreciate the specificity, the accuracy and the limitations of particular techniques (throughout – particularly in Biochemical Techniques, and Structure and Functions of Proteins)
  • cell culture ( Molecules, Genes and Cells, Microorganisms, Cells and Immunity 2, Molecular Microbiology 3)
  • measurement of biological parameters e.g. DNA, proteins, enzyme activity (particularly Structure and Functions of Proteins 3, Molecular Cell Biology 3)
  • library skills (learning to read and analyse research and review papers, understanding the main concepts and identifying unresolved questions) (throughout – starting with Origin and Diversity of Life 1).

Programme structure and features

This programmes fits within the general structure of the University’s Curriculum Framework.

Courses and Progression

Students take courses totalling 120 credit points in each year of the programme.  The programme is full time for 4 years, except where direct entry into 2nd year has been permitted.

The degree regulations and programme of study, along with the degree programme table can be found at:

http://www.drps.ed.ac.uk/index.php

1st Year

Compulsory courses (Level 8):

  • Origin and Diversity of Life 1 (20 points)
  • Molecules, Genes and Cells 1 (20 points)

Students are required to take a further 80 points of courses.  Those offered by the Schools of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and two service courses offered by the School of Chemistry are recommended.

2nd Year

Students must take at least three courses (including some required courses) totalling 60 credit points from a selection of Biological and Biomedical Sciences level 8 courses as listed in the degree programme table.

3rd Year (Junior Honours)

Students must take at least four courses (including some required courses) totalling 80 credit points from a selection of Biological and Biomedical Sciences level 9 courses as listed in the degree programme table.

4th Year (Senior Honours)

The courses taken depend on the senior honours specialisation chosen by the student.  In all programmes there are at least 80 credit points of compulsory courses including a Research Project course (40 points) and core courses each worth 10 or 20 credit points.  Elective courses, each worth 10 credit points are also available.

Exit Qualifications

The criteria for exit awards of Undergraduate Certificate of Higher Education, Undergraduate Diploma of Higher Education, BSc Ordinary in a Designated Discipline are listed at https://www.wiki.ed.ac.uk/display/SBSUndergraduateIntranet/Exit+qualifications

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Teaching and Learning strategies employed at the University of Edinburgh consist of a variety of different methods appropriate to the programme aims.  The graduate attributes listed above are met through a teaching and learning framework (detailed below) which is appropriate to the level and content of the course.

Teaching and Learning Activities

In Year 1:

  • Lectures
  • Workshops
  • Laboratories
  • Field Work
  • Tutorials
  • Discussion Groups/Project Groups
  • Problem based learning activities. Example: as part of the Origin and Diversity of Life 1 course, students learn how to record and present practical procedures and outcomes, and how to analyse results.
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

In Year 2:

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Workshops
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities. Example: as part of The Dynamic Cell 2 course students attend problem based tutorial sessions.
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

In Year 3

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Workshops
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Presentations
  • Problem based learning activities. Example: as part of the Molecular Cell Biology 3 course students review academic papers, write abstracts and give a presentation.
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

In Year 4

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Presentations
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Project work in a research laboratory; students carry out their own research at the frontier of knowledge and can make a genuine contribution to the progress of original research.  This also involves reviewing relevant papers, analysing data, writing a report and giving a presentation.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 131690
Year 228720
Year 332680
Year 444560

Assessment methods and strategies

Courses are be assessed by a diverse range of methods and often takes the form of formative work which provides the student with on-going feedback as well as summative assessment which is submitted for credit.

In Year 1

  • Laboratory Reports; formative feedback is provided early in the first semester followed by summative feedback contributing to course results.
  • Essays; students are provided with written feedback
  • Assessed Problems; students are provided with written feedback
  • On-line Tests; on-line feedback with explanations
  • Written Degree Examinations; students are invited to feedback sessions with course organisers to view their examination scripts.
  • Example: as part of the Origins and Diversity of Life 1 course students are provided with on-line feedback for their essay, including video feedback.

In Year 2

  • Laboratory Reports
  • Essays; students are provided with written feedback
  • Class Tests
  • Multiple Choice Tests
  • Assessed Problems; students are provided with written feedback
  • Written Degree Examinations; students are invited to feedback sessions with course organisers to view their examination scripts.

In Year 3

  • Laboratory Reports
  • Essays; students are provided with written feedback
  • Class Tests
  • Assessed Problems
  • Oral Presentations; feedback is provided by peers and staff
  • Written Degree Examinations; students are invited to feedback sessions with course organisers to view their examination scripts.

In Year 4

  • Project Reports and Presentations
  • Essays; students are provided with written feedback
  • Oral Presentations; feedback is provided by peers and staff
  • Written Degree Examinations; students are invited to feedback sessions with course organisers to view their examination scripts.

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 1571429
Year 2591724
Year 3501931
Year 4473222

Career opportunities

Graduates in Biological & Biomedical Sciences are highly valued.  The broad analytical and scientific skills you gain equip you for a variety of careers.  Previous graduates have been employed in the food, environmental and healthcare industries, or have moved into non-science sectors, including teaching, marketing, accountancy and policy research.  Some of our graduates also choose further study before entering successful academic or industry–based research careers.

Other items

Each student is assigned a Personal Tutor who provides both academic and pastoral guidance.  Throughout a student's time at the university the Personal Tutor guides the student in choice of courses and provides general support.

Courses are administered and run through Teaching Organisations.  These produce detailed course guides for new students and for continuing students.  These guides provide details of courses and also advise students on assessment and general university policy and regulations.