Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

B.Sc. (Hons) Biological Sciences (Ecology)

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 (Ecology) with Management
UCAS code: C180
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s):
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr M.P. Gallagher
Date of production/revision: May 2012

External summary

The Ecology degree programme run within the School of Biological Sciences (SGS) is taught jointly with the School of Geosciences (SGS). Relevant research departments of International standing within SGS are the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, the Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, and the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences. SGS is world renown as a centre for research on Environmental Sciences and Global Climate Change.  For 4th year teaching and research projects there is valuable collaboration with organisations outside the University including the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Forestry Commission, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and a wide variety of Conservation NGOs.

Ecology, the study of the interactions between organisms and their environment, is of fundamental importance to the future of the planet.  The Biological Sciences (Ecology) degree provides a broad grounding in this subject in the first three years, with a concentration on more Biological and less Environmental aspects of the subject in the final year. In years 1-3 the students take a wide variety of courses to provide them with suitable biological and environmental biology background. Practical skills are taught in three field courses (Field Ecology, Ecological Measurement and Ecological Science Field Course in honours year) and there is strong emphasis on the development of quantitative skills throughout the degree. Fourth year electives and dissertations provide insights into cutting edge Ecological research addressing real world problems. Alongside a depth of knowledge in Biological Sciences, graduates will have developed an understanding of management along with a breadth of skills and experience, including interpersonal skills, critical judgement and computer literacy.

Educational aims of programme

The degree programme aims to produce a graduate trained in Ecology, capable of critical and independent thinking and analysis and able to communicate clearly both with fellow scientists and with the wider community. 

The programme aims to develop:

  • knowledge and understanding in Ecology and the application of this knowledge to the management of biological resources
  • research skills both in the field and in the laboratory
  • quantitative skills in the statistical analysis and interpretation of ecological data
  • awareness of emerging issues and unsolved questions in Ecology
  • graduate attributes including a wide range of generic transferable skills
  • an awareness of the contribution of Edinburgh to the development of the biological sciences

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. Ecology is a very broad discipline, and students are encouraged to synthesise information from many different sources and perspectives to develop a balanced understanding of the area. In addition the course aims to expose students to ecological practitioners on field courses and field visits so that the theory that they learn is reconciled with real world practice. By the end of the final year students should possess the practical and analytical tools to independently investigate an original ecological question and report the results in a critical scientific dissertation.

All students will develop the level of understanding that will allow engagement in debates on current topics in a broader context that may include:

  • global climate change and its consequences
  • biodiversity and its conservation
  • sustainability
  • ecosystem services
  • food security

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

Ecology, like other programmes in the Biological Sciences, uses the pre-honours years to lay the necessary foundations of knowledge. In early years students also learn how to study effectively, learning different modes of studying, and are starting to develop skills in comprehension of scientific literature, analysis of data, writing and communication skills. Foundation courses in whole organism and molecular biology are taken in the first year together with an introduction to relevant mathematical and physical principles, which are taught in a biological context. Courses in second year develop understanding and background in relevant subjects; these are usually ecology, environmental sciences, animal and plant biology, and evolution. Work in the field develops biological identification skills and an understanding of experimental research methods.

In the third year students take 6 courses including three compulsory courses (Population and Community Ecology, Ecological Measurement, and Scientific Enquiry) that cover ecological theory, use of instrumentation, and introduction to statistical analysis, sampling, experimental design and modelling. Other courses that are most frequently taken cover topics such as animal behaviour, plant ecology and evolution. Courses involve problem exercises, research for an essay and practical sessions or student projects, all of which increase the knowledge and understanding of students in preparation for 4th year study.

Fourth year Ecology students study take a compulsory Field Course, together with Professional Skills which is designed to prepare them for their fourth year dissertations and cover areas of knowledge required by professional ecologists. A wide variety of elective courses allow students to pursue their own particular flavour of ecology. These courses cover topics from Conservation Management through to Molecular Ecology. These electives allow students to study topics in depth and to interact with staff researching at the forefront of their fields. Understanding is enhanced by literature research, paper analysis, problem solving, tutorials and seminars involving individual and group presentations.

This allows Ecology students to:

  • critically analyse current research literature
  • appreciate the experimental approaches, methods and limitations in their field
  • analyse and solve real world ecological questions

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

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecology, graduates will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the scientific method, coupled with the ability to construct alternative arguments and hypotheses for and against particular points of view.
  • Formulate research questions utilising both qualitative and quantitative methods and translate them into a practical and robust research protocol.
  • Develop the abilities to evaluate scientific data based on the use of formal statistical tests and to interpret the value of published scientific evidence critically.
  • Assess the significance of the uncertainty associated with any quantitative scientific measurement.
  • Understand, create and make use of ecological and environmental models to make quantitative predictions about ecological systems
  • Develop and respond to an awareness of the limits to our knowledge, unresolved issues and unanswered questions in particular subject areas within Ecology.
  • Design, and analyse the data from, sampling schemes and experiments used to test particular hypotheses in the field and in the laboratory
  • Create, employ and critically interpret the results of an ecological model
  • Collect, synthesise and summarise evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources, using library, internet and archival resources, critically and effectively.
  • Complete an extended and complex piece of independent research presented as a final year dissertation.

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

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecology, graduates will be able to:

  • Develop skills of independent learning and personal organisation by carrying out theoretical or practical work autonomously or in small groups.
  • Understand and respond to contemporary environmental issues with critical insight and awareness of their complexity.
  • Identify and recommend appropriate courses of action to address particular ecological and environmental problems.
  • Understand and contextualize the practical significance of ecological and environmental policies.
  • Put environmental sustainability at the centre of the working ethos.
  • Display creativity, flexibility and adaptability.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecology, graduates will be able to:

  • Use various forms of communication to collect and synthesise evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources.
  • Synthesize the scientific information effectively and rigorously, using statistical and graphical tools
  • Argue and communicate research findings clearly, logically and cogently.
  • Communicate accurately and effectively using visual media (posters and slides), orally (presentations) and in writing (from short reports to long dissertations).
  • Use communication to undertake effective group/team work, while respecting the viewpoint of others.

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

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecology, graduates will be able to:

  • Collaborate efficiently and productively with others in the process of learning and presenting conclusions – this includes those with a range of backgrounds and knowledge, such as fellow-students, tutors and supervisors.
  • Develop skills of teamwork and leadership by designing and carrying out ecological surveys, experiments and analysing problems in small groups.
  • Organise their own learning, manage workload and work to a timetable.  Participate effectively in group work and projects.
  • Effectively plan, and possess the confidence to undertake and to present scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of the aims, methods and theoretical considerations relevant to Ecology.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecology, graduates will be able to:

  • Identify plants and animals in the field and analyse biodiversity at a variety of levels from species to biomes
  • Understand, calibrate and use scientific equipment designed to take ecological and environmental measurements in the field and in the laboratory
  • Conduct vegetation surveys, soil and water survey sampling in the field
  • Design and statistically analyse ecological experiments to address real world problems
  • Develop IT skills, such as producing word-processed, fully illustrated reports, conducting database searches, using graphics and data analysis packages, preparing posters and presentations.

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 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 Dissertation (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 and 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
  • Field Work
  • Problem based learning activities. Example: as part of the course Field Ecology students will carry out work in the field.
  • 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 Behavioural Ecology 3 course students carry out a mini project in the local area.
  • 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 133670
Year 237630
Year 329710
Year 443570

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 1571726
Year 2541135
Year 3571132
Year 4273835

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.