Undergraduate study - 2020 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

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

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 (Plant Sciences)
UCAS code: C200
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s):
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr M.P. Gallagher
Date of production/revision: April 2012

External summary

How plants grow and develop, how they respond to and interact with the environment, and how they evolve and diversify, are of great importance to human survival and wellbeing. We have a strong international reputation for plant science research in subjects ranging from the regulation of growth and development, disease resistance, starch and cell wall metabolism to evolution. We also have links with evolutionary biologists at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (RBGE). This enthusiasm and diversity in plant science research is reflected in our teaching programmes. Many aspects of plant biology are covered in first and second year courses and increasing specialisation is possible in third year. Our Honours students take a core course that examines many important aspects of contemporary plant science, from the biology and ethics of GM to plant identification to intercellular communication. Optional courses allow specific areas of plant biology to be considered in greater depth and students are also encouraged to integrate courses from other honours programmes. About half the Honours year is spent working on a project as a member of an established research team.

Plant Science honours develops a detailed and critical knowledge and understanding of many areas of  plant biology, and by extension teaches a wide range of general scientific and graduate-level skills applicable to further training in science or in other sectors.

Educational aims of programme

The degree programme aims to produce a graduate with a broad knowlege of plant biology, capable of independent thinking and analysis and able to communicate clearly both with fellow scientists and with the wider community.  The honours year enables students to specialise in biochemical, genetic or evolutionary approaches to understanding plant biology and provides experience in critically analysing papers, summarising and presenting data and working in a research environment using modern tools and methods.

Plant Science honours aims to promote:

  1. an understanding and appreciation of contemporary plant science, in a range of research areas, via lectures, discussions, tutorials and practical work.
  2. problem solving abilities, including the capacity to analyse data and synthesise information in the solution of scientific problems or the posing of realistic hypotheses.
  3. practical and time-management skills, familiarity with experimental techniques and the ability to design and execute experiments while showing due regard to safety and respect for organisms and communities.
  4. awareness of plants as organisms in natural environments and of the techniques and limitations involved in outdoor study.
  5. the ability to extract relevant information from literature and to present it in writing in a concise, coherent thoughtful and interesting way.
  6. the ability to research, plan, deliver and defend a scientific talk in an effective manner, displaying command of topic, of aids to presentation, and of the audience.
  7. finally, in all the above, the development and display of original thought, based on rational evaluation of possibilities.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

The academic foundations of the Plant Science Hours degree are based on an over view of the diversity of life and the molecular mechanisms underpinning its functions which are taught as compulsory courses in the first year.  Courses covering the chemistry, physics and maths required to study and understand modern biology are also provided. In the second year courses develop understanding and background in relevant subjects; these are usually plant and fungal biology, genetics, cell biology, evolution and ecology. Work in laboratories develops understanding of experimental research methods.

In the third year students take 6 courses including either or both of Ecology and Evolution of Plants and Plant Physiology.  Other courses that are frequently taken cover topics such as cell biology, molecular genetics, biotechnology, population biology, ecology, development, and evolutionary genetics.  The courses involve problem exercises, essay writing and practical work in the laboratory and field, all of which increase students’ knowledge and understanding in preparation for 4th year study.

4th year Plant Science students study core courses in Fundamentals of Plant Biology which gives a broad overview of plant biology, Tutorials in Plant Science, which teaches critical analysis of data and interpretation of scientific papers and the Plant Science Field Course which takes place at the beginning of the summer break after third year and covers plant identification in the field, survey techniques and aspects of biogeography, ecology and evolution illustrated by the field sites.  Together, these courses develop understanding of the origins of plant diversity, of current research on plant function and interactions with other organisms and with the environment, of the exploitation of plants for food, fuel and raw materials and the quantitative analysis and interpretation of biological data.

A range of electives are offered allowing students to develop specialist knowledge in aspects of plant biology such as plant-pathogen interactions, evolution or genetic engineering of crops.  Students may take two modules taught at RBGE.  These electives provide background for further specialisation in the research project.  Projects can be lab or field based and although most students choose to join a lab in the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, each year some work with scientists based at RBGE or other institutes.  This provides the opportunity to work with scientists researching at the forefront of their fields in a wide range of plant sciences from cell-cell interactions to biogeographic analysis and using a wide range of research tools from basic molecular genetics to modelling.

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

Students learn how to analyse data, critically examine a scientific paper and develop testable hypotheses.  Extensive reading beyond the course materials is required to perform well and support in literature research and deconstructing a paper is provided.  The Plant Science research project and the Plant Science Field Course teach planning and trouble shooting experiments as well as analysis.  Interactions with practising scientists during the Plant Science research project provide a valuable insight into how scientific research proceeds on a day to day basis.  Through the course the student should develop skills in:

  • Literature searches
  • Critical analysis
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Designing experiments
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Summarising and presenting data

Success in the Plant Science degree requires the ability to read widely and critically, collate data from a range of sources and link ideas across the modules studied.  This provides a general grounding in research methods beyond the specific experimental approaches of any one discipline.

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

As student progress through the degree program they become more autonomous in their work, progressing from guided study to independent research.  The course emphasises the ability to gather relevant information, assess evidence and present a scientifically reasoned argument on paper and in person.  Honours level courses require students to read widely and beyond the prescribed reading lists and to use the information gathered to generate and defend hypotheses.

The Plant Science research project requires a high degree of independent reasoning and analysis as does the project work and write up for Plant Science field course.  Although guidance is provided these projects require the student to be able to work alone to plan the experiments, gather and analyse the data and present the results.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

  • Communication of data and the ability to take part in scientific discussions is promoted throughout the course. 
  • Effective scientific writing (e.g. project write-up for the Plant Science research project and for the field course, lab reports, essay writing in a number of courses).
  • Oral presentations (e.g. Tutorials in Plant Science Seminar series, project presentations)
  • Group discussions (e.g. Tutorials in Plant Science problem classes, lab meetings during Plant Science research project)

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

Time management and careful planning are vital to success in the degree, in particular in the Plant Science research project and the Plant Science Field Course. The ability to work well in a group is fostered by interactions throughout the course and is required in particular during the Plant Science research project as the student works in the lab or field with practising scientists at all stages of their careers and from a wide variety of backgrounds. Successful completion of the course indicates a high degree of personal effectiveness.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

During the first three years of the degree course practical skills are acquired through laboratory and field-based classes and the theoretical background to these skills presented in accompanying lectures.  During the final year there is the opportunity to put these skills into practise and develop further expertise in the experimental methods of a particular sub-discipline during the Field Course project and the Plant Science research project.  The basics of good lab practise and quantitative methods are taught as part of the Fundamentals of Plant Biology course.  This serves as a solid grounding enabling graduates to proceed to full time research as part of a PhD or MSc should they wish.

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 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
  • 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 133670
Year 235650
Year 333670
Year 449510

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 2541036
Year 3521533
Year 4253144

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.