Undergraduate study - 2020 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2019/2020

B.Sc. (Hons) Biological Sciences (Evolutionary Biology)

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 (Evolutionary Biology)
UCAS code: C182
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s):
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr M.P. Gallagher
Date of production/revision: April 2012

External summary

Evolutionary Biology is a degree programme run within the School of Biological Sciences, which comprises six internationally renowned research Institutes: the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (the main focus of Evolutionary Biology teaching), the Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, the Institute for Stem Cell Research, the Institute of Cell Biology, the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology and a number of interdisciplinary centres. For 4th year teaching and research projects there is valuable collaboration with other Schools, with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and with The Museums of Scotland.

Evolutionary Biology lies at the heart of modern biology, underpinning our understanding of most areas of the subject. In years 1-3 the students take a wide variety of courses that teach the basics of various aspects of biology. Some courses (Evolution in Action 2, Genes & Gene Action 2, Evolutionary & Ecological Genetics 3 and Genomes & Genomics 3) are essential background for Honours but the wide choice among other courses allows students to develop their interests in animal and/or plant and/or microbial biology. The 4th year of the Honours programme has a distinct emphasis on evolutionary relationships and evolutionary processes, and also on the quantitative analysis of biological data. In their choice of elective courses, we encourage students to consider diverse biological problems and to assess and relate the relevant evidence that comes from modern molecular as well as more traditional biological studies.

The degree programme in Evolutionary Biology is designed to develop a detailed and critical knowledge and understanding of many areas of current biological research, plus a broad range of science graduate skills. This training makes our Edinburgh graduates well suited to a research career, to a broad range of scientific careers or, as their graduate attributes are applicable in a wider context, to employment in other sectors.

Educational aims of programme

The degree programme aims to produce a graduate trained in Evolutionary Biology, capable of 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 the core areas of Evolutionary Biology and in specialised topics that are studied in the final year elective courses and research project
  • research skills in both laboratory and library
  • quantitative skills in the statistical analysis and interpretation of biological data
  • awareness of emerging issues and unsolved questions in Evolutionary Biology
  • 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. Evolutionary Biology is a very broad discipline: the study of organisms from the cellular to the population level, using methods ranging from DNA analysis to field observation and computer modelling. Students can choose a set of courses to suit both their academic interests and career aspirations within a wide choice of possible directions. Teaching provides both generic and specialist training and specific courses develop particular skills within a subdiscipline.  Students are taught experimental methods used to investigate biological problems; 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. 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:

  • evolutionary relationships (including structural, functional and behavioural adaptations)
  • environmental issues
  • biodiversity
  • sustainability
  • climate change and its consequences
  • health care
  • management of biological data

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

Evolutionary Biology, 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. The academic foundations are based on an understanding of chemistry, mathematics and physics, which are taught in a biological context in courses in the first year. Courses in second year develop understanding and background in relevant subjects; these are usually evolution, genetics and cell biology, animal and/or plant biology, and ecology. Work in laboratories develops understanding of experimental research methods.

In the third year students take 6 courses including two compulsory courses (Evolutionary and Ecological Genetics, and Genomes and Genomics) that provide an advanced understanding of the genetics underpinning evolutionary biology. Other courses that are most frequently taken cover topics such as animal behaviour, population biology, ecology, development, parasite biology and plant evolution. The 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. The third year (level 9) courses give students a broad and varied background in subject areas relevant to their 4th year.

Fourth year Evolutionary Biology students study core courses in Molecular Evolutionary Genetics, Animal Evolution, and Quantitative Zoology. Together, these courses develop understanding of contemporary approaches to the study of evolution, and of the quantitative analysis and interpretation of biological data. Students also choose from around ten specialised elective courses in subject areas such as animal behaviour, development, phylogenetics, evolutionary ecology and parasite biology, and they may take an appropriate elective from another Honours programme.  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 Evolutionary Biology students to:

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

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

Through a combination of laboratory practicals, research projects and group work, students learn current skills and approaches in biological research. An understanding of scientific method, allied to the ability to construct alternative arguments and hypotheses leads our students to develop an ability to explore and evaluate evidence for and against particular interpretations. Our students will have developed numerical competence. They will learn to report research data and conclusions through written reports and competent oral presentations, drawing on the outcomes of their skills in research and enquiry.

Through participation in a combination of different teaching and laboratory experiences, graduates acquire the ability to:

  • carry out scientific research, both individually and collaboratively (4th year research project)
  • develop critical thinking, including the critical analysis of current literature (e.g. in seminars, tutorials and in analysing the 4th year project literature)
  • discuss and evaluate scientific arguments and exchange ideas with scientific colleagues (e.g. within seminars or project reports)
  • analyse and solve biological questions
  • analyse and summarise data, drawing on numerical and statistical analysis skills as appropriate
  • build on existing knowledge to suggest new directions for investigation
  • assess the experimental approaches, methods and limitations in their field (particularly in the 4th year courses and research project)
  • formulate scientific questions and programmes of research, drawing on expertise in the design and rationale of scientific experiments.

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

The development of critical and independent thinking is an important aspect of the Evolutionary Biology degree programme. Students develop an increasing competence to deal with intellectual concepts and scientific discussion and to evaluate arguments through preparation for tutorials, essay writing, analysing research papers and through laboratory research. This culminates in the final research project when independent thinking is essential for effective research in the design and execution of the work, and in analysis and communication of the results.

Within the different course activities over the 4 years, students progressively develop graduate skills in Personal and Intellectual Autonomy and are able to:

  • summarise and interpret the work of others in the context of previous work
  • evaluate the strength and weaknesses of scientific evidence, thereby being able to arrive at independent conclusions
  • analyse graphs, figures, tables and statistical analyses in the literature
  • apply logical thinking in the analysis of new material
  • formulate, investigate and discuss questions
  • learn and work independently, analysing their own strengths and weaknesses, drawing on written and oral feedback
  • learn analytical methods and to apply them to problem solving
  • engage in and draw on an understanding of scientific investigations
  • build on existing knowledge to suggest new directions for investigation
  • understand the relevance and importance of explaining scientific ideas and the impact of science to the wider community

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

The development of communication skills occurs throughout the degree programme and is staged so that the students’ development is matched to the SQCF level.  Communication skills are important: to convey scientific knowledge to other scientists, to inform and communicate science to the wider community and to demonstrate graduate attributes to employers. Skills comprise:

  • oral and written communication that is logical and coherent (e.g. 3rd year talks, 4th year course and research project seminars)
  • using computer, graphical and numerical skills (e.g. in seminar presentations and project reports)
  • communicating 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 the 4th year project thesis)
  • working in groups for presentations (e.g. 3rd and 4th year seminars)
  • 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.

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

Student personal development is achieved through a number of interconnected learning processes over the successive SQCF levels. Personal effectiveness is acquired both through independent activities and through and interactive activities with other students, teaching staff and Directors of Studies.

Independent activities include:

  • organising individual learning, managing the workload and working to a timetable
  • learning to plan effectively
  • working independently on the creation of essays and reports.

Collaborative activities include:

  • working in groups on projects, group talks or laboratory work
  • building confidence from completion of assignments and from successful work experiences in laboratory, projects, presentations and essays
  • utilising advice gained from discussions with a Personal Tutor, Course Organisers and Honours Programme organisers
  • presenting scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of the aims, methods and considerations in this subject area

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

Technical/practical skills are acquired in the first three years mainly through laboratory practicals within individual courses and in the final year through the 3 month Honours research project. Quantitative and statistical skills are taught at all levels – from 1st year Quantification in the Life Sciences to 4th year Quantitative Zoology, and most courses include evaluation and problem solving components.  Many of the communication and analytical skills learnt from such technical work are integral to the graduate attributes listed in the sections on intellectual autonomy, communication and personal effectiveness. In lower years, laboratory work in is usually in pairs or larger groups, requiring cooperation and joint input.

Over the degree programme, students gain the following skills/experience:

  • use of bioinformatic and other software tools
  • use of graphics
  • the choice and use of appropriate methods of statistical analysis (particularly in 4th year Quantitative Zoology)
  • competence in field observation, data collection and experimentation
  • competence in generic laboratory skills
  • appreciate the specificity, the accuracy and the limitations of particular techniques
  • library skills - learning to read and analyse research and review papers, understanding the main concepts and identifying unresolved questions (particularly in 3rd and 4th year courses)
Level 10 Evolutionary Biology students learn in the supervisor’s laboratory the specific practical skills related to their choice of Honours project.  For example, projects in areas of evolutionary ecology or parasite biology might involve DNA isolation and sequence analysis; evolution projects might involve phylogenetic analysis, or behaviour projects might require the use of advanced statistical methods. All Evolutionary Biology students should receive practical training such that their technical skills are exportable and useful in comparable laboratories.

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 230700
Year 332680
Year 439610

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 1581725
Year 2561826
Year 3571132
Year 4254332

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.