Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

MChem in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry

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.
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: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: The Royal Society of Chemistry. The MChem degrees satisfy the academic requirements for Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Chartered Chemist designation (MRSC, CChem).
Final award: MChem (Honours)
Programme title: Medicinal and Biological Chemistry
UCAS code: FC1R
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s):

Chemistry

Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr S. Daff
Date of production/revision:

October 2016

External summary

Medicinal and Biological Chemistry is concerned with understanding biological mechanisms and processes at the level of the atoms and molecules involved, and applying this understanding along with the tools of synthetic chemistry and genetic manipulation to design and deliver pharmaceutical interventions. Students learn how breakthroughs in understanding of the molecular basis of diseases are being combined with cross-disciplinary advances in chemistry, biology and nanotechnology to generate new generations of innovative therapeutics.

The programme teaches a thorough understanding of the structures, properties and syntheses (in the lab and in vivo) of the diverse range of molecules and macromolecules needed to build a living organism.  It provides understanding of how biological molecules cooperate in finely tuned networks and pathways or are organised into macromolecular complexes, membranes, organelles, cells and tissues.  Building upon an initial solid foundation in chemistry and cell and molecular biology, this degree programme provides the intellectual framework for understanding this topic from the fundamentals to the frontiers of current research.

There is a strong focus on a wide range of analytical and experimental skills.  First-hand experience of cutting-edge research is provided via an individual project spanning the whole of the final year. Students may choose to undertake their project as a member of a research group in the University of Edinburgh, at one of our partner universities overseas, or in a company or research institute in the UK or abroad.  A high proportion of our graduates progress to a higher degree, typically a PhD. Others find careers in chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies, or in academia, education, scientific publishing, the research-support sector, or consultancy. Alternatively they will utilise their broadly based numerical and analytical skills in other areas.  All the component courses include training and practice in communication skills, team working, and in the technology of scientific information retrieval and organisation.

Educational aims of programme

The MChem degree programme covers topics in all branches of medicinal and biological chemistry from their fundamentals to the most advanced understanding and application. In the early years, in addition to the core chemistry courses and courses in mathematics, there is a flexible curriculum to suit personal interests, allowing courses in other sciences, arts or humanities to be combined with the core chemistry and biology content. This flexibility also enables students to maintain options to transfer to an alternative degree programme within science or engineering at the end of the first year. The extra year of study (compared to the corresponding BSc degree) exposes the student to a wider range of advanced knowledge, with a greater emphasis on the methods, intellectual approaches and practical skills required to conduct original scientific research along with associated IT skills. In this year, specialist courses are offered in biological, biophysical and biomedical chemistry. Greater leadership and organisational skills are fostered by extensive group-based learning and open-ended projects. In the final year, direct experience of research is engendered by an in-depth individual research project with a choice of location and context.

The aims of the degree programme are:

  • To kindle in students a sense of enthusiasm for the chemistry of life and its medicinal applications.
  • To provide students with effective preparation for professional employment or doctoral studies in the chemical and related sciences.
  • To produce well-rounded graduates with both a thorough overall understanding of the chemistry of biomolecules, and a sense of moral and social responsibility in relation to the potential impact of this topic in clinical settings and on society in general.
  • To instil a profound understanding of chemistry, building on the fundamentals learned in early years of the course in order to appreciate the limits of existing knowledge in selected medicinal and biological chemistry topics.
  • To provide students with an in-depth understanding of specialised areas of medicinal and biological chemistry and a critical awareness of advances at the forefront of the medicinal and biological chemistry discipline.
  • To provide experience of the practical skills appropriate at each level of the curriculum together with a thorough knowledge of safe laboratory practice and the ability to plan and carry out experiments safely and independently, and to interpret and assess the significance of outcomes.
  • To provide students with the ability to adapt and apply existing methodology to the solution of unfamiliar types of problems in medicinal and biological chemistry.
  • To provide students with the ability to design, plan and perform experimental work independently and assess the results critically.
  • To develop transferable skills that maximise students??? prospects for future employment, including - writing, oral presentation, team-working, numerical and logical problem-solving, information technology skills, financial planning and time-management.
  • To provide students with the ability to adapt and apply methodology to the solution of unfamiliar types of problems.
  • To develop mature and determined attitudes, including the capacity for self-organisation and time management, via independent project work.
  • To develop self-confidence in individual student???s abilities to apply their knowledge and skills in a professional research environment.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

  • The characteristics of the different states of matter and the theories used to describe them.
  • The principles of quantum mechanics and their application to the description of the structure and properties of atoms and molecules.
  • The principles of thermodynamics and their applications to chemistry in vitro and in vivo.
  • The characteristic properties of elements and their compounds, including group relationships and trends within the Periodic Table.
  • The structural features of chemical elements and their compounds, including stereochemistry.
  • The synthesis and properties of inorganic compounds, inorganic complexes and organometallic compounds.
  • The nature and behaviour of functional groups in organic molecules and the properties of natural and synthetic aliphatic, aromatic and heterocyclic compounds.
  • Major synthetic pathways in organic chemistry, involving functional group interconversions and carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bond formation.
  • The properties of natural and synthetic molecules, including macromolecules, of medicinal importance.
  • The mechanistic interpretation of chemical reactions; catalysis (both biological and synthetic); the kinetics of chemical change.
  • The principal techniques of structural investigations, including spectrometry, spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction.
  • The principles and procedures used in chemical analysis and characterisation of molecules, including macromolecules.
  • The nature of biological structures from macromolecules to macromolecular complexes, organelles and cells.
  • The design and functions of pharmaceutical molecules in laboratory and clinical settings.
  • The uses of computational biology and bioinformatics in the study of medicinal and biological chemical systems.
  • The principles of operation of advanced spectroscopic and imaging techniques as applied to biological macromolecules.
  • Major aspects of chemical and biological terminology, nomenclature, conventions and units.
  • An awareness of major issues currently at the frontiers of medicinal and biological chemistry.

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

By engaging with and completing the MChem degree in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry the graduate is exposed to an internationally-renowned research school and undertakes an extended period of independent research. In so doing, they develop:

  • The capability to apply the knowledge and understanding gained throughout the curriculum to the solution of qualitative and quantitative problems of a familiar and unfamiliar nature, both in science and in a wider context.
  • The ability to take ownership of their learning and research experience by exercising rational enquiry, phrasing pertinent research aims and challenging scientific convention.
  • The capacity to plan, design and execute practical investigations, from the problem-recognition stage through to the evaluation and appraisal of results and findings (including the ability to select appropriate techniques and procedures).
  • Skills in the synthesis, interpretation and evaluation of chemical information and data in terms of their significance and in their theoretical context.
  • The ability to conduct comprehensive literature reviews (using online journals, archives, etc), showing not only a critical assessment of the existing research literature, but also an appreciation for contextualising their own research findings.

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

The knowledge and understanding gained during the MChem degree, along with the emphasis that is placed on practical laboratory-based learning, results in a graduate that can demonstrate the ability to:

  • Adopt a flexible and creative approach to reflect on different aspects of this broad science and the knowledge and skills that underpin all of them.
  • Understand and analyse critically different sets of data to reach independent, well-considered and evidence-based conclusions, drawing on their own knowledge and experience.
  • Harness sophisticated numerical, computational and experimental skills, which can be applied to problem-solving exercises relating to qualitative and quantitative information.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

By engaging and participating in the wide-ranging programme of study that includes small-group and individual research investigations, presentation skills and report writing, a graduate of the MChem degree:

  • Is able to communicate effectively, demonstrating knowledge and understanding of essential concepts and theories, in writing and orally, to fellow students, researchers and academic staff.
  • Develops IT skills such as word-processing and structure drawing, use of molecular graphics packages, mining of databases, data-logging and storage and analysis, in order to illustrate their arguments most effectively.
  • Creates experimental reports, scientific posters and dissertations in accordance with current conventions.
  • Collaborates effectively, with an appreciation for both leadership and teamwork, to test and enhance their own knowledge and understanding.
  • Seeks and values constructive feedback to further personal and professional development.

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

In addition to the knowledge and understanding of the immediate degree discipline, the range of transferable skills developed during an MChem degree allows a graduate to:

  • Take responsibility for their own learning and prioritise effectively to complete tasks efficiently and safely.
  • Have the confidence to draw conclusions based on in-depth understanding and sound analysis.
  • Engage effectively with the vibrant and multi-national research and teaching environment to enhance their academic experience and to appreciate their own contribution in this setting.
  • Develop an appreciation of not only the wider social, ethical and environmental responsibilities of a working chemist, but also the commercial and cultural benefits of scientific ventures.
  • Show creativity and flexibility in responding to their environments, by either initiating or managing change. Engage effectively with the vibrant and multi-national research and teaching environment to enhance their academic experience and to appreciate their own contribution in this setting.
  • Develop an appreciation of not only the wider social, ethical and environmental responsibilities of a working biological or medicinal chemist, but also the commercial and cultural benefits of scientific ventures.
  • Show creativity and flexibility in responding to their environments, by either initiating or managing change.
  • Display the confidence to work independently, taking responsibility for their own learning and committing to continual professional and personal development.
  • Transfer the knowledge and skills gained during their studies of medicinal and biological chemistry to other fields of science and beyond. 

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

A core learning outcome of the MChem degree is to train a skilled and confident practical chemist. As such, a graduate is able to demonstrate:

  • A deep appreciation for the safe handling of chemical materials, taking into account their physical and chemical properties, including any specific hazards associated with their use.
  • The conduct of standard laboratory procedures involved in synthetic and analytical work.
  • Skills in the monitoring, by observation and measurement, of chemical properties, events or changes, and the systematic and reliable recording and documentation thereof.
  • The operation of standard and advanced chemical instrumentation such as that used for structural investigations and separation.
  • The ability to conduct risk assessments concerning the use of chemical substances and laboratory procedures.

Programme structure and features

Acquisition of knowledge and understanding is achieved mainly through lectures, laboratory classes, tutorials, workshops and project work. Lectures are assessed via formal 'unseen' examinations. In all courses understanding is reinforced by small group tutorials and/or by problem solving workshops. Written communication, report writing and IT skills are developed via laboratory reports, posters, essays and project reports. Oral presentation skills are acquired via formal presentations. Practical skills and an awareness of the safety aspects of laboratory work and risk-assessment are developed progressively over the first four years of the course and through a full-time, whole-year research project in the final year conducted either in an academic or industrial context.

The figures in parenthesis following the course names in the outline degree programme below are the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) credit level and credit points. Further information can be found at http://www.scqf.org.uk/. Normally courses totalling 120 credits are studied in each year with the level progressing year by year.

Year 1/2: Year 1 is evenly split between chemistry, maths and biology courses. In Year 2 Chemical Pharmacology is a core course and The Dynamic Cell, and Genes and Gene Action are strongly recommended in addition to the core chemistry course. Students with appropriate qualifications may enter directly into Year 2.

Year 3: Progression to MChem (Honours) in Years 4/5 requires an average Year 3 mark at Grade C (50%) or higher. A student who fails to satisfy this criterion, but who achieves an average Year 3 mark at Grade D (40%) or higher, may progress to the final year of BSc (Honours). In either case, students must also achieve an average of Grade D (40%) or higher in the Year 3 written courses in order to qualify for progression to Year 4.

Year 4: A choice of lecture courses from a suite of advanced level courses covering all branches of chemistry together with a research training course that builds the key skills for pursuing the final year research project.

Year 5: During Year 5 students undertake a research project of 120 credits spanning the full academic year.  They have the choice between three different locations/contexts for the project: (i) in Edinburgh under the supervision of an academic staff member in the School of Chemistry; (ii) Overseas under the supervision of an academic staff member at one of a wide range of partner universities around the world; (iii) in industry or a government research institute, either in the UK or overseas. In each case the project includes a detailed literature survey and extended final report.

Medicinal and Biological Chemistry (MChem), FC1R

  Year Courses (credit points)
Entry point 1 1 Chemistry 1A (8,20), Chemistry1B (8,20), Maths (8,40), other subjects (7/8,40)
Entry point 2 2 Chemistry 2 (8,40), other subjects (7/8,40), other subjects (8,40)
  3 Chemistry 3A (9,40), Chemistry 3B (9,40), Chemistry 3P (9,40)
  4 Chemistry 4P (10,20), Synthetic Organic Chemistry (11,20), Chemical Biology (11,20), Medicinal Chemistry (11,20), Biophysical Chemistry (11,20); a choice of one of: Properties and Reactions of Matter (11,20), Techniques and Concepts in Inorganic Chemistry (11,20), Analytical Chemistry (11, 20), Chemistry of Functional Materials (11,20), Environmental Chemistry (11,20), Physical Techniques in Action (11,20), Sustainable Chemistry (11,20).
5 Chemistry/Chemical Physics Research Project (11, 120) OR Chemistry/ Chemical Physics International Research Project (11,120) OR Chemistry/ Chemical Physics Industrial Research Project (11,120)

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
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

In Year 2

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

In Year 3

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

Year 4

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

Year 5

  • Extended final year research project in an academic (Edinburgh or overseas) or company or research institute (UK or overseas) setting
  • Medicinal and biological chemistry research literature searching, reviewing and interpretation
  • Extended report writing
  • Oral presentation
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors

Facilities

The School of Chemistry is equipped with a wide range of state of the art facilities and instrumentation.

The Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews have formed EaStCHEM, the leading Chemistry research school in Scotland, and the largest in the UK. EaStCHEM researchers produced 75% of all world-leading outputs (4* maximum ranking) in Scotland. This level of excellence continues as indicated by recent awards for our researchers. EaStCHEM is also part of ScotCHEM, which strengthens links between the major Schools of Chemistry in Scottish Universities.

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 135650
Year 235650
Year 343570
Year 425750
Year 553263

Assessment methods and strategies

Courses can 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

  • Class tests
  • Online assignments
  • Laboratory reports
  • Multiple-choice tests
  • Written examinations

In Year 2

  • Class tests
  • Laboratory reports
  • Continual assessment
  • Essays
  • Written examinations

In Year 3

  • Class tests
  • Online assignments
  • Laboratory reports
  • Multiple-choice tests
  • Abstracting exercise
  • Problem-based learning
  • Oral presentations
  • Poster presentations
  • Written examinations

Year 4

  • Written exercises
  • Oral presentations
  • Literature survey
  • Literature pr??cis
  • Practical work
  • Written examinations

Year 5

  • Research Project
  • Personal Attributes
  • Experimental Work
  • Project Report
  • Oral presentations
  • Project reports
  • Placement reports
  • Oral examination of placement report
  • Placement supervisor assessment

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 1651322
Year 2622018
Year 367249
Year 483017
Year 502080

Career opportunities

Chemistry graduates from the University of Edinburgh are highly regarded by local and international employers. Many graduates move into careers in the oil, chemical or pharmaceutical industries, in sales and marketing or research and development roles. Many graduates choose further study, leading to an MSc, PhD or teaching qualification. The course also prepares students for a variety of other careers, including areas such as management, finance or IT.

Other items

Teaching in the School of Chemistry is carried out in a highly active research environment which has strong connections with the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The chemistry courses include extensive experimental work carried out in modern laboratories (opened in 1999). The proportion of time spent at the bench increases as the course progresses and culminates in an extended research project in the final year. The high quality of research activity in the EaStCHEM research school (rated in the top 4 in the UK in the 2014 Research Assessment Exercise) enables us to offer project work at the cutting edge of the subject across virtually all major areas of chemistry. Excellent IT facilities for undergraduates are provided throughout the university.

The School of Chemistry has strong links with industry and government research institutes, both in the UK and overseas, through its long established industrial placements programme. Students have the choice to undertake their final year research project within the laboratories of one of our industrial/research institute partners.  The School also has bilateral exchange agreements with chemistry departments in many top class universities around the world and offers its students the option to undertake their final year research projects at these partner institutions.

The high quality of teaching within the School of Chemistry has been recognised by the University student body ??? in 2011 the School was the recipient of the EUSA Teaching Award for Best Department. Advice and support, both academic and in all areas of student life, is available via Personal Tutors. The latter are staff members in the School of Chemistry who each look after the interests of a group of students. Each student is attached to a particular PT, normally for the whole duration of their degree, and will see him/her on a regular basis for advice about their course and as a first point of contact in relation to any problems which may arise.