5 Reasons to Study Biology at University
13th August 2019
Biology is, quite literally, the study of life. It’s a constantly expanding field which can range from biochemistry; the study of the molecules which make up living organisms, to zoology; the study of animals and their behaviour. This means that there’s a wide range of university courses relating to biology, so it’s a great subject to tailor to your interests.
Here are some top reasons to study biology:
1. UNDERSTANDING THE NATURAL WORLD
“An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfilment.” - David Attenborough
Biology is all about understanding the organisms we share a planet with, and their interactions with the Earth and each other. In this way, the study of biology connects us to the world we live in. Many biologists discover a love of the natural world early on, whether this be through a passion for outdoor activities, or a curiosity regarding questions such as where our food comes from.
A biology degree equips you with the knowledge and skills necessary for answering these questions. It also puts you in the same group as David Attenborough, who studied zoology within Natural Sciences at Cambridge - which can never be a bad thing!
When studying biology your days can be highly varied. For example, at Oxford you might have a lecture on the glow-in-the-dark compounds in jellyfish, immediately followed by a trip to the park to collect insects. A broad biology degree involves an appreciation of organisms on all scales, from microbes and disease-causing pathogens to redwood trees over 100m high. Biology also entails variety on a temporal scale - some biologists study our evolutionary history and ask questions about what life was like millions of years ago, whilst others seek answers to problems that might arise in our near future.
This variety means it’s a degree which can really be tailored to your interests and skills - current fields include biophysics, astrobiology, biogeography, biomathematics and bioengineering. It also keeps the subject exciting!
3. BUILD YOUR SKILLSET
Studying biology will allow you to develop a range of skills you might not have encountered in school, and build on others that you already have. You’ll learn about the principles of conducting scientific experiments to investigate the questions you’re interested in, as well as practicing hands on research (both fieldwork and lab-based).
Higher level skills you’ll learn include the ability to think critically about research and sift through a large quantity of information. You’ll be taught advanced data analysis and be able to practice working both independently and in a team. These skills are increasingly valuable to employers - a 2016 DofE report found that the employment rate of biologists was over 80%.
Following on from the last point, the skills you’ll learn from a biology degree can open many doors for you. There are a lot of exciting travel opportunities available - think trips to tropical coral reefs for marine conservationists, expeditions to rainforests for ecologists - and if lab work is your thing, then you can work in a lab anywhere in the world. Science is a common language, and international collaboration is incredibly important for furthering research.
If you’re not sure if travel is for you, the majority of biology courses offer field trips covering a range of locations, including to UK areas of biological interest. These can give you a taster of what it might be like to work as a biologist, and can help you realise where your interests lie.
5. RELEVANCE & IMPORTANCE - THE WORLD NEEDS YOU!
Without biology we’d never have developed today’s level of medical knowledge, including techniques such as pasteurisation and vaccination (read about Louis Pasteur and Edward Jenner if you’re interested). Millions of species might still be undescribed, and we wouldn’t understand the mechanics behind our everyday processes such as drinking coffee.
Biologists are incredibly important in today’s world, especially as we face problems such as climate change and food insecurity. Sectors which are becoming increasingly relevant include:
- Biotechnology (using biological processes to manufacture products - this includes beer, cheese and meat substitutes)
- Science communication - ensuring the message gets out to the public and policymakers is equally important as conducting the research in the first place.
If the idea of playing a role in solving such problems and working in a field with countless possibilities appeals to you, then biology might just be for you.
If you’re interested in reading further, here are some books and publications recommended by biology graduates:
- An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, by N. Davies, J. Krebs & S. West (1978)
- The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, R. Dawkins (2010)
- Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, M. Ridley (2006)
- How We Live and Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells, by L. Wolpert (2010)
- Biological Sciences Review & New Scientist magazines