A Day in the Life of a Biology Student at Oxford
Biology at Oxford
Are you considering applying for an undergraduate degree in Science at Oxford University? If so, read on to find out about what a typical day is like for undergraduate students in the Biology faculty. Freddie, an Oxford undergraduate, talks you through his experiences of lectures, tutorials, and football!
Freddie is a 2nd year Undergraduate in Biological Sciences at Balliol College, Oxford.
If he’s not in labs or in the gym, you can find him studying all forms of biology or tending his houseplants.
Why I chose to become a Biology student
I chose a degree studying Biology because I have always loved studying animals in their natural environments. So a subject with a focus on ecology seemed like the perfect choice!
However, while studying at Oxford, my interests have moved towards molecular biology and genetics. During my first year, I quickly found lectures in the Cells and Genes modules more interesting than those in Ecology. Fortunately, my degree lets me choose my modules so I get to study topics that I enjoy!
The historic reputation and setting of Oxford University did attract me, but really I applied because I want to get the best degree that I possibly can. The city of Oxford is bigger and busier than I first thought, but I see that as a bonus. My college, Balliol, is where I live and socialise. But my lectures and tutorials take place in other colleges too, as well as in the University biology department.
Here is an outline of a typical day for a biology student:
10:00 – 12:00 Morning class: Every morning, I have two lectures, held in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. That’s the same building that hosted the famous Huxley-Wilberforce debate of evolution, which took place in 1860!
As a biology student, you choose five out of your six lecture modules, as well as taking a compulsory module on Evolution. On the whole, lectures are interesting and well-presented, covering a wide range of biological topics. Some of my favourite areas include the origins of agriculture from the Plants module, and learning about the immune system in Disease.
Before coming to Oxford I thought lectures would be difficult and dry. In reality, professors are good at making lecture content clear and interesting! They’re also willing to answer any questions you might have and set reading that you can use to improve your understanding. Even so, it is sometimes hard to focus for the whole two hours.
14:00 – 17:00 Afternoon teaching: Some weeks, I’ll have three-hour lab sessions, in which we learn practical techniques. This is an essential part of studying biology. Similar to the lectures, you get to choose three lab modules out of a potential six, and they’re designed to complement the lecture content. This means the content you are taught in labs can be useful to revise for exams. The intensity and focus of these lab sessions varies wildly depending on the professor who leads them. For instance, I have had labs where I described features of plant leaves at the Oxford Botanic Garden and others where I have been running experiments in the lab the entire time.
To be honest, labs can be quite frustrating when an experiment goes wrong and you don’t know why. That said, it is also very satisfying when an experiment works well and you get a great set of results to discuss. Not all lab sessions set a written report, but when they do they normally take between two and four hours to complete. I probably spend more time on lab reports than other biology students, since I find the analysis to be the most interesting part of experiments.
Once a week I also have a three-hour statistics class, called Quantitative Methods. In this class, we’re taught how to perform statistical testing on data from experiments. They teach us how to use a computer-programming language called R to make graphs, and then we run these statistical tests using it. For me, Quantitative Methods is probably the most difficult part of the degree. Fortunately, my college has a tutor who goes over what we are taught in classes, although I do have to put in extra effort to ensure I understand everything from this module.
The famous tutorials at Oxford were one of the main reasons I applied here, and they are still one of the favourite parts of my degree. A tutorial is essentially an academic conversation about the area of biology that the academic specialises in. The exact format of the tutorial depends on the tutor. Discussing topics in such depth ensures you fully understand the relevant lecture content and that you get to explore any ideas you might have. Tutorials are more casual than I thought they would be, which gives you the confidence to ask any questions even if they seem really simple!
As a biology student, I normally spend 10 to 15 hours reading and writing an essay in preparation for each one-hour tutorial. Usually I have one tutorial a week, so the workload isn’t too heavy. Now that I’m in second year, I get to book my tutorials with tutors to cover topics that I am interested in, with some flexibility with the essay titles too. Preparation for tutorials is not always writing an essay; sometimes I give presentations or complete worksheets instead.
Evenings and weekends: Life Outside My Degree
Although my week is busy at Oxford, it’s not too much to handle. I still find time to attend interesting lectures from societies such as the Biological Sciences Society, Nature Conservation Society and Climate Society. These are excellent additions to my work as a biology student. For example, I recently enjoyed a talk about fish who are adapted to the Antarctic environment, a welcome break from learning molecular biology.
When I’m not studying biology, I play football for my college and go to the local gym. But there are many other sports and societies at Oxford too!
Student life at Oxford is tiring but rewarding, with plenty of opportunities to expand your interests in your chosen degree subject.
- Want to find out some more about Oxford? Take a look at the things to do in the city.
- Interested in all things biology? Check out our two-week summer course, Experience Psychology & Neuroscience
- Planning to use your biology knowledge to study medicine? Find out more about our Medicine Preparation Academy!
Please note that the Oxford Scholastica Academy is an organisation which contracts with Oxford University for the use of facilities, but is not affiliated with it.