Doing a PhD in Biology

A PhD in Biological Sciences aims to train researchers on the evolution and sustainable use of biological diversity, as well as training for their future incorporation in universities, research institutions and management centres, both private and public administration.

A PhD in Biology usually focuses on the study of living things, their nature, origin, evolution and interactions with each other and their environment. It may also involve the study of plant and animal behaviour, structure, function and relationships to each other and the environment.

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What Is It Like to Undertake a PhD in Biology?

As a Biological Sciences PhD student, your day to day activities will revolve around:

  • Generating new scientific and technical knowledge in the Biological Sciences through original work. They will be able to handle and apply methodologies to solve research problems in the different areas of biological knowledge, with particular emphasis on the fields of biodiversity and molecular biology.
  • Developing new technologies to solve problems, detect needs and opportunities inherent to their area of research. In particular, know and use contemporary statistical approaches.
  • Formulating, managing and leading research projects, working in teams and interdisciplinary networks. As a result, they will be able to devise and implement working hypotheses, describe and interpret experimental results and critically analyse the findings presented in scientific publications.
  • Managing new information and communication technologies that allow you to efficiently disseminate research and results in specialised journals, specialised circles and the social community to participate satisfactorily in higher and postgraduate education through the experience acquired in the academic activities of your doctorate.
  • Advising undergraduate and postgraduate students on your research work.

Research Areas

One of the most significant factors in choosing a PhD project is what your supervisor is interested/expert in. Not every aspect of biology will suit every supervisor: however, there are many ways this can be decided. The largest factor in determining what area to research can be down to your supervisor’s previous interests and his/her research background.

You may also look at research areas based on job opportunities in the future or other practical applications for your findings, such as developing new drugs, vaccines, treatments etc. But these decisions will all depend on whether you are happy with the type of work that your supervisor wants you to do and, more important, whether it’s a research interest your passionate about.

As a biological sciences doctorate examines biological processes at interdisciplinary levels and encompasses various disciplines ranging from organisms to genes to evolution, there are many sub-disciplines that PhD research projects could centre around. Some of these include:

  • Bioinformatics,
  • Cell biology,
  • Ecology,
  • Evolutionary biology,
  • Molecular biology,
  • Molecular microbiology etc.

PhD in Biological Sciences

Entry Requirements and Application Process

A PhD in biology requires a good knowledge of mathematics, statistics and biology. Besides independent research, a PhD will entail advanced training in biology and developing skills in analytical thinking.

The typical entry requirements for a PhD in biology is a strong Masters degree (minimum of 2:1) in a relevant field of study. For example:

  • BSc (Hons) in Biology, Genetics, Zoology, Biochemistry etc.
  • BSc (Hons) in Environmental Science or Marine Biology.
  • BVMS/BVM&S/BSc(Hons) Veterinary Science.
  • LLB Law Degree with significant subject knowledge of biology.

If you are an international student, you may need to demonstrate your proficiency and knowledge in the English language. This is done through the English language requirements of an IELTS/TOEFL score or a recognised English proficiency test.

Typical Applicant Profile

To be admitted into a PhD programme, applicants will be expected to demonstrate:

  • Ability for critical and reflective thinking that leads to the posing of problems and their resolution with impact in the area of ​​health sciences.
  • Ability to train human resources in the area of ​​genomic medicine.
  • Competence in research, teaching, extension and outreach activities.
  • Attitude and aptitude to form multidisciplinary workgroups.
  • Leadership for the consolidation of research lines.
  • Management and handling of financial resources for research.
  • The observance of professional ethical guidelines that contribute to sustainable development.

Average Length of Programme

The duration of a PhD can be up to five years, depending on which university you attend, the funding provided by the university (if any) and your own commitment to finishing it. The minimum time to undertake a PhD depends on the degree you are studying for, however, four years is usually the norm.

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What Can You Do with A PhD in Biology?

A PhD in biology allows postgraduate research students to pursue a wide range of careers, primarily due to many transferable skills developed and the range of training received. Students can work in academia, which involves lecturing, laboratory research and academic publication. Lab research positions typically involve working in a team to study living organisms/bio-systems and applying this knowledge to answer specific questions.

Other career paths you could pursue are becoming a microbiologist, pharmacologist, biochemist, biotechnologist, biologist or medical research scientist.

Molecular Biology

Tuition Fees

On average, tuition fees for a PhD in a biological subject cost approximately £3,000 per year for UK students. International students will pay more in the range of £10,000 to £20,000 depending on their chosen university. Your tuition fees will vary depending on whether you are studying part-time or full-time and as to how much lab work is involved.

Funding Opportunities

The majority of PhD funding will come from the Department/University in the form of PhD studentships. However, depending on your research activity, some funding may also be available from other sources, such as:

  • Postgraduate study programmes funded by charities and academic foundations.
  • Applying for grants from various government organisations such as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). These are usually known as Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs).
  • Applying for funding opportunities offered by large companies, pharmaceutical companies, research bodies and medical bodies.

If you are successful with securing funding, you could expect to receive around £17-19k per year for your project’s duration. This covers both your tuition fees and your living expenses, such as accommodation costs, utility bills etc. Deadlines for funding will depend on the specific opportunity; therefore, it is best to start your search as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance of succeeding.


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