Treefrog tadpoles by Geoff Gallice ( used under CC-BY 2.0 license

Studying Biology at Merton

Biology at Merton is characterised by a very friendly, dynamic community, with manifold opportunities for field trips, travel and research. Oxford’s fantastic array of world-renowned museums and libraries, notably the Museum of Natural History, and its extensive reference collections, make this an ideal setting for delving into the study of this vibrant degree.
Course structure

The Biology course at Oxford is taught jointly by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology. You will be taught in a variety of formats, including lectures, practical skills classes and laboratory work, field courses and projects, and college tutorials. Topics covered include cell biology, developmental biology, evolutionary biology and ecology, to name but a few.

Practical laboratory sessions and fieldwork are core aspects of this degree, and there is ample opportunity to pursue your individual interests and passions.

Students can either choose to complete their course after three years and graduate with a BA, or to continue to a fourth year and graduate with an MBiol (Masters in Biology). Progression to the MBiol is contingent on satisfactory academic performance in the first three years. The optional fourth year of the degree consists of an in-depth research project, which can be lab- or field-based, supervised and supported by an Oxford academic.

The teaching team

Teaching in Biology is co-ordinated by Professor Tim Guilford, with further tutorial teaching provided by Professors Matt Higgins and Craig MacLean and Dr Annette Fayet, with additional support from two college lecturers. Professor EJ Milner-Gulland is the University’s Tasso Leventis Professor in Biodiversity.

Graduate mentors (current postgraduate students) are available to provide additional help and support with all aspects of the course.

Student Profile
Paris Jaggers

Name: Paris Jaggers
Year: Third
Subject: Biological Sciences
Where are you from: Cambridge

Why Merton?
As soon as I walked round Merton I loved its cosiness and remember thinking that everyone seemed so friendly. It’s hands down the prettiest college and has a beautiful garden that’s lovely in the summer. Accommodation and food are very cheap too!

Best thing about your course?
Biology is unique in the extent to which it allows you to follow your own interests. While the first year involves exposing you to a tonne of new material you’ve probably never covered before, in your second you’re free to organise your own tutorials in whatever area takes your fancy. As it’s a very broad subject, this means you can be reading about wildly different things each week – I’ve had tutorials on things as varied as game theory, neuron regeneration and empathy this term.

What are tutorials like?
Quite varied. How much you enjoy them generally depends on how hard you worked on the essay – if you’ve found a way to be interested in the topic then tutorials are really rewarding. It’s also helpful to have tutorials with a range of people (mine are usually in pairs but can be one-on-one or with three or four others) as you get to see how other people have interpreted the same question.

What do you do when you’re not working?
Mostly rowing! I’ve been pretty involved in the boat club this year, which means organising training and races. It’s a great sport and introduces you to great people, but does mean getting up before 6am multiple times a week!

What do you do in the holidays?
In the shorter vacations, I do my best to do very little, but over the summer I try to do something interesting to do with my course. Last summer I was lucky enough to get a marine ecology placement in Madagascar and the college gave me a generous grant to support my travel there. I helped with research and conservation on coral reefs - Madagascar is hugely biodiverse and I got to dive on one of the biggest reefs in the world.

The benefits of studying Biology at Merton
  • The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is on our doorstep - in the words of its Director, Timothy Walker, "Holding tutorials in the Botanic Garden means that the words in the scientific papers come to life and in just one hour the students and tutor can travel together through the biology of the world and touch the world of biology. This cannot be achieved in any other way."
  • Merton’s student-run Biology Society holds a variety of events, social activities and talks throughout the year, which are ever popular.
  • Merton provides generous academic grants and funding for field trips, research projects and travel.
  • Merton is the college of the Linacre Chair of Zoology, Professor Peter Holland.
  • Distinguished biologists associated with the College include Niko Tinbergen, who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz for their discoveries concerning the organisation and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns in animals; and Richard Southwood, Linacre Chair of Zoology 1979-1993, who went on to take up the Vice-Chancellorship of the University.
Video: Biology at Oxford University
Course information
Key facts
Average intake at Merton:




Written work:

None required.

Specific subjects:

Biology is essential. At least one of Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics must also be taken. We expect you to take and pass any practical component in your chosen science subjects.

Deferred entry:

Applications for deferred entry will be considered on their merits.