Frequently asked questions for the School of Biochemistry

We asked the School of Biochemistry some questions about what it's like to study with them. Here's what they said.

We are adapting our teaching methods and spaces in accordance with the latest COVID guidelines and therefore the information below may be subject to change.

What makes this department at the University of Bristol unique?

We are a small and collegial school offering degrees in biochemistry. 

How does the research at the school benefit the experience of the students at the school?

All of our teaching is research-led, and this becomes increasingly prominent as you progress through the course.

Because you are taught by active researchers, you really will leave with the most up-to-date knowledge about modern biochemistry.

You undertake a coursework project as part of your degree, and for most students this is a piece of genuine scientific research in one of our labs. You can also apply for summer research projects and are encouraged to attend seminars from visiting speakers.

What does the school do to welcome students when they first start at Bristol?

Students are welcomed to the School of Biochemistry through a 'welcome week' programme.

In the past this has included meeting your personal tutor, coffee and cake sessions, a treasure hunt around our building, and an introductory session from Helix, the student Biochemistry society.

Helix runs multiple social events throughout the year; these have previously included a karaoke night, sports day, Christmas dinner, annual Ball, and international trip among much more! They also run two intramural sports teams in football and netball.

What is the first year timetable like for this course?

Based on the 2019 academic year, the first year timetable is typically a blend of lectures, workshops, tutorials, laboratory practicals and peer-assisted study sessions (student-led learning).

A typical week would normally have about 16 hours of formal contact time. For example, this might include 10 lectures, 1 tutorial, 2 practicals/workshops and a peer-assisted session. Other time is left free to pursue self-directed study and coursework.

Where can I find out more about the detailed structure and content of the degree programmes?

Find our more about the structure and content of your degree on the School of Biochemistry webpages.

What support does the school offer to new students?

You will be assigned a personal tutor, who has both a pastoral and academic role. 

The Biochemistry office is also there to help with your questions or requests.

You will receive a student handbook and a Biochemistry 'business card' with pictures and contact details of key people around the school.

Finally, there is specific academic support with study skills and essay-writing to help you with the transition into your university studies.

How will the course set me up for my future career?

As well as cutting-edge subject knowledge that prepares you for a diverse range of careers described below, biochemistry also develops a number of transferable skills that are highly prized by many employers. These include IT skills, data literacy, numeracy, teamwork and collaboration, presentation skills both written and oral, problem solving and creative thinking. 

Are there any employers or other initiatives that the school works with for industry placements?

We have a Year in Industry scheme, which students can transfer to from one of the three-year programmes (you cannot apply directly).

We fully support you in identifying opportunities, writing applications and preparing for interviews. This leverages our existing contacts in the UK and abroad. 

What do graduates go on to do after studying this course at Bristol?

Many of our students find jobs in the Bioeconomy, a sector that employs over 5 million people in the UK and includes things like pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, healthcare and food and drink.

Many students go on to further training and study – things like a PhD, graduate medicine, teaching, graduate law, educational tutoring and so on.

Others enter the public sector in forensics, the civil service, armed forces or diverse roles in the NHS.

Finally, many of our graduates are employed in business and finance. This includes management consulting, insurance, data science, accounting and so on.

You can read more about our graduate destinations.

What opportunities are there to study abroad as part of this course?

The Year in Industry can be carried out abroad, and in the past, this has been at an overseas research institute.

What are the facilities like on campus that students will use to study this course?

We have fantastic undergraduate practical labs that support the first two years of the course.

The Biomedical Sciences Building, where we are housed, has an excellent new cafe space that is perfect for socialising, group working and meetings. Downstairs you will find the Biomedical library, with lots of study space, computer access, laptop rental and more.

How many hours (on average) are required outside of lectures for additional work and study?

We generally expect that students will work a regular working week – so about 36 hours altogether.

Since approximately 16 hours of this are formal contact time (based on 2019/20 academic year), that leaves about 20 hours a week for additional work and study – coursework, annotating lecture notes, re-watching recorded lectures and so on.

How do assessments work for the department?

We use a range of different assessments in all years of the course.

It might be useful to give an example from the compulsory first-year unit Biological Chemistry 1A. Typically, about 30 per cent of this unit is assessed through coursework – essays, data handling questions, tutorial work and laboratory practicals. Then 70 per cent of the unit is assessed through an exam, which features multiple choice questions, short answer questions, and data handling questions.

There will be some slight differences from this on other units, but this gives you a good idea of what is involved and this assessment diversity continues through all the years of the course.

What would you say are the main differences between studying at school and study at university?

Probably the major difference is that at university the student is expected to take responsibility for their own learning.

Our biochemistry students embrace this challenge and recognise that developing this independent spirit is one of the main reasons for attending a university like Bristol.

What are examples of final year projects/dissertations that students have worked on when they study this course?

There are too many to list here. In 2019/20, students worked on:

  • developing artificial proteins as 'green' alternatives to industrial catalysts
  • developing new tools for genetic engineering, understanding how viruses adapt to evade therapeutic drugs
  • trying and discovering new drugs from the deep sea
  • understanding why beer has certain flavours
  • producing synthetic blood
  • understanding the molecular underpinnings of brain injury
  • turning light-harvesting proteins into solar cells
  • understanding why biomolecules get sorted to certain parts of the cell at certain times
  • building computer models of cancer metastasis
  • exploring how DNA damage is repaired
  • working out the molecular basis of wound healing

– and much more besides!

Final-year literature projects explored a similarly broad range of topics – from whether fasting makes you live longer, to the origins of life, to the molecular causes of human health and disease. Students also undertook education projects, including delivering lessons in a local school and developing undergraduate resources.

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