Remember those halcyon days of school biology? Drawing flowers, and dissecting frogs? Nowadays, biology is much more than all that. It is at the cutting edge of science worldwide, encompassing medicine, the human genome project (soon to be finally unveiled) and the environment. It even helps your language skills.
"Biological sciences encompass a wide range of life sciences," says Professor Steven Edwards of the school of biological sciences at Liverpool University. "In this department we cover everything from genes and proteins to the environment and evolution."
This very breadth can lead to problems. "Students aren't really taught the subjects in any depth at A-level," says Professor Edwards, "so we have the option of an umbrella registration code which allows students to defer their choice of specialisation until the end of the first or second years, and that allows them to find out what they like and don't like."
Inevitably, the biological sciences have strong links with medicine. At the University of Wales, Cardiff, there are both honours and masters degrees in the biomedical sciences. "Most of our graduates end up working in NHS hospitals," says Dr Bert Morgan, admissions officer at the school of applied sciences. "Or if someone works in immunology in a hospital, and is already a graduate, they will get extra qualifications by doing a masters in immunohaematology with us, the other specialist routes being medical biochemistry, microbiology and pathology."
Bioinfomatics is one of the fastest growing research areas, says Dr Nick Mann, reader in the department of biological sciences at Warwick University. "The biggest change at the moment is the ability to obtain large amounts of sequential information from DNA so you can actually study complete genomes of organisms including human beings. Obviously there are health implications for this, but there are also fundamental implications in how we understand the way processes operate in organisms." Warwick has introduced a new undergraduate degree in computational biology, recognising the huge demand for graduates with both biological and computer skills.
Biological research has never been more vibrant, says Dr Finbarr Hayes of the Department of Biomolecular Sciences at UMIST. "We have a leukaemia research fund group here and they attract a lot of interest from students wanting to do postgraduate degrees. We also have a strong interest in molecular microbiology, where we look at microbes, bacteria, fungi and so on, and we have an interest in analysing the structure and function of various biological materials."
Mark Rapson is just finishing the second year of his PhD at Warwick. "I did my degree in biological sciences …