Biological Sciences: Why Biology Is the Ultimate 21st-Century Degree ; A-Level Students Suspect It's a Subject That Will Lead Them to the Dole Queue, but as Chris Brown Explains, There Has Never Been a Better Time to Study the Science of Life
Brown, Chris, The Independent (London, England)
Which academic discipline is at the cutting edge of scientific research and development, is a magnet for ever-increasing research funds and covers a range of topics from the human genome project to conservation? The same subject that, when quizzed, many A-level students say will likely leave them on the dole and will require years of further study to gain them a decent chance in the job market.
How has this myth come about? The answer is a lack of understanding of what "biological sciences" entail, or the lucrative opportunities available. "The school of biological sciences is such a wide-ranging entity," says Dr Peter Dyrynda, a lecturer in environmental and marine biology and zoology at the University of Swansea. "We have departments specialising in anything from cancer research to marine conservation. With the combination of this range of disciplines and the popularity of issues surrounding conservation and wildlife, I would say we have one of the largest student groups on campus."
The increasing popularity of the subjects offered by Swansea over the past five years does not, Dr Dyrynda says, follow a logical pattern. However, the chance to learn about how man affects the environment around him, and the historic breakthroughs in genetic research, are fuelling this surge of interest.
So why do A-level students have a negative view of it? It is well documented that traditional science subjects are losing out in the chase for the new generation of undergraduates - this year's UCAS applications show a 4.4 per cent fall in applications for a biology degree. Whether it be down to the poor career prospects that traditional science students are perceived to hold, or that traditional sciences are just plain out of fashion, students seem not to be aware of the breadth of opportunities awaiting them. "Students are not taught the range of subjects at A-level that we offer," says Professor Steven Edwards at Liverpool University.
But once aware of the possibilities, students are impressed. "I specialised on the molecular side and spent a year working in industry. That year was phenomenally useful," says Rachel Curwen, a biology graduate from York University.
Biological sciences cover everything from conservation biology to molecular biology. Dr Dyrynda is keen to point out the differences between environmental biology and environmental science. "Where environmental science can cover the political aspects of conservation, we look into the specific biological side to it. We look at the level of environmental threats on a global scale and how they affect plants and animals, and issues surrounding biodiversity."
Undergraduates need have no worries in taking on such a 21st- century degree. The job market is particularly secure for graduates. Obviously, there is a large market for trained graduates in the pharmaceutical or biotech industries. …