Biological Sciences

Find a programme
Run by Faculty of Science
Awards available PhD, MSc by research
Programme length MScR: One year full-time; two years part-time
PhD: Three years full-time; six years part-time
Location of programme Clifton campus
Part-time study available Yes
Start date September 2018
January 2019
April 2019

Programme overview

Researchers in the School of Biological Sciences conduct cutting-edge research across a broad range of biological disciplines: genomics, biotechnology, cell biology, sensory biology, animal behaviour and evolution, population biology, host-disease interactions and ecosystem services, to name but a few.

In 2014 the school relocated to a new £54 million, state-of-the-art Life Sciences building. Our laboratory facilities are among the best in the world, with critical '-omics' technologies and associated computing capacity (bioinformatics) a core component. The building is designed to foster our already strong collaborative and convivial environment, and includes a world-leading centre for evolutionary biology research in collaboration with key researchers from earth sciences, biochemistry, social medicine, chemistry and computer sciences. The school has strong links with local industry, including BBC Bristol, Bristol Zoo and the Botanic Gardens.

We have a lively, international postgraduate community of about 150 research students. Our stimulating environment and excellent graduate school training and support provide excellent opportunities to develop future careers.

Fees for 2018/19

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2018/19 are as follows:

UK/EU: full-time
UK/EU: part-time
Overseas: full-time
Channel Islands/Isle of Man: full-time

Bench fees: For postgraduate research students who are not funded by UK Research Councils or (specific) UK charities, it is usual to charge a bench fee. A bench fee covers the costs of laboratory consumables, specialist equipment and other relevant costs (e.g. training) for the duration of the programme. The bench fee charged can vary considerably depending on the nature of the programme being undertaken. Details of specific bench fee charges can be provided on request and will made clear in the offer letter sent to applicants.

Fees are subject to an annual review. For programmes that last longer than one year, please budget for up to a five per cent increase in fees each year. Find out more about tuition fees.

Alumni scholarship

University of Bristol students and graduates can benefit from a ten per cent reduction in tuition fees for postgraduate study. Check your eligibility for an alumni scholarship.

Funding for 2018/19

Research is supported by BBSRC, MRC, NERC, the EC, the Royal Society, the Wellcome and Leverhulme Trusts, the Wolfson Foundation, Defra and other government agencies, charities, and industry. All studentships and openings are advertised on the School of Biological Sciences website.

Further information on funding for prospective UK, EU and international postgraduate students.

Entry requirements

An upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent) in biological sciences or related discipline.

See international equivalent qualifications on the International Office website.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you need to meet this profile level:
Profile E
Further information about English language requirements and profile levels.

Admissions statement

Read the programme admissions statement for important information on entry requirements, the application process and supporting documents required.

Admissions statement

Research groups

The underlying theme of our research is the search for an understanding of the function, evolution, development and regulation of complex systems, pursued using the latest technologies, from '-omics' to nanoscience, and mathematical modelling tools. Our research is organised around four main themes that reflect our strengths and interests: evolutionary biology; animal behaviour and sensory biology; plant and agricultural sciences; and ecology and environmental change.

Evolutionary biology

The theme of evolutionary biology runs through all our research in the School of Biological Sciences. Research in this theme seeks to understand organismal evolution and biodiversity using a range of approaches and study systems. We have particular strengths in evolutionary genomics, phylogenetics and phylogenomics, population genetics, and evolutionary theory and computer modelling.

Members of this research group are listed on the school website.

Animal behaviour and sensory biology

Research is aimed at understanding the adaptive significance of behaviour, from underlying neural mechanisms ('how', or proximate, questions) to evolutionary explanations of function ('why', or ultimate, questions). The approach is strongly interdisciplinary, using diverse physiological and biomechanical techniques, behavioural experiments, computer modelling and molecular biology to link from the genetic foundations through to the evolution of behaviour and sensory systems.

Members of this research group are listed on the school website.

Plant and agricultural sciences

The global issue of food security unifies research in this theme, which ranges from molecular-based analysis of plant development, signal transduction and disease, to ecological studies of agricultural and livestock production systems. We have particular strengths in functional genomics, bioinformatics, plant developmental biology, plant pathology and parasite biology, livestock parasitology and agricultural systems biology. Our research is helped by the LESARS endowment, which funds research of agricultural relevance.

Members of this research group are listed on the school website.

Ecology and environmental change

Research seeks to understand ecological relations between organisms (plant, animal or microbe) at individual, population and community levels, as well as between organisms and their environments. Assessing the effect of climate change on these ecological processes is also fundamental to our research. Key research areas within this theme include community ecology, restoration ecology, conservation, evolutionary responses to climate change and freshwater ecology. Our research has many applied angles, such as ecosystem management, wildlife conservation, environmental and biological control, agricultural practice and informing policy.

Members of this research group are listed on the school website.


Many postgraduate students choose a higher degree because they enjoy their subject and subsequently go on to work in a related area. An Office of Science and Technology survey found that around three-quarters of BBSRC- and NERC-funded postgraduates went on to a job related to their study subject.

Postgraduate study is often a requirement for becoming a researcher, scientist, academic journal editor and for work in some public bodies or private companies. Around 60 per cent of biological sciences doctoral graduates continue in research.

Academic research tends to be contract-based with few permanent posts, but the school has a strong track record in supporting the careers of young researchers by helping them to find postdoctoral positions or develop fellowship applications.

Staff profiles

Dr Andy Bailey, (Senior Lecturer), Molecular genetic studies on fungi, including edible mushrooms, pathogens of plants and insects, or pathways for secondary metabolite production.

Professor Mark Beaumont, (Professor), Statistical aspects of population genetics and conservation genetics.

Dr Jon Bridle, (Senior Lecturer), Evolutionary biology using ecological, quantitative genetic, and molecular techniques to test adaptive responses to environmental change in natural populations.

Professor Innes Cuthill, (Professor), Behavioural and sensory ecology, particularly of birds but also other taxa.

Dr Antony Dodd, (Royal Society Senior Research Fellow), Circadian rhythms and cell signalling; evolution of signalling pathways; organelle biology; photosynthesis.

Professor Keith Edwards, (Professor), Development and use of new molecular tools to pinpoint the function of key genes in plants.

Professor Gary Foster, (Professor), Molecular plant pathology, including plant viruses and development of transgenic resistance, as well as fungal biotechnology, including mushroom science and drug discovery.

Dr Kerry Franklin, (Reader), Light and temperature signalling in plant development; signal crosstalk in plant environmental adaptation.

Professor Nigel Franks, (Professor), Ant biology; collective decision-making; fault tolerance and self-repair; organisation of ant colonies; the role of ants in ecosystems.

Dr Martin Genner, (Reader), Behaviour, ecology and evolution of fishes, including ecological and evolutionary responses to environmental change.

Professor Wendy Gibson, (Professor), Molecular analysis of genetics and evolution of trypanosomes; tsetse-trypanosome interactions.

Dr Luca Giuggioli, (Senior Lecturer), Collective animal behaviour; mathematical models of animal movement and interaction; movement ecology.; stochastic search; territoriality and home ranges.

Professor Claire Grierson, (Professor), Development and function of plant roots, including interdisciplinary approaches to root biology; spatial and temporal patterning of molecules and cells in natural and synthetic systems.

Professor Alistair Hetherington, (Melville Wills Chair in Botany), Signal transduction pathways responsible for coupling the perception of environmental signals, such as drought, carbon dioxide and light to alterations in stomatal aperture and stomatal development.

Dr Marc Holderied, (Senior Lecturer), Behavioural acoustics, sensory ecology and conservation – how animals acquire and utilize information in sound signals in natural habitats; conservation research with BCSF / Bristol Zoo in Madagascar and South Africa.

Dr Christos Ioannau, Collective animal behaviour, group living and predator behaviour, particularly in fish, but not exclusively.

Professor Gareth Jones, (Professor), Ecology and echolocation behaviour of bats – bioacoustics, conservation biology and molecular ecology.

Dr Colin Lazarus, (Reader), Fatty acid and polyketide metabolism in plants and filamentous fungi; plant and fungal molecular biology and biotechnology.

Professor Jane Memmott, (Professor, Head of School), Agroecology; food webs; invasion ecology; pollination biology; restoration ecology and ecosystem services; urban ecology.

Dr Eric Morgan, (Reader), The diagnosis, epidemiology and control of parasites of veterinary importance (especially helminths), and the dynamics of wildlife disease.

Professor Davide Pisani, (Professor), Phylogenomics – the use of sequence information to understand animal evolution and phylogenetic relationships between animals.

Professor Andy Radford, (Professor), Impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine and terrestrial species; social interactions, vocal communication, decision-making and behavioural stress in vertebrates.

Dr Sean Rands, (Senior Lecturer), Behavioural and evolutionary ecology of biological interactions, social behaviour and group behaviour.

Professor Daniel Robert, (Professor), Sensory ecology, biomechanics and evolution of audition in insects – auditory-guided behaviour and psychophysics of auditory space perception.

Dr Nicholas Roberts, (Reader), Understanding the detection of light and colour in nature, including investigating visual abilities such as polarisation vision, colour vision and deep-sea vision.

Dr Patricia Sanchez-Baracaldo, (Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow), Biogeochemical cycles; co-evolution of life and the biosphere; phylogenomic studies; relaxed molecular clock and trait evolution of cyanobacteria.

Dr Steve Soffe, (Senior Lecturer), Neurobiology and behavioural responses to stimuli, using amphibian embryos.

Professor Mark Viney, (Professor), Investigating how life-cycle decisions are controlled and the population-level consequences; the biology of nematodes, particularly parasites.

Dr Jakob Vinther, (Lecturer), Early evolution of invertebrates, palaeocolor and the reconstruction of original colour patterns in extinct mammals and birds; macroevolution, molecular paleobiology.

Professor Richard Wall, (Professor), Eontrol of ectoparasites of veterinary importance; sustainable management of livestock production systems; the ecology of arthropod pests, parasites and vectors.

Dr Heather Whitney, (Senior Research Fellow), Plant adaptation to biotic and abiotic factors by modification of the plant surface and insect behaviour; plant-insect interactions.

Dr Marian Yallop, (Senior Lecturer), Agricultural impacts of stressors on primary producers in aquatic ecosystems; ecophysiological responses in algae and bacteria in lakes and reservoirs; impacts of ocean acidification on shallow benthic ecosystems; polar biology.

Dr Jill Harrison, (Royal Society Research Fellow), The evolution of branching mechanisms.; The molecular basis of three dimensional shoot growth.

Dr Martin How, (Royal Society University Research Fellow), Polarisation vision in marine crustaceans

How to apply
Application deadline:

We welcome applications at any time of year.

International students

Find out more about becoming a student at Bristol, applying for a visa and the support we offer to international students.

I chose Bristol because of its outstanding academic reputation. It's reassuring to be taught by people who truly love their subject - their passion becomes contagious.


REF 2014 results

  • 33% of research is world-leading (4 star)
  • 51% of research is internationally excellent (3 star)
  • 15% of research is recognised internationally (2 star)

Results are from the most recent UK-wide assessment of research quality, conducted by HEFCE. More about REF 2014 results.

Bristol Doctoral College

The Bristol Doctoral College facilitates and supports doctoral training and researcher development across the University.

Get in touch

Programme Administrator Phone: +44 (0) 117 394 1295 Email:

School of Biological Sciences
University of Bristol
Life Sciences Building
24 Tyndall Avenue
Bristol, BS8 1TQ


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