Biological Sciences

Find a programme
Run by Faculty of Life Sciences
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 2019
January 2020
April 2020

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 £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 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 2019/20

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2019/20 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 2019/20

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.

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 post-doctoral 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.

Dr Ulrike Bauer, (Royal Society Research Fellow), Bio-mechanics and ecology of plant-insect interactions structural adaptations and functional surfaces of carnivorous plants

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, (Senior Lecturer), Circadian rhythms and cell signalling in plants; evolution of signalling pathways; organelle biology; photosynthesis abiotic stress responses

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

Dr Sinead English, (Senior Research Fellow), Vector ecology evolution of life history strategies, with a focus on viviparity parental effects in ecology and evolution long-term effects of early-life experiences

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.

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 Thomas Gorochowski, (Royal Society Research Fellow), Using synthetic biology approaches to reprogram cells to better understand how biology works and create new functionalities never seen before

Professor Claire Grierson, (Professor, Head of School), 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.

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

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 Martin How, (Royal Society University Research Fellow), Visual ecology of marine and intertidal crustaceans motion dazzle patterns in biological and artificial vision systems methodology for automation of animal behaviour experiments

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

Professor Gareth Jones, (Professor), Conservation biology, molecular ecology and bioacoustics,; Ecology and echolocation behaviour of bats

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

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, cooperation, decision-making and consequences of conflict 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.

Professor Nicholas Roberts, (Professor), Light and colour in nature visual ecology new animal optics structural colouration the impacts of anthropogenic light pollution

Dr Imogen Sparkes, (Senior Lecturer), Molecular and biophysical characterisation of plant organelles dynamics including biogenesis, movement, morphology and interaction of organelles

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), Control 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), Interdisciplinary approaches to investigating plant biology including plant iridescence and photonics plant bionics and nanotechnology plant-pollinator interactions

Dr Tom Williams, (Royal Society Research Fellow/Senior Lecturer), Phylogenetics, comparative genomics and bioinformatics understanding how molecules, genomes and microbes evolve reconstructing and testing ideas about the tree of life

Professor Marian Yallop, (Senior Lecturer), Impacts of stressors on the structure and functioning of biota in aquatic ecosystems; Quantifying impacts of engineered nanomaterials in the environment Impacts of heavy metals on estuarine diatoms and freshwater algae Control of cyanobacterial blooms; The role of ice algae in ice sheet melt in Greenland

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

  • Biological Sciences:
  • 33% of research is world-leading (4*)
  • 51% of research is internationally excellent (3*)
  • 15% of research is recognised internationally (2*)

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.

Open days and visits

Find out more about opportunities to visit Bristol.

Register to attend our postgraduate open day, 20 November 2019.

Get in touch

Miss Alice Stephenson Postgraduate Student 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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