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Biology – Q64 Natural Sciences

Discover the fascinating biological world by studying and earning your qualification through The Open University

Further your understanding of biology through a mixture of compulsory and optional study modules including: the structure and function of cells, the importance of biology in human health and technology, and how evolutionary adaptations contribute to the survival of whole organisms.

Our Natural Sciences degree programme (Q64) allows you to study biology flexibly - full-time or part-time - at a pace to suit you and your other life commitments. Choose to study our biology pathway and your specialism will be included in the name of your degree, BSc (Honours) Natural Sciences (Biology).

Interested in biology as a career?

"An OU qualification says 'employ me'."

By achieving a Natural Sciences (Biology) qualification with The Open University you’ll be an adaptable graduate with a range of transferable skills that are highly valued in the jobs market. The logical, reasoned approach needed for science study means science graduates are well placed to enter both scientific and non-scientific jobs. Check out these top tips for budding biologists from field scientists who worked on the recent BBC/OU co-production and landmark natural history series, The Hunt.

As an OU student you’ll have full access to our Careers Advisory Service to support your study choices and career planning.

See where your OU Natural Sciences degree could take you and
how
studying Science with the OU enhances your career prospects

What will I study for my biology degree?

Here's an outline of what you might study on the biology pathway. (Exact module titles and codes can vary as new versions are made. Check our latest Science modules for more information.)

Stage 1 biology

Your study starts with a wide-ranging introduction to highly topical areas of modern science, through which you’ll begin to acquire the practical, investigative and mathematical skills essential to your development as a scientist.

Your key introduction to studying Natural Sciences will be Questions in science (S111) (60 credits). Following this, a new module covering key concepts in science (S112) (60 credits) is planned for October 2017. Together these two modules will develop key scientific knowledge and skills through a mix of interactive media, audio-visual, independent and some small collaborative activities. You'll also conduct a range of experiments at home or working online independently or in a small student group to discuss experimental design, collect data and compare results.

Stage 2 biology

You’ll then focus on biology with two compulsory modules: The biology of survival (S295) (30 credits) and Cell biology (S294) (30 credits).

These explore biological concepts and develop core skills, including accessing and interpreting scientific information from a variety of sources, experimental design, practical investigations and data interpretation, as well as collaborative working and science communication.

The biology of survival (S295) (30 credits) is an innovative on-screen module covering the biology and diversity of whole organisms from an evolutionary perspective. Interactions between examples of cooperating and/or competing organisms, including predators and prey, are explored along with their changing environments. Various plants, animals and fungi are used to illustrate how adaptation in the physiology and behaviour of organisms contributes to survival. A taster of this module is available to try on our OpenLearn website.

Practical work is an important aspect of biology and we provide various options to enable everyone to have experience of doing practical work. You’ll undertake real and virtual experiments, developing practical and analytical skills by generating and analysing your own unique data sets. In S295 you also have the option of attending a short residential school run by the Field Studies Council (FSC) - in advance of undertaking independent practical work and/or online practical work at the end of the module. (The cost of the optional residential school is not included in the module fee.)

Cell biology (S294) (30 credits), considers the basic building blocks of life. Despite their common molecular components, cells show huge diversity. In S294 you’ll study the structure and function of different cell types, from microbes to the more complex cells of plants and animals, and you’ll investigate the importance of cell biology in human health and in technology.

For your remaining 60-credits at Stage 2, you’ll have a broad choice of modules from across the scientific disciplines. For example, you can explore biological areas in more detail (e.g. Human biology (SK277) (30 credits) and The science of the mind: investigating mental health (SDK228) (30 credits)). Alternatively, you may want to get more online practical experience (e.g. Practical science: biology and health (SXHL288) (30 credits)). You could choose to look at the role of science in society (e.g. Science and society (S201) (60 credits)) or explore the crossover of biology and chemistry (e.g.  Chemistry: essential concepts (S215) (60 credits). Other modules are also available.

Stage 3 biology

At Stage 3, you will study more advanced biology modules which draw on your understanding of the fundamental aspects of cell and whole organism biology and the skills you developed at Stage 2. You will start by studying the compulsory module Biological science: from genes to species (S317) (60 credits) which will teach a broad range of advanced biological topics from cell biology to evolution. You will then be able to choose between a range of optional modules including Evaluating contemporary science (S350) (30 credits) Ecosystems (S396) (30 credits), Infectious disease and public health (SK320) (30 credits) and Signals and perception: the science of the senses (SD329) (30 credits). You will begin to use more independent study skills which will culminate in a compulsory module Researching biology and health science (SXL390) (30 credits) in which you will carry out a literature-based research project on a topic linked to one of your Level 3 modules.

Learning underpinned by research

The Open University doesn’t just teach: it’s a global leader in research and innovation too, with OU research and development ranking in the top third of UK universities. The Faculty of Science has a long and distinguished record of conducting high quality, internationally leading research, including through our Biomedical Research Network (BRN). Our researchers also contribute to our state of the art curriculum material.

What's studying biology at the OU like?

Our long established, quality distance-learning methods use innovative technologies to provide a modern, blended learning experience. We’re designing our new Science modules with on-screen delivery in mind, taking advantage of year-on-year developments in new technologies to make your studies with us even more engaging and flexible - on computer, mobile and tablet devices.

You will be immersed in interactive activities during your biology studies, using a mix of high quality text, graphics, audios and videos to support your learning.

Find out more about what it's like to study science at the Open University.

How much will it cost?

Studying biology with The Open University is not just flexible but great value for money, whether you live at home or away. Take a look at funding in more detail 

Are there any formal entry requirements?

No - most of our undergraduate courses (including Natural sciences) have no formal entry requirements.

You will start off your science studies with our introductory module S111 Questions in science. To get the best from it you’ll need some knowledge of science concepts and mathematical skills, and the ability to read and write to a good standard of English. You can use our online diagnostic tool Are You Ready For S111? to help you decide if you're ready, or if you could do with some extra preparation  Our Science access module is great preparation if you need it.

Can I try some study first before committing to a degree?

Absolutely. We’ve got a number of different options available:
• Our Science access module lets you try out the OU’s style of learning. You’ll get your own personal tutor and you may even be able to study for free.
• If you want to try online study without direct tutor support, have a look at our Science: online short courses.

Next steps

Follow us on Twitter!


@Biology_OU


Spotlight on our students

Michael Howard

What subject are you studying?
A combination of biological and environmental science.

Share one or two highlights of your time studying with the OU?
Passing the first exam that I had taken for 40 years. I was quite nervous and had suddenly lost the sight in one eye a few weeks before. The result felt like a massive achievement.

Recently getting a Microbiology Prize was a real high. It has made me want to push my learning boundaries, even further.

What are your aims for the future?
Now, even being an older student, I am thinking of post-graduate qualification options, but it will take another 2 years to graduate first! Yes, I wish I had done this before! My general aims are to study natural history and help in local nature conservation work.

See full interview


Spotlight on our academics


Dr Vicky Taylor

Vicky describes her work with Asian elephants and how the partnership with Woburn Safari Park contributes to our courses. Vicky was an academic consultant on the BBC programmes, Life Story and The Hunt


OU Biology students win Microbiology prize

2015 Michael Howard

See the full story

2014 Rhys Jenkins

See the full story


Download our biology leaflet


Did you know?

OU study is based on modules that award you credits (usually 30 or 60 credits for successful completion, depending on the module). You’ll need 360 credit points to be awarded our BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences degree – 120 credits from each of Stages 1, 2 and 3 – similar to the three years of a ‘traditional’ full-time university degree program.


Try cell biology

Have a look at our free OpenLearn unit A tour of the cell (12 hours study)  based on S294 Cell biology


Try biology of survival

Have a look at our free OpenLearn unit 'Migration' (8 hours study) to get a flavour of S295.


Try human biology

Have a look at our free OpenLearn unit ‘Obesity: Balanced diets and treatment’ (15 hours of study) which is based on SK277 and listen to some audio clips from SDK228.


Try other biology

Have a look at our free OpenLearn unit ‘Gene manipulation in plants’ (10 hours study) to get a flavour of S201 or  ‘The molecular world’ (20 hours study) to get a flavour of S215. You may also be interested in our unit ‘Detecting Down's syndrome in the unborn fetus’ (12 hours study).


Want to read our biology research publications?

You can get a flavour of our published research in life, health and chemical sciences through our Open Research Online (ORO) website