Our guide to life sciences
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to life sciences

First published date November 28 2013 Amended date November 29 2013

The goal of the life sciences is a grand one: to improve the quality of life on Earth - and not only for us. The life sciences involve studying the whole spectrum of living organisms, from a microscopic virus to a 350-foot giant redwood, from a dragonfly nymph to human beings.

Biology is the centrepiece of the life sciences. But the life sciences also include anatomy, animal biology, bacteriology, biochemistry, cell biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, genetics and much, much more. It is a huge multi-limbed beast of a subject, which puts you in good stead to take a great variety of courses.


Where could a life sciences course lead?

Life science is such a vast field, it really could lead anywhere. As with all science courses, studying life science opens up a diversity of avenues. It shows an employer that you can collect data, analyse it and draw your own conclusions. It shows that you can grasp complicated theories and brain-straining ideas.

You might choose to direct your career towards the jungles of Costa Rica as an ecologist, or a classroom as a teacher, or Kew Gardens as a botanist. A course in life science frees you to take your career in any direction you choose.

Life science can be applied to medicine, agriculture, environmental issues, the pharmaceutical industry and the food science industry.

A course in life sciences often leads to a career in the medical sector, working in hospital laboratories. In the medical sector careers in life sciences can be divided into three areas: pathology, genetics and reproductive science. In pathology medical staff investigate the causes of illness and how diseases progress. In genetics medical staff strive to enhance our understanding of the role genetics plays in illnesses. Medical staff in reproductive science focus on providing solutions to infertility.

If you are already familiar with biology or chemistry, you might decide to take a course in a specialisation such as biophysics, developmental biology, ecology, RNA biology, virology or plant science - to name a very few.


What do you do on a course in life sciences?

Courses may be a mixture of lectures, seminars and computer and lab classes. A university degree course typically lasts three years. As with most science-based degrees, in the final year you will be expected to undertake a research project. This involves designing an experiment, conducting your own research and writing a report of the results. You will have a lot of freedom to focus on the topic that most interests you. You may also have the opportunity to take a year-long industry placement, which offers you the opportunity to develop a range of skills and improve your employment prospects.


How can you choose the right life sciences course for you?

When choosing the right course, think about what really fascinates you. There are an infinite number of courses out there. Don't find yourself staring down a microscope when you'd rather be watching birds out in the field. Life sciences courses range from beginner's to advanced courses, so make sure that you have the prerequisites required to take the course that you desire. There will be a course that suits you, make sure you find it.


What kind of person do you need to be?

To make the most of a life science course you need to be:

·         passionate about science and eager to push forward our understanding of the web of life.

·         willing to use the knowledge you gain on the course to benefit life on Earth.

·         knowledgeable - and prepared to learn - about chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology.

·         happy to spend time in a laboratory.

·         creative to come up with out-of-the-box answers to answer some of life's deepest mysteries.

·         a good communicator to explain fascinating but complex ideas to your peers, friends and the public.


A quick zoological quiz

1.    Which mammal has the longest tongue?

2.    Which mammal has the longest tongue in relation to its body?

3.    What is the fastest creature in water?

4.    What animal has the largest eyes?

5.    Why do giraffes have long necks? OK, for fighting. But why do they have blue tongues?

6.    What mammal native to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is striped like a zebra and most closely related to the giraffe?


Answers: 1) blue whale  2) tube lipped nectar bat - it has store its tongue in its rib cage  3) sailfish - they can swim up to 68 miles per hour  4) colossal squid (some claim the giant squid)  5) It is thought that the dark pigmentation protects them from sunburn when they're eating  6) okapi


By Nick Kennedy

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