Biology Degrees: Graduate | Top Universities

Today biology is often referred to as part of a wider group – the biological sciences or ‘biosciences’. This phrase reflects the large range of subject areas that may be included, from genetics and genomics to pharmaceuticals and plant sciences.

As this brief list suggests, biology is a subject with the potential to make a real difference to people and planet – whether it’s by contributing to the development of a new vaccine or diagnostic technique, finding ways to increase crop yield in infertile regions, or developing new sources of bio-energy. For more information about studying biological science at graduate level, please click on the three tabs below.

Studying biological sciences at graduate level


Historically, US universities have tended to dominate the biosciences sector, but depending on the specialization, different countries emerge as leaders. Terence Taylor, president of the International Council for the Life Sciences, says Germany is particularly strongIn synthetic biology research, for example,.


In human biology, says Thomas McDade, professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, the most established research hubs are the US, Canada and UK. But he also mentions Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and a number of European countries other than the UK as having made significant contributions to the field.

Countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, China and the Gulf nations are also seeing significant investment in this sector. In Singapore, for example, the government has allocated US$2.87 billion for biomedical sciences research between 2011 and 2015 – a 12% increase compared to the previous four-year period.

Kohji Muraoka, a PhD candidate from Japan, is researching biodiversity and disturbance in lake ecosystems at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. He says his choice of location was based on a combination of academic opportunity and more general factors. “The University of Waikato is the best university to study freshwater ecology in New Zealand, and possibly the southern hemisphere. I also love the people, nature, culture and atmosphere of New Zealand.”

Kohji admits to some initial concerns, as the University of Waikato is not very well known in his home country. But during his time at the university, he says there have been plenty of opportunities to make contact with leading scientists from around the world.

In general, he says, the academic staff are “extremely approachable and supportive, both professionally and personally.” Kohji has also made the most of additional opportunities available, including becoming an international student leader for an academic research organization – which he says is both enjoyable and a good boost to his future career prospects.

Discover the world's top universities for biological sciences

Biological science specializations


The list of possible specializations is huge, ranging from bioinformatics and computational biology to genetics and forensic science.


In the field of human biology, Thomas McDade, a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, US, says that for him the most exciting sectors at present are reproduction, growth, nutrition, immune function and stress.

Terence Taylor identifies bioinformatics and genomics as areas likely to continue to attract high levels of funding and research activity – particularly in their application for the development of diagnostic techniques. And of course specialists in fields such as vaccine development and cancer treatment remain in high demand.

However, if your field of interest doesn’t fit neatly into a single category, you’re likely to be a supporter of the One Health Initiative – and you’re in good company. The initiative, which aims to promote greater collaboration between scientists working in human, veterinary and environmental sciences, is supported by prominent international organizations including the World Health Organisation, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the World Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, and also by numerous national associations.

“Instead of dividing things up, there’s a more integrated approach going on across the spectrum,” Taylor says. In future, he predicts more “multidisciplinary teams”, working on research across the board, rather than focusing exclusively on humans, animals or environment.

Discover the world's top universities for biological sciences

Careers in biological science


Future employability is certainly a factor biosciences students may want to consider when choosing a graduate degree. While the biosciences sector is one that has remained relatively resilient throughout recent economic downturns, graduates still need to ensure they have the right skills and experience for their target job.


More universities and organizations are now acknowledging the importance of skills provision. For example, in the UK, the Society of Biology has recently launched an accreditation scheme, intended to help students find biosciences courses that will best provide the kind of practical experience and skills companies look for when recruiting.

As PhD candidate Kohji Muraoka points out, opportunities to make contacts on an international level are also extremely valuable.

“Good researchers move around; there’s no question about that,” says Terence Taylor, president of the International Council for the Life Sciences, adding, “The whole thing is an international enterprise. That’s how progress is made.”

Research, either within an academia or for a private research group or company, is one of the most obvious options open to those with a graduate degree in biosciences. Other possibilities include:

  • Conservation and environmental management
  • Education and outreach - in schools, but also zoos, nature centers, musems, wildlife reserves and so on
  • Policy development and consultancy - providing advice to governments and other bodies

See the full list of life sciences and medicine subject guides

Key Skills

Common skills gained with a biological sciences degree include:

  • General laboratory skills, including how to use laboratory equipment
  • Ability to confidently analyze and draw conclusions from complex data sets, and general analytical skills
  • Teamwork and strong communication skills, through group projects and seminars
  • Organizational and time management skills
  • An understanding of scientific literature and how to use it
  • Initiative and independence
  • An awareness and insider’s understanding of ethical issues and commercial contexts relevant to scientific research
  • Numeracy and technology literacy
  • Presenting findings in written and spoken form, to an acceptable academic standard; report writing and presentations
  • Framework for lifelong learning