Overview: Course advice and degree structure - Biological Sciences - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Overview: Course advice and degree structure

This page details how to structure a BSc, majoring in Biological Sciences. Courses to take in your first year and advice on other courses to take is also covered.

Specific advice and courses for each are available from the links at the top of the page.

Basic structure of BSc degree with a Biological Sciences Major

The Bachelor of Science, or BSc degree, is a three-year undergraduate degree requiring 360 points. The School offers a single undergraduate major in Biological Sciences (BIOL).

Our three core 100 level courses provide a comprehensive overview of biology, from which our 200- and 300-level courses provide advanced training in specialised areas.

We believe that this broad approach in curriculum delivery is of great benefit to student learning.

To major in BIOL, students must have BIOL 111, 112, 113 and 209 (or equivalent background, e.g. STAT 201 or PSYC 206).

To gain a pass a student must do satisfactory practical work in laboratory classes and in field courses as well as performing satisfactorily in written tests and examinations.

Students who have not taken Chemistry to Year 13 or Scholarship level should take 15 points of CHEM (e.g. CHEM 114) before enrolling in 200 level courses.

Students who have not taken Maths (with Calculus) to Year 13 or Scholarship level should strongly consider taking 15 points of MATH (e.g. MATH 101) before enrolling in 200 level courses.

BIOL 309 cannot be used as part of the minimum 60 points needed at 300 level to major in Biological Sciences.

Students intending to enrol for fourth year courses should have gained the equivalent of at least 90 points in 300 level BIOL courses.

Students admitted to an Honours or Masters Degree in Ecology must include BIOL 309, or an equivalent course, in their undergraduate degree.

BIOL 309 is strongly recommended for ALL intending postgraduate students.

Choosing your courses in first year

Starting your BSc in Biology is straightforward. Biological Sciences offers a range of streams to make planning your degree easy and still allows you to create a personalised degree that suits your interests.

Most students begin by taking the core biology courses during their first year at Canterbury, but students who discover an interest in biology later can also take the core courses during their second year.

The three core courses are:

[BIOL 111 is required for Biochemistry majors, BIOL 112 and 113 are recommended.]

Because statistical analysis and experimental design is such a fundamental aspect of all biological research, all Biology majors are required to take BIOL 209 Introduction to Biological Data Analysis (or equivalent preparation e.g. STAT 201, PSYC 206). Entry into BIOL 209 from 2014 requires STAT 101 Statistics 1.

Two additional first year courses are also offered for students

These courses cannot be substituted for the core biology courses and should be taken as additional courses.

What other courses should I take?

Modern biological research is undergoing some exciting changes.

The barriers between traditionally separate areas of biology are breaking down, and at the same time researchers trained in mathematics, statistics, chemistry, physics, geology, geography and computer science are collaborating with biologists in new and exciting ways.

This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in everything, but the more you are comfortable talking with and working with scientists from other fields, the better prepared you will be for the job market, whether you wish to work in industry, a research university or institute, or even science journalism.

Have a close look at the recommended additional courses you might take in the detailed course advice above.

About Endorsements for Science subjects

An endorsement can be added to your BIOL major in recognition of the fact that your studies have had a particular focus.

Do I need Chemistry, Maths, Physics or Stats?

More and more areas of biology require a basic knowledge of statistics, mathematics, chemistry and physics.

To give you some examples, molecular biology and biochemistry both require a working knowledge of chemistry, the study of populations requires some understanding of basic algebra and statistics, the mathematics of networks applies to areas as diverse as biochemistry and ecological food webs, and to analyse biological data, statistics is a must.

It is also worth keeping in mind that areas of biology which as recently as 10 years ago did not require maths, stats, physics or chemistry have now embraced these disciplines.

There are many niches in biological and ecological sciences for those that are not chemically or mathematically inclined, but background in these areas may expand your options.

Because statistical analysis and experimental design is such a fundamental aspect of all biological research, all Biology majors are required to take BIOL 209 Introduction to Biological Data Analysis (or equivalent preparation e.g. STAT 201, PSYC 206). Entry to this course does not require STAT 101, but if you haven’t done maths or stats at level 12 or 13, then think about doing STAT 101.

Find maths or chemistry intimidating?

Mathematics and chemistry can seem intimidating to many - if you lack confidence in these (or haven’t done them to year 13) but want to expand your background, don’t worry! UC provides plenty of support. This includes introductory courses at 1st year that are specifically tailored to biologists needs – Methods of Mathematics (MATH 101) and Introductory Chemistry (CHEM 114). There is also the Science Headstart summer programme to help you up-skill if you have no background in a range of science subjects, see www.uco.canterbury.ac.nz/bridging/headstart/. If in doubt, talk to one of our academic advisors.

Love maths or computers?

If you enjoy mathematics or computing, and are interested in biology, UC is well suited to cater for your needs. There are mathematicians on campus who work closely with biologists, and UC is home to the BlueFern Supercomputer. Combining biology with computing and/or mathematics will give you plenty of options in the future. Some papers you could do at first year to complement your interest in biology include MATH 120/170 and COSC 121/122.


Should you require further help, please contact one of our undergraduate supervisors.

Undergraduate Advisor

Matthew Turnbull

Dr Pieter Pelser
Room Biology 530, Phone 369 5228 Internal 95228