About

About

The Department of Biology will formally exist as of August 2022. This Department will combine the research and teaching excellence of the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology, allowing us to build upon Oxford's legacy of world-leading biological research in an increasingly interdisciplinary manner. 

The Department of Biology will continue to teach our respected Biology MBiol undergraduate course, as well as launching a new Biology DPhil programme. Students studying at the Department will benefit from working with experts in their fields, Oxford's remarkable library and natural history collections, unrivalled field station, and at state of the art facilities. 

Ethos of the Department

The Department of Biology is using this rare opportunity of forming a new department to clearly state the values and behaviour we expect from staff affiliated with the Department.

The Department of Biology values research and education based on integrity, creativity, and focused on bettering the world we live in. As such, we endeavour to embody these characteristics in the behaviour and atmosphere of the Department, both on site in Oxford as well as at conferences and in the field. We strive to make the Department of Biology a desirable workplace, not solely because of our research excellence but also because of our supportive and nurturing community.

Every member of the department, whether they are senior academics or undergraduate students, post-docs or support staff, graduates or cleaners, deserves to be treated with the same respect. This means we expect everyon to treat all their colleagues with dignity, use appropriate language when talking to them, and be mindful of their workload and of any responsibilities outside of the workplace.

In order to continue cultivating a compassionate behaviour in the Department of Biology, we expect our students and staff to continue educating themselves about the most appropriate language to use, to minimise harmful language as far as possible, and to listen to the experiences and needs of communities they do not belong to. It is often difficult to unlearn ingrained beliefs and worldviews, so the Department will attempt to offer educational resources and training continually.

Buildings and Facilities
Currently, the Department of Biology is still situated in two sites: the South Parks Road site (the Department of Plant Sciences building), and the Mansfield Road site (the Zoology Research and Administration Building)
 
Artistic rendering of the forthcoming Life and Mind Building
In 2024 the Department of Biology will move into the new Life and Mind Building. The Life and Mind Building will transform the educational experience for students, providing new laboratories and meeting spaces for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers, as well as lecture theatres, specialised support laboratories and opportunities for public engagement with our research. It is the largest building project the University has ever undertaken and will be a catalyst for the advancement of psychological and biological science both at the University of Oxford and globally.
 
History

The Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology at Oxford have long and distinguished histories, having been centres for research in plant physiology and development, epidemiology, evolutionary biology, ecology and behaviour for more than a century, including hosting research by multiple Nobel Prize winners and dozens of Fellows of the Royal Society. More recently, they have provided numerous examples of successful impact of research, with major commercialisation from spin-out companies, and policy and advice provided at the highest levels of government. The two departments have jointly taught a Biological Sciences degree for more than 30 years, and this recently underwent a major revision to a four year MBiol course in Biology with a research intensive final year, with almost 100 students carrying out year-long research projects embedded in research groups.

The Department of Plant Sciences grew out of the University of Oxford's Botanic Gardens, the oldest Botanic Garden in Great Britain and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. Established in 1621 and hosting the first Regius Professor of Botany, Robert Morrison, in 1669, Plant Sciences has one of the longest scientific legacies in the university. The current Department stems directly from the previous Departments of Agriculture, Botany, and Forestry, and has constantly adapted to changing research landscapes over the past centuries. Plant Sciences is also home to the renowned Oxford University Herbaria which provide a focus for research in plant systematics.

The Department of Zoology was officially founded in 1860, and was initially based in the Museum of Natural History before moving into the Tinbergen Building in 1971. Initially known as the Department of Anatomy and Physiology, it has also been called the Department of Human and Comparative Anatomy, the Department of Morphology, and the Department of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy. The John Krebs Field Station at Wytham homes a number of our key research groups, and Wytham Woods – an ancient semi-natural woodland that have been owned and maintained by the University of Oxford since 1942 – boasts many of our long-term ecological research projects. 

Both Departments have changed vastly over the years, as the nature of research and scientific study have changed, and it is a fitting evolution for both subjects to come together and carry on this legacy of innovative research as the Department of Biology. 

Future Plans and Vision

Bringing the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology together will unlock many benefits for the University through achieving co-location, encouraging collaboration and simplifying the teaching of the joint Biology degree. The taxonomically-focused labels of these two departments no longer capture the breadth and diversity of modern biological research. The Life and Mind Building has provided the impetus for the merger of these two departments to form a new Department of Biology from 2022, with co-location in the building from 2024. The academic drivers for this are numerous, including the fact that many of our research programmes address bacterial, viral, fungal, and other forms of life which are not captured by the terms Zoology or Plant Sciences. Equally, many problems are studied across taxonomic boundaries, or address the interactions between animals, microbes and plants. Further, many of the great biological challenges of the 21st century, such as how we feed 9 billion people, how we mitigate the effects of  climate change and emerging diseases, and how we conserve biodiversity require connection across multiple scales and disciplines within Biology. Designing the building with this vision has enabled us to create integrated facilities that deliver capacity for the next decades in Biology.

We are also excited by the prospect of sharing a building with Experimental Psychology. The Life and Mind Building has been designed for collaboration and ease of interaction. Shared teaching, meeting and social spaces, grouped around a central atrium acting as a hub for engagement, will enable us to find common ground, both in terms of how we educate students and in terms of our research topics. While working together on the design of the building, we have found many common areas, from shared approaches in data and network science, to shared research interests in sensory, social and cognitive science. Many of these underpin key challenges facing humanity today, and our vision for the Life and Mind Building includes the delivery of enhanced collaboration between the departments in these areas.


Artistic rendering of the forthcoming Life and Mind Building

The Life and Mind Building is the largest building project the University has ever undertaken and will significantly improve the way psychological and biological science is undertaken in Oxford, helping scientists to solve some of our major global challenges. It will be home to the Department of Experimental Psychology and a new Department of Biology, combining the existing Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology. The funding and delivery of the building will be undertaken in partnership with Legal & General. For more, visit: https://lifeandmind.web.ox.ac.uk