Alumni Newsletter: HoD letter from E.J. Milner-Gulland

I write to you in a time of transition - which is both very exciting but also daunting. On 1st August next year, our Department will merge with Plant Sciences to form the Biology Department. This reflects the joint teaching that we have done on the Biology course over many years, but brings us together on the research and administration sides. This merger brings many challenges - including plenty of Oxford peculiarities like the arcane process of changing the university statutes to recognise the existence of our new Department - but also lots of opportunities. We've already got a smart new joint website showcasing our new logo, which reflects our natural history traditions and love for nature while also being flexible and modern in style. The mugs, notebooks and tote bags featuring this logo have been very much in demand, with everyone having their favourite artwork (I have a soft spot for the kingfisher and the beetle myself).

Our new MBiol course is now fully up-and-running; this year we are running the third and fourth years for the first time. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it's because our current fourth years were badly affected by the 2020 COVID shut-downs, meaning that they were unable to carry out their research dissertations. As getting some hands-on experience in the field and the lab is both a highlight of their degree and important for their future careers, our teaching team worked incredibly hard to bring the fourth year forward for them.

The MBiol course is much more interactive and varied than a traditional lecture-based course, and reflects the huge amount of creative energy that the designers and course leaders have put into it. The fourth year is particularly exciting as an opportunity for students to embed into a lab and carry out novel independent research - a great preparation for their future careers.

I can't overstate how proud I am of our students, and thankful to my colleagues, who have worked tirelessly to navigate the choppy waters of the last 18 months. No time to take up yoga, crochet or baking for us - instead we learnt about online lecturing, back-garden fieldwork and the joys of Teams. Our students were also one of the first cohorts of the university to get back into the labs for in-person teaching. I hope we can take the best of these new ways of working forward; for example, the days of paper handouts for lectures are surely now over.

Looking forward to the next couple of years, our move into the Life and Mind Building looms large on the horizon; this will bring its own set of challenges but also huge opportunities to have a state-of-the-art building that allows us to showcase, and expand, all that is exciting about biology. This pandemic has demonstrated yet again the importance of fundamental and applied biological research to the future of humanity. We hope that many of you will come and see us when we move into this new building, and enjoy the energy of this new chapter in our joint life as an integrated Biology Department.