Letter from Heads of Department - Michaelmas newsletter

Oxford Zoology has now spent over a year in the temporary buildings that the University provided to house us. Although we are a little squeezed for space, and some academics continue to work from other locations within Oxford, including the John Krebs Field Station at Wytham, the building is functioning well, and Research and Teaching continue to thrive. The design of the new building that will permanently house the Biology Department formed from the imminent merger of Plant Science and Zoology is proceeding apace. 

A particularly exciting aspect of this new academic year was the arrival of the first cohort of undergraduate students on our Biology degree. The opportunity for students to study for three or four years, leaving with either a BA or MBiol, proved very popular with applicants. We now have close to twice the number of applicants per place than the Biological Sciences course received. The new course makes full use of the unique facilities that Oxford has to offer, such as the Arboretum, the Natural History Museum, and Wytham Woods. Feedback from the students after their first term has been positive, and we expect them to engage and enjoy the remainder of the exciting new curriculum they have ahead of them.

Our graduate students not only conduct cutting-edge research, but they are also heavily involved in outreach, work to save endangered habitats, and efforts to help local communities. Adjany Costa, a PhD student working with the Luchaze community to conserve the miombo woodland in Eastern Angola, has been awarded the Order of Civil Merit of the First Degree by João Lourenço, the President of the Republic of Angola. Adjany’s work is important because the miombo woodland protects lakes and rivers that flow into the Okavango watershed – the largest freshwater wetland in southern Africa. The watershed is a source of water for a million people and is a haven for wildlife, including the world’s largest population of elephants.

 The department continues to be successful in securing large research grants. For example, in recent months Stuart West secured a €2.5M European Research Council advanced grant to work on competition and cooperation in microbes, and Sarah Knowles won a €1.5M grant from the same organisation in their scheme for academics earlier in their careers. Their success means the department continues to have the highest per capita success rate for European Research Council grants across the University. We have also been successful with many other funding bodies. As an example, the department is a significant beneficiary of a cross-institutional £9.4M Wellcome Trust grant to start sequencing the genomes of all UK eukaryote species. This first tranche of funding will result in whole genome sequences of many species of animal and plant found in Wytham Woods.

Finally, we very much enjoyed welcoming alumni from the 1989 cohort of biologists who returned for a reunion weekend. They visited our new facilities at the John Krebs field station, took a guided walk in Wytham Woods, visited the Herbarium, were given a lecture on current research being conducted, before enjoying a dinner in the Museum of Natural History. We hope to welcoming other cohorts returning to Oxford for reunions in the not too distant future.


Professors Tim Coulson and Ben Sheldon
Heads of Department of Zoology