Michaelmas 2018 e-newsletter: Message from Professor Ben Sheldon

This is the first edition of what is planned to be an annual autumn update – disseminated electronically - about the Department of Zoology, to complement the annual newsletter which appears each spring. There is so much activity and news to share that we end up having to be very selective in our annual newsletter, and this is an opportunity to share more of the news that we have about education, research and impact from both departments.

While no year in Oxford could ever be said to be free from significant events, once again a great deal has happened in the past 12 months. We have taken some important steps towards the long-term future of the department, and can look forward to the next few years, and beyond, with more certainty than in the recent past. 

Working closely with the University, we have completed the last of a number of building projects that were urgently needed to rehome the department, after the enforced exodus from the Tinbergen Building, at least for the medium-term. After the completion of the undergraduate teaching laboratories off Mansfield Road - a great success, and a real focal point for recent open days - and the refurbishment and revival of Wytham Field Station, we completed the main new temporary home for the department – the suite of modular buildings off Mansfield Road. We moved in to these over the summer, and this enables the department to once again have a single main focal point in the science area.

Looking further ahead, much work continues on planning long-term strategic priorities and how best to determine the direction of the broad subject of Biology here at Oxford in the light of the Tinbergen closure. The process of stripping out asbestos as a precursor to demolition of this huge building began this autumn, and plans around the best way to make use of this huge site are developing apace, with the full backing of the University. It is my view that, in the midst of adversity, we will be able to take advantage of a remarkable opportunity that will result in a very exciting future for our subject here in Oxford.

A further major development – academic, rather than physical – was the approval by the University of our proposal, jointly with our colleagues in Plant Sciences, to change the three year undergraduate Biological Sciences course to a four year Biology course, from which those staying for the full four years will graduate with an MBiol degree. This new course will be a radical revision to the existing course with a focus on new thematic strands and increased practical and problem-solving skills for the first three years, followed by a fourth year enabling a substantial research focus. The first intake of this course will be in October 2019.

Elsewhere in this newsletter you can read about some of the many highlights and achievements over recent months: it has been a welcome reminder of our continued relevance and vitality to see so much diverse success in research carrying on despite the interruptions of the recent past.

Ben Sheldon

Head of Zoology