BSc Palaeontology or Biological Sciences (Evolutionary Biology)?

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#1
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#1
Hello. I am having a bit of a dilemma trying to decide where to go to university in September (providing the lockdown has come to an end by then). I have been studying BSc Evolutionary Biology at Edinburgh University since last September but left on an interruption of studies two months later. I liked most of the course and the city but I did find the university pretty overwhelming, largely because of some long-term health issues which in the end forced me to drop out. I am weighing up whether to return to Edinburgh or accept an offer from another university I applied to through UCAS this year. One course I am drawn to is Palaeontology and Evolution at Bristol which has the benefit of having a smaller department and being closer to home. When applying to universities I was looking mainly for evolutionary biology degrees as I am keen on genetics, phylogeny and whole organism biology. I came across the palaeontology course completely by chance and had never considered studying it before. I was surprised by how much the course appealed to me on the open day and have been strongly considering it. However, I am a bit worried about jumping into a course for a very niche subject I had never thought of doing before, especially as it seems to be more geology heavy than biology. I do like the idea of doing a course that allows you to specialise in a particular area as I was doing quite a mix of modules in Edinburgh and it felt somewhat disjointed/directionless, but Edinburgh does allow you to specialise further into the degree and I know there are a few geology/palaeontology modules available (although it is not certain due to timetabling etc.). If I am interested in the subject, would it be better to stick with the more biology-focused course I was doing at Edinburgh and consider doing palaeontology at postgraduate level, or to change my degree course now?
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Kiwi789
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#2
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#2
Speaking as someone who loves biology/palaeontology but didn't like geology (and who completed the MSci in Palaeontology at Bristol), I will try to help by laying out the pros and cons here:

Pros for doing undergraduate palaeontology at Bristol:
*If you wish to pursue palaeontology at postgrad level, Bristol is one of the best universities in the world for it, with a well established cohort of researchers, many of whom are the best in their field. Just having these connections will be a huge benefit when/if you want to apply for a PhD afterwards.
*The computing side of things wasn't a thing on offer when I did my undergraduate there, but it would be hugely useful if you wished to specialise in genetics.
*There are hundreds of thousands of biologists compared to palaeontologists, you will stand out a lot more when making applications whether for further study or career posts. It's a good conversation starter as a bonus.
*The third and four years are 100% palaeontology <3
*Bristol has three different discussions groups where palaeontological researchers present their current research every week, two of them are internal (researchers from the university), one is external (where mainly visiting researchers), I don't think any other university offers this. So fantastic if you are a palaeontology enthusiast.
*Regular opportunities to go fossil hunting with DinoSoc.
*Opportunities every summer for taking on palaeontological internships (sometimes there are funding opportunities for this)

Cons:
*There is a fair bit of geology for the first two years.
*Its very likely you will have far less experience with wet lab (laboratory using chemicals, biological matter etc) than you would with a purely biological course. Wet lab experience is rather important for most PhDs (if you wish to pursue one), there are much fewer palaeontology specific PhDs than biological ones. But being proactive you can probably still get this experience if you look out for volunteering opportunities within the university, this was what I did.

So to answer your question, I think either approach (palaeontology at undergrad or postgrad) are equally viable if you wish to go into palaeontology. It really depends on your personal circumstances, whether or not you think it would be feasible to return to Edinburgh long term or if it would be better to start somewhere closer to home for your health and wellbeing.
Last edited by Kiwi789; 1 year ago
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Moonbow
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#3
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#3
(Original post by Kiwi789)
Speaking as someone who loves biology/palaeontology but didn't like geology (and who completed the MSci in Palaeontology at Bristol), I will try to help by laying out the pros and cons here:

Pros for doing undergraduate palaeontology at Bristol:
*If you wish to pursue palaeontology at postgrad level, Bristol is one of the best universities in the world for it, with a well established cohort of researchers, many of whom are the best in their field. Just having these connections will be a huge benefit when/if you want to apply for a PhD afterwards.
*The computing side of things wasn't a thing on offer when I did my undergraduate there, but it would be hugely useful if you wished to specialise in genetics.
*There are hundreds of thousands of biologists compared to palaeontologists, you will stand out a lot more when making applications whether for further study or career posts. It's a good conversation starter as a bonus.
*The third and four years are 100% palaeontology <3
*Bristol has three different discussions groups where palaeontological researchers present their current research every week, two of them are internal (researchers from the university), one is external (where mainly visiting researchers), I don't think any other university offers this. So fantastic if you are a palaeontology enthusiast.
*Regular opportunities to go fossil hunting with DinoSoc.
*Opportunities every summer for taking on palaeontological internships (sometimes there are funding opportunities for this)

Cons:
*There is a fair bit of geology for the first two years.
*Its very likely you will have far less experience with wet lab (laboratory using chemicals, biological matter etc) than you would with a purely biological course. Wet lab experience is rather important for most PhDs (if you wish to pursue one), there are much fewer palaeontology specific PhDs than biological ones. But being proactive you can probably still get this experience if you look out for volunteering opportunities within the university, this was what I did.
Hello! I’m so sorry to bother you but I am really keen on palaeontology but don’t want to narrow it down too early. Which degree would you recommend before masters? I am still deciding whether I want to go into entomology etc or palaeontology so want to keep it quite broad. Thank you so much for your help!!
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Kiwi789
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#4
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#4
(Original post by Moonbow)
Hello! I’m so sorry to bother you but I am really keen on palaeontology but don’t want to narrow it down too early. Which degree would you recommend before masters? I am still deciding whether I want to go into entomology etc or palaeontology so want to keep it quite broad. Thank you so much for your help!!
No bother at all It really depends on what you plan to do afterwards, do you plan to go straight into work or plan to take a PhD? A masters is essentially an opportunity to specialise. If you vastly prefer biology you might want to wait and take palaeontology as a masters, there might be more opportunities to take entomological related units that way, but there will be entomology in palaeontology too of course. Also consider the points I made in the previous comment too.

There is also the question of funding. At the current time, if you were to take an the (4 year) MSci in Palaeontology that means you get the same student loan deal for all four years as if it was all an undergraduate, but still with the opportunity to apply for PhDs afterwards. If you were to take the postgrad MSc (1 year) in Palaeontology instead, the government instead provides you with a one off roughtly 11k loan which practically all goes on tuition fees. So your decision should also take this into consideration.
Last edited by Kiwi789; 1 year ago
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Moonbow
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#5
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#5
(Original post by Kiwi789)
No bother at all It really depends on what you plan to do afterwards, do you plan to go straight into work or plan to take a PhD? A masters is essentially an opportunity to specialise. If you vastly prefer biology you might want to wait and take palaeontology as a masters, there might be more opportunities to take entomological related units that way, but there will be entomology in palaeontology too of course. Also consider the points I made in the previous comment too.

There is also the question of funding. At the current time, if you were to take an the (4 year) MSci in Palaeontology that means you get the same student loan deal for all four years as if it was all an undergraduate, but still with the opportunity to apply for PhDs afterwards. If you were to take the postgrad MSc (1 year) in Palaeontology instead, the government instead provides you with a one off roughtly 11k loan which practically all goes on tuition fees. So your decision should also take this into consideration.
Oh wow! Thank you so much for all the help! I want to work in a museum for research so I most definitely need to be up to PHD level Do you know if you can get a MSci with a Bsc or you’d need to take it afterwards? And if you’d have to still do a masters to get to PHD?
Sorry to bombard you once again! May I just say how thankful I am and how wonderful your advice has been to ,not just me, but the OP too? Very deserving of a follow :^_^:
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Kiwi789
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#6
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#6
(Original post by Moonbow)
Oh wow! Thank you so much for all the help! I want to work in a museum for research so I most definitely need to be up to PHD level Do you know if you can get a MSci with a Bsc or you’d need to take it afterwards? And if you’d have to still do a masters to get to PHD?
Sorry to bombard you once again! May I just say how thankful I am and how wonderful your advice has been to ,not just me, but the OP too? Very deserving of a follow :^_^:
Well, with the Bsc in Palaeontology at Bristol you can get the opportunity to change it to an Msci in the third year if you wish, given you have the minimum of a 2.1 in your exams at the end of the second year to be eligible. Taking an Msci will however mean that you will not be able to take out the 11k loan if you wanted to do another masters in addition, as the government will consider it as equal to a postgrad course.

For context, I took the MSci in Palaeontology at Bristol, then began my PhD about a year afterwards. Getting a PhD is very competitive, but I don't think they distinguish between whether you take an integrated masters or an MSc, at least from my experience - there didn't seem to be a difference in the number of PhD offer acceptances between the MSc and MSci students. It's more down to your grade (2.1 is a basic cut-off, getting a 1st is optimal), references and experience/skills (which you can gain through both lessons and internships).

If there is anything else I can help with, I'll be happy to
Last edited by Kiwi789; 1 year ago
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