Biomedical science has been getting a bad rep recently (hopefully not entirely because of this site) but how does it compare to its parent science, Biology?
In this article, we will discuss which topics each degree explores, the job prospects after undergraduate and postgraduate studies, the difficulty level of each, and the overall superiority of each degree when compared to one another.
What does a Biology degree entail?
Biology is the study of all living things. It is the science of life itself and all the structures and functions associated with living organisms. There are five unifying theories of biology:
- Cell Theory
- Energy flow between organisms,
- DNA and the genetic code
- Homeostasis and the balance between organisms and their surroundings
- Evolution and the progression of biological diversity
All these topics are explored in great detail over the course of a biology degree and are often split up into subfields.
Subfields of Biology
Course content for biology students includes the study of mandatory fields of biology.
- Biochemistry is the study of the chemical processes that go on within living tissue. An example of this is the post-translational modifications that occur in histones.
- Genetics is the study of genes and genetic variation which you will likely be introduced to in your first year. Genetic topics range from DNA replication to the creation of chimeric organisms as a result of genetic engineering.
- Molecular Biology is the study of nucleic acids and proteins. These structures carry out essential tasks of the cell, and will certainly be a major topic for first-year students.
- Cell and tissue biology is exactly what it sounds like. The study of cells and tissues. A microscope will be your best friend during the cell and tissue lab sessions. A useful tip is to practice your Koehler illumination ahead of these sessions!
- Ecology of animals, plants and microbes is the study of organisms and their surroundings. This is unlike human biology because plant biology and their interactions with other organisms and environmental factors are also explored.
What does a Biomedical Science degree entail?
I have already written a full blog about the contents of a biomedical science degree but for the sake of this blog, I will summarise the course outline.
In the first year, the lectures are mostly spent bringing everyone up to speed on the usual biology content such as microbiology, human physiology, cell biology and basic biochemistry.
All these modules will be introductory.
The modules start to become a bit more advanced and in-depth. You will start to build upon your year 1 knowledge which will most likely include undertaking more complex lab practical’s in preparation for your final year project in year 3.
Your exam content will also shift from multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in year 1 to 50% MCQ and 50% essays in year 2.
Most students will find this year the hardest as it involves doing and learning the most amount of content.
In the third and final year, you will be starting your final year project along with some elective modules. This will give you specialised knowledge in biochemistry, cancer biology, haematology and microbiology.
Elective modules are modules you get to choose instead of doing the same thing as everyone else.
This year contributes the most towards your final grade and is usually the shortest since you are mostly focusing on one speciality.
Even though it is meant to be the hardest, most students find the independent work and shorter-term time to be a nice change from the hectic previous years.
Main differences between the two?
The main difference between a straight biology degree and a biomedical science degree is, with biology, the course content is mostly geared towards understanding the building blocks of life.
In biomedical science, on the other hand, the course content is geared towards giving you the necessary skills and tools to carry out research into the inner workings of living organisms.
Biomedical science is by far more laboratory-based, but a typical graduate from both courses are expected to learn the same modules such as biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology.
Some modules are however unique to a biology degree. This includes biodiversity, paleobiology, conservation and ecology.
These subjects aren’t present in biomedical science degrees but can be found in many biology BSc programs.
Certain modules are also unique to biomedical science degrees, but not as much. These include modules like pharmacology, vascular Biology and Haematology.
These are less likely to be found on a typical Biology degree.
What can you do with a biology degree?
Biology is an all-round great degree for keeping the door open to numerous job roles. A biologist can find work doing marine biology research, microbiology, ecology and conservation science.
They may even choose to become a teacher right away and start earning. Teacher training often attracts lots of funding!
The only issue is that these job roles require you to undergo further training, and possibly do many more degrees.
Far too many students believe they can get good job roles only with a Biology BSc but this simply isn’t the case.
Becoming a researcher takes years of ongoing education that must lead to a PhD. Even becoming a teacher requires you to undergo teacher training and PGCE certification.
Nothing comes easy, but choosing to study biology essentially sets you on the right path to all these jobs roles. It’s one less degree you have to study.
Think about it this way, it would be much harder for people without biology degrees to become marine biologist, researchers and conservation scientists.
What can you do with a Biomedical science degree?
Graduates of a biomedical science degree can expect to enter research and laboratory-based job roles. I have covered a full list here.
Biomedical science graduates can go int jobs like microbiologist, biomedical scientist, chemist, physician associate, and biomedical researcher.
A BSc graduate, however, can’t simply walk into these roles. The same thing applies where you must undergo further education in the form of a master’s degree or a PhD in order to get the most out of any job role.
There is clearly some crossover between the two degrees where a biomedical scientist and a biologist may perform the same roles.
Both university graduates can expect to go into roles like teaching, academic research, and clinical science in the fields of haematology, genomics, and biochemistry.
If you lean more towards the research side, Biomedical science might be a better fit, but if you love pure biology and study of life, Biology may be your ideal subject.
There are however many crossovers so you won’t be missing out too much by picking either.
Which is harder, biology or biomedical science?
It’s hard to say which degree is more difficult (“no pun intended!”). Different people will have different definitions of “difficult”.
Each and every university has a different course structure and curriculum, but on average, students seem to think Biology is the harder subject.
It is broader and therefore more encompassing of different topics, each requiring a different skill set to master. With Biomed on the other hand, you have one goal of studying the human body in a healthy and diseased state.
There is no need to worry about plant biology, ecology, conservation biology, or anything else.
This makes biomedical science a comparably easier degree to do since there will be much overlap in topics.
For example, when you learn about post-translational modifications in your genetics module, you will often revisit the content during your biochemistry lectures.
Which degree is better?
In summary, there are clear similarities and parallels between the 2 courses. If one wants to explore the science of life itself, and the physiology that governs all living things, not just humans, then biology is the way to go.
However, if one wants to explore the workings of the human body, specifically its functions in health and disease, then Biomedical Science might be a better alternative.
If you are still unsure about which courses to study, consider checking out my short course where I walk you through several life sciences courses and which ones to study in the future!