Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module BIOL40040: Principles and Research Practice in the Biological Sciences (PhD)

Department: Biosciences

BIOL40040: Principles and Research Practice in the Biological Sciences (PhD)

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 40 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap


  • Programme is tied to those registered for a PhD in Biological Sciences


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To provide students with skills appropriate for conducting high quality research in the biosciences


  • Research Methods and Practice:-
  • Generating and testing hypotheses, critical thinking, data recording and maintaining a laboratory notebook
  • Experimental design and data analysis, incorporating an introduction to statistical approaches and methods
  • Literature searching and scientific writing skills for reports, thesis and scientific papers
  • Grant applications, funding and commercial exploitation of research results
  • Ethics, professional standards and regulatory frameworks
  • Generic faculty training courses (several sessions will be essential, others recommended, including those identified by the Training Needs Analysis e.g. poster and oral presentations, demonstrating)
  • Safety training in the biological sciences, as appropriate:-
  • General safety including chemicals, biological materials and waste management
  • Handling, storage and safe disposal of microorganisms, genetically modified organisms, equipment (e.g. centrifuges, autoclaves etc)
  • Risk assessment and COSHH
  • Radioisotope usage.
  • Field work
  • Specialist techniques in biological sciences, selecting from:-
  • Introduction to molecular biology, cloning and protein expression systems
  • Genomics and sequencing technologies
  • Protein crystallography
  • Systems biology and bioinformatics
  • Protein preparation and proteomics (automated protein sampling and digestion, 2D-DIGE fluorescent labelling)
  • Mass spectrometry and protein sequencing technologies (e.g. MALDI-TOF, electrospray, SELDI, Q-Star ms-ms)
  • Light microscopy (including LSCM, SDCM and TIRF)
  • Electron microscopy (sample preparation and staining, TEM, SEM and cryo-EM)
  • Flow cytometry
  • Quantitative PCR
  • Statistical methods for ecology
  • Modelling/programming in R, Excel / Visual Basic / C
  • Use of GISs (e.g. with Arc or similar)
  • Use of MARK, DISTANCE software

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Develop an advanced understanding of research methods in the biological sciences, including statistics and ethical concerns
  • Analyse the documentation and practical approaches necessary to perform research safely in the biological sciences
  • Evaluate specialist techniques used in biological science research
  • Data analysis and literature review preparation at a level appropriate for scientific publication
  • Preparation and presentation of research findings at a level appropriate for delivery at a scientific meeting
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Completion of risk assessments
  • Use of databases for searching bioscience literature and mining genomic information
  • Experience of techniques used in bioscience research (SDS-PAGE, microarrays, RT-PCR, mass spectrometry, light and electron microscopy; statistical analysis and modelling)
Key Skills:
  • Information gathering
  • Critical appraisal of literature
  • Framing a research hypothesis
  • Science communication skills

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will primarily be by lectures, seminars and workshops. These will provide the means to give concise, focussed presentation of the relevant subject matter of the module. They will be supported by reference to suitable text books and where appropriate by the distribution of written material or through links on DUO (on-line learning resource).
  • Safe handling of microorganisms will be taught in practical laboratory sessions.
  • Online multiple choice tests will be given to assess understanding of safety and statistical protocols and principles.
  • Student performance will be assessed summatively through a 6-month report for all postgraduate students and a 12-month report..
  • Formative assessment will be by online multiple choice exercises. These will provide the means for the student to demonstrate their acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem solving skills. The tests will also provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress, and for the monitoring of progress throughout the duration of the module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 6 2 per week 1 hour 6
Generic training 8 2 per week 1 hour 8
Safety practical classes 2 2 per week 6 hours 12
Techniques seminars & workshops 8 2 per week 4 hours 32
Self study 342
Total 400

Summative Assessment

Component: Attendance only Component Weighting: %
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity

Formative Assessment:

This module is assessed by attendance only. None attendance will result in a formative piece of work.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University