Scientists who can tackle society’s most complicated problems by using different science disciplines are in huge demand. That’s exactly what a natural science degree teaches students to do.
In this guide, we’ll answer:
- What is a natural science degree?
- What would I study?
- What’s the course structure? How will I be assessed?
- What can I do with a natural science degree? Where does it lead?
What is a natural science degree?
Natural science focusses on developing an understanding of the natural world. It explores the natural work from several perspectives, including chemical, physical, mathematical, environmental and geological.
Therefore, students on most university natural science degree courses study multiple science subjects over the course of three
or four years. Because students build knowledge of several subjects simultaneously, they are able to see how different scientific tools and ideas link together. So it’s a course that gives students a good appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of science (there’s more on why that’s important later).
There are different degree structures and formats depending on the uni. The University of Leeds, for instance offers two options: a four-year Masters degree and the three-year BSc. You can add a placement year to either, allowing you to gain industrial experience and skills at a company.
What would I study?
The first year of a natural science degree will involve studying the two or more science subjects from a selection of modules. They might include:
- Environmental science
- Food science and nutrition
- Earth sciences
- Life sciences
The idea is that you gain a broad understanding in your first year. Then you’ll specialise in two or more of these subjects from your second year onwards. This approach reflects the increasing blurring of boundaries between scientific subjects.
Most courses are very flexible, allowing you to build the kind of course that’s best suited to your interests and career goals. Some universities even give you the chance to take different modules in your third year, for example a business or language course.
At the University of Nottingham, third-year students work in a team to solve a scientific problem that specifically requires thinking about where the different science subjects overlap.
The emphasis on taking this interdisciplinary approach to solving problems is crucial, because many of the biggest challenges facing society today – for instance health, climate change, sustainability and security – require scientists from different backgrounds working together.
What’s the course structure? How will I be assessed?
Each university will of course have a different approach to this. It’s crucial to carefully research what each course offers you, and consider how you learn best. We’ve got more on that in our guide to picking a university.
Broadly speaking, you can expect a mix of lectures, seminars, workshops, lab sessions and field trips. How your work is
assessed will usually depend on the module, usually including written exams, coursework, presentations, lab reports, oral exams and research projects.
What skills will I gain?
The overall goal of natural science degree courses is to make you a brilliant problem solver. That’s just one of many transferable skills you’ll develop on the course. Here are a few more…
- Research skills and critical thinking abilities. Able to evaluate and interpret information.
- Excellent ability to communicate verbally and in writing.
- Presentation skills.
- Methodical approach to working.
- Able to make sound decisions.
- Good at working on your own initiative.
- Scientific investigative skills and lab work.
- Time management.
What can I do with a natural science degree? Where does it lead?
The degree prepares students to work in interdisciplinary areas of modern science, including nanotechnology, systems biology, sustainable energy technology, environmental science or chemical physics.
But because of their skills and knowledge, an even wider range of careers are open to graduates of natural science. Job areas include research, lab technician, teacher, conservation officer, and forensics. Journalism, finance, Civil Service, police and IT jobs are also open to natural science grads.
Graduates from Durham University’s natural science course went on to become landscape architect, environmental engineer, accountant, science teacher, commercial food trainee and recruitment officer.
Some graduates also go on to do further study.
In weighing up with a natural science degree is right for you, don’t forget that there are other paths to becoming a scientist. There are several science apprenticeships that involve learning on the job, while working towards a qualification and getting paid a salary.