Every field in life sciences has been transformed by the use of computers. Bioinformatics is a rapidly developing field within life sciences focused on developing methods and software tools to understand biological data. However, the original definition of bioinformatics was “the study of information processes in biotic systems” (Hogeweg and Hesper, 1970). The ability to develop and apply computational methods to large and complex datasets will be a key driver of biological innovation in the next decades.
MSc Bioinformatics at Nottingham is aimed at students with a background in biological sciences who wish to develop skills in bioinformatics and data skills for industry, future research careers and more. The course provides no accreditation for medical informatics, although the skills learned will be useful. The course is not aimed at students with a background in computer science.
The study programme incorporates the areas of:
- Computational biology, programming and practice
- Evolutionary genomics and bioinformatics
- Cutting-edge research technologies and ideas in molecular biology
- Advanced experimental design and analysis
You are expected to have a 2:1 undergraduate degree in biological or related sciences. Applicants with degrees in other disciplines may be accepted at the discretion of the Course Director.
Applicants are expected to provide their own laptop computer as a terminal. Server access will be provided. Applicants who might be unable to meet this requirement should discuss this with the Course Director.
This course provides the skills and knowledge for students with an undergraduate degree in biology to move into bioinformatics. It is also intended as a potential stepping-stone into further postgraduate research in bioinformatics, such as a PhD.
You will learn:
- a basic understanding of programming methods and best practice – our model language will be Python, but students will acquire the skills to learn any language
- methods to analyse the biological content and scientific value of “big data” sets produced from multiple technologies
- the best ways to extract biological meaning from disparate data
- technical knowledge of sequence analysis including high throughput short and long read sequencing
- methods and application of assembly and mapping
- evolutionary genomics and phylogeny
- bioinformatics pipeplines and automation methods to simplify day-to-day analyses
- Nottingham is world leading in evolutionary genomics and recent techniques including long read sequencing using Nanopore technologies
- You will receive tuition in all aspects of bioinformatics as well as exposure to the latest technologies and methods
The taught component of MSc Bioinformatics consists of five modules worth 60 credits combined.
Computational Biology, Programming and Practice
In this module, students will learn the fundamentals of everything from for loops to functions and classes. As this MSc is practical in nature, you will be taught in the framework of a commonly used language, Python. However, the teaching will be focussed on developing tools and techniques to allow you to solve problems and continue your learning. Any language you learn now will be out of date within a few years at best. So, we will equip you with the tools to learn new techniques and methods as they appear.
This module is non compensatable and will be assessed through weekly progress checks and assignments.
Evolutionary Genomics and Bioinformatics
In this module students will learn the basis of evolutionary genomics and how to apply modern bioinformatics tools and methods to analysis of genome wide data sets. The course will cover phylogeny and alignment through to assembly and comparison of genomes. Students will be assessed through a mix of exams and practical assessments.
Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
This course will focus on exciting methods in bioinformatics and computational biology. In contrast to programming, this course will allow students to learn from a broad palette of methods and approaches to solve common problems in bioinformatics. It will cover everything from file management(!) to illustrative methods for machine learning and more. Assessment will include course work and practical examples.
Cutting Edge Research Technologies and Ideas in Molecular Biology
This module focusses on laboratory methods and ideas which are currently emerging in molecular biology. Students will be exposed to the mechanisms and methods that generate the data they go on to analyse. Assessment will include presentations and ongoing assessment.
Advanced Experimental Design and Analysis
This module explores the statistical basis behind experimental design and analysis. Students will be taught how to evaluate experimental design and analysis from the perspective of those analysing the subsequent data, a key step often overlooked. Assessment will be by examination.
Project work – Group/Individual
Students will complete two pieces of project work during the course. The first, the group project, is worth 60 credits and will consist of instructor lead group analysis of exemplar problems in bioinformatics analysis. Students will work on these projects in small groups with individuals taking responsibility for different components of the analysis and presentation. This allows students to learn from one another, to experience the working environment often found within real projects and develop and fine tune their skills. The project will be assessed with a group presentation and write up.
After the group project, students will complete an individual project. These projects will be embedded within a working laboratory and will be co-supervised by the host laboratory as well as a bioinformatics domain specialist. However, although supervision will be available, the student will be expected to plan and deliver the work themselves. The project will be assessed by presentations and a project write up including reproducible data analysis where possible.
The above is a sample of the typical modules that we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. This course page may be updated over the duration of the course, as modules may change due to developments in the curriculum or in the research interests of staff.
Teaching methods and assessment
Teaching methods and module delivery are determined by content but it is anticipated that at least half of your time will be spent completing practical tasks in computer labs or active research projects. The teaching week is split into teaching days and days where you are free to complete assignments.
Most of the formal teaching will occur during the autumn semester with some in the spring. Students will focus on a group bioinformatics project during semester two with a final project running into the summer. Students are required to complete six compulsory modules (20 credits each), a group project (60 credits) and an individual final project (60 credits) on a topic relevant to bioinformatics.
The pass mark for the MSc is 50%. Students failing to achieve that grade may be given the opportunity to obtain a Diploma in recognition of work already completed if they achieve a grade between 40-49%. Diploma students do not undertake a final 60 credit project.
We have designed this intensive taught course to deliver a wide range of bioinformatics skills grounded in a solid understanding and appreciation of the underlying biology sciences. Graduates of the course are equipped with the skills to pursue employment or further study in a variety of areas.
We anticipate that many of our graduates will go on to undertake PhDs applying their bioinformatics skills to a wide range of problems and questions. In addition, we anticipate students will go on to a wide range of bioinformatics careers in industries such as healthcare and basic science research.
Average starting salary and career progression
94.9% of postgraduates from the School of Life Sciences secured work or further study within six months of graduation. £21,400 was the average starting salary, with the highest being £40,000.*
* Known destinations of full-time home postgraduates who were available for employment, 2016/17. Salaries are calculated based on the median of those in full-time paid employment within the UK.
Careers support and advice
We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students whatever your course, mode of study or future career plans.
You can access our Careers and Employability Service during your studies and after you graduate. Expert staff will help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.
More than 1,500 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.
One key focus of this course is the use of open access software and tools. As such, you do not need to consider costly software subscriptions. However, students are expected to provide their own laptops which will enable them to connect to central servers for data analysis. Recommended minimum specifications are available from the course director.
You should be able to access most of the books you'll need through our libraries, though you may wish to purchase your own copies or more specific titles as appropriate. The course relies heavily on on-line course materials which are free to access for the student.
Scholarships and bursaries
Government loans for masters courses
Masters student loans of up to £10,906 are available for taught and research masters courses. Applicants must ordinarily live in the UK or EU.
International and EU students
Masters scholarships are available for international and EU students from a wide variety of countries and areas of study. You must already have an offer to study at Nottingham to apply. Please note closing dates to ensure you apply for your course with enough time.
We provide guidance on funding your degree, living costs and working while you study. You can also access specific funding opportunities, entry requirements and other resources for students from specific countries.