MSc in Systems Biology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Warwick Systems Biology Centre


Over the last 4 years the Warwick Systems Biology Doctoral Training Centre has developed a one-year MSc in Systems Biology that involves 6 months of intensive taught material spanning experimental and theoretical aspects of Systems Biology followed by two 12-week research projects with different supervisors, one in an experimental laboratory based project and the other requiring theoretical methods. The MSc generates highly motivated students who have mastered the interdisciplinary skills required for Systems Biology research and who have acquired the ability to successfully communicate with colleagues from other disciplines. To date, most of the MSc students have been funded under EPSRC and BBSRC DTC and DTA initiatives and most have followed the MSC training with a 3 year PhD at Warwick. So far, 32 students have graduated with an MSc in Systems Biology and this year we are training another 16, which include one self funded student, 4 students funded under the BBSRC SABR initiative and one student funded under an MRC DTG initiative. The incoming students usually have undergraduate degrees in one discipline, either theoretical (mathematics, physics, engineering, computer science) or biological (biology, biochemistry, medicine, plant science, bioinformatics). During the MSc they acquire research-level expertise in the complementary skills required to take systems approaches to solving challenging biological problems. The training comprises biology, mathematics, bioinformatics, computer science, modelling and programming. Each student takes 8 modules, chosen from 11 available: the choice of these is based on the student's background (see Course Specification document). In particular, to ensure that students receive advanced training in their original discipline as well as introductory training in the new discipline, students are allocated to either a biology or theoretical stream for a selection of the modules. For training in the theoretical methods of Systems Biology the biologist stream takes Statistics for Data Analysis and Quantitative Biology while those with theoretical backgrounds take advanced courses in Statistical Bioinformatics and Advanced Modelling and Statistics. For training in Biology, the theoretical stream follows an intensive introductory biology course to familiarise them with biological terms and processes. This course provides an introduction to cells, molecules, molecular techniques etc and includes some basic laboratory practicals. The biology stream takes a more advanced biology course, which has a strong emphasis on critical reading to understand published literature and learning to communicate with non-biologists. There is a degree of flexibility within the module choices. For example if students have a strong background in Bioinformatics but limited Mathematics skills they would be encouraged to take the Statistical Bioinformatics module instead of the introductory statistics course. The majority of modules constitute a core that is taken by all the students. These provide training in a wide range of topics necessary for Systems Biology research such as programming (R and MatLab); microarray analysis (including a practical in which the students do their own experiments followed by analysis of the data using advanced methods); microscopy methods and image analysis; mathematical methods for analysis and modeling of biological data. A key module is Biological Systems in which there are 'double bill' presentations from the experimentalist and theoretician involved with different Systems Biology projects at Warwick. This gives the students an insight into the Systems Biology research in the University and shows the value of the Systems Biology approach to analyse a biological problem. This module culminates with the students writing a grant application for a Systems Biology topic of their choice.


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