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Study Biology in Australia

Australia's Rich Diversity
Author Professor David Patterson University of Sydney
Australia is a wonderful country for biologists to study, Australia's biology is legendary, the great barrier reef is universally recognised as an icon. But Australia is also a land of semi-arid deserts, of rain forests, mangroves and sea-grasses of mountains and hyper-saline lakes.

This richness of habitat has produced an amazing diversity of life: over 400,000 species live in Australia. These are of- ten distinctive and remark- able to overseas students, who will never have seen Kangaroos and eucalypt forests. This unusual biology makes us rethink the rules generated from observations on life in the northern continents. It is this remarkable land, with its biota, and intellectual challenges that is the context in which we find a University system that competes with the best in the world.

Students considering the study of Biology in Australia have over 30 Universities to choose from. Most of the Universities are in the major conurbations (Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney), where the vast majority of the population live, but some - including the highly reputed Universities (Australian National University, or the University of New England) - are based in the relatively small cities of Canberra and  Adelaide

The choice of a University will depend on a variety of factors. In big cities, Universities are set in easy-going multicultural , environments, as home-grown students usually attend a University in the area they grew up in. In the bigger cities, Universities have linkages with other institutions for example; the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum co-operate in their education of biologists. The climatic range is great - from European cool of Melbourne, to hot and humid in the Northern Territory University (Darwin) or James Cook University (North Queensland).

How well each University meets the needs of its student body can be established by consulting an annual report, the 'Course Experience Questionnaire'. This is published by The Graduate Careers Council of Australia (PO Box 28, Parkville, Victoria, 3052; Fax (61) 3 9347 7298), and is a synthesis of the results of questionnaires returned by about 100,000 students leaving the system. Some of the smaller Universities may rate highly, but it is usually the larger city Universities which provide, a continuing line of education into honours and research-based higher degrees, as well as offering a greater choice of subjects. A little bit of web-surfing will help to reveal the range of subjects on offer. Schools such as our own regard the breadth of interests among staff as a great strength, because we can contribute to specialist education in subjects such as Molecular Biology and Genetics, or Environmental Sciences, or we can offer students a wide range of subject areas from which to build the educational foundations to meet their own vision.

Biology in Australia is one of the most buoyant disciplines. The Australian Re- search Council (the major research-funding body of Australia) commits more funds to research in the Biological Sciences than to all of the 'hard sciences' combined. Schools and Departments of Biology - such as that at Sydney - with a strong commitment to research are consequently infused with a large population of staff with an enthusiastic commitment to their research. Staff and students are motivated by the power of molecular genetics, or by the increasingly evident need to understand the pressures on natural communities and natural environments - so that we can develop sustainable management strategies.

Then of course, there are the field stations on the Great Barrier Reef, such as our own on One Tree Island.


Professor David Patterson

University of Sydney

School of Biological Sciences


University of Sydney
Tel +61 (02) 9351 2848

Fax +61 (02) 9351 2558