Human Sciences deals with human culture, biology and society within an evolutionary framework. We investigate how people came to be the way they are – physically and culturally – in what is perhaps the broadest undergraduate degree available at Oxford. As a student of Human Sciences at Hertford, you’ll examine and apply the methods and practices of both the natural and social sciences; from genetics, physiology and behaviour, to sociology, demography and anthropology.
The unique feature of our approach is that it is as much about society and culture as it is about biology. Our students are open-minded and have wide interests across several academic areas. Many of them have had little previous science training. Studying Human Sciences will allow you to explore diverse human life and build a wide range of skills which are central to understanding and working with people. Such a broad course is hard work, but if you ask our students you’ll see how rewarding it can be.
Life Sciences at Hertford
At Hertford, students reading Biochemistry, Biology and Human Sciences are part of our Life Sciences ‘subject family.’ While we teach all three degree subjects in the same ways as other colleges, here we have also combined our research and teaching strengths in a range of topics, from molecules, through health and disease, to environmental science. There are academic overlaps between the three courses, and much of your genetics teaching in first year will be the same.
Thanks to our special approach, you’ll have the benefits of belonging to a vibrant community with joint academic and social events. These include our annual ‘Darwin Dinner’ with Hertford-based undergraduates, graduates and tutors. Our emphasis is on providing a supportive and happy learning environment where you can reach your potential in collaboration with one another, irrespective of your background and life experiences.
Teaching and learning
You’ll have a busy schedule of lectures and some practical work alongside college tutorials. Much of your teaching and social activity with students from other colleges will be at the purpose-built Pauling Centre for Human Sciences, a short walk or cycle ride from Hertford. The Institute of Human Sciences administers the degree and organises the lectures, practical courses and exams for students from all colleges.
We will organise about 12 tutorials for you every term, and you’ll usually write an essay in preparation for each. Working in a small group with a tutor and one or two other students, you’ll find that tutorials are a great way to test your ideas, build your arguments and resolve your questions. We’ll help you to develop the cautious, critical, organised and original thinking that tutorial teaching delivers, preparing you for further study or graduate employment.
Most of your tutorials won’t be at Hertford – we only teach the subjects we conduct research in (such as ecology, conservation and genetics), meaning that the tutors teaching you will often be at the forefront of research. We work closely with specialist tutors from many different colleges and subjects within the University, ensuring that your teaching is delivered by experts in their fields.
Our graduates from all three Life Sciences subjects go on to a wide range of careers. These are often in related sciences, including biological and biomedical research, graduate medicine, industry and technology, and conservation.
During your degree you’ll have the opportunity to build great transferable skills. Many of our students frequently choose to apply their skills in new contexts, building careers in law, teaching, accountancy, business and management consultancy. Whatever your interests, a degree in Human Sciences from Hertford will equip you with the skills and confidence to be successful in your chosen career.
One of our former students, Vanessa, has this to say:
“Human Sciences offers one of the most wholesome and diverse educational experiences in Oxford, and offers great grounding to go on into a rage of future job opportunities, as well as being ideal to pursue further academic training. I cannot recommend this course enough, and would strongly encourage anyone who has an open mind and a wide range of academic interests to apply!”
Making an application
If you decide to apply to Hertford, we’ll take all aspects of your application into account when deciding who to shortlist for interviews. As with other colleges, we use the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) to help shortlist candidates for Human Sciences – you can find more information and past papers online.
If you’re shortlisted, we’ll invite you to attend two interviews in Oxford. One will be at Hertford and the other will be at a second college. Some candidates are also interviewed by the Human Sciences Panel, which helps assure consistent entry standards across the University. Your interviews will be around half an hour each and will usually be with two tutors. We’re here to get the best out of you and, in all cases, tutors from all colleges offering Human Sciences come together as a cooperative to ensure that the best candidates are offered places.
We’re looking for people who will thrive in our tutorial learning environment. Your interview will therefore be quite similar to a tutorial. We want to see evidence that you can think on your feet and answer unfamiliar questions, but we don’t expect you to have extensive specialist knowledge about the subject. We aim to ask you interesting, challenging and unexpected questions that no school or college can prepare you for in advance. The best preparation is to read and observe things that interest you around your subject, so go beyond the curriculum and challenge yourself with something new!