Programme Description

The Life Sciences endeavour to unravel the mysteries of living things at all scales from the mechanics of protein ‘machines’, to the development of organisms from a single cell, to the splendour and complexity of entire ecosystems. The questions in the life sciences are as varied and intriguing as life itself. How does a single cell ‘know’ how to develop into a complex organism? How is genetic information interpreted? Can we predict the effects of gene mutations on the properties of an organism? Or the effect of climate change on ecosystems? How do organisms protect themselves from viruses, and how do viruses circumvent those protections, continuing on and on in an evolutionary arms race? How might life have arisen on Earth? What drives the formation and stability of ecological communities? What can human genetic variation tell us about the history of human evolution and migration?

Part of the appeal of biology is that the methodologies and technologies we use are as varied as the questions themselves. The methods draw on chemistry, physics and computational sciences, as well as some that are uniquely biological, like genetics.

The Life Sciences major is ideal for the student with a fascination for where we come from, why we are the way we are, and how life works — as well as those motivated by the relevance of biology to issues of human health, the environment and sustainability. The major provides excellent preparation for careers in biological research, biotechnology, law, conservation, public policy, and science writing, as well as the health professions, including medicine, veterinary medicine and public health.


  • Students must take a minimum of 9 courses within the major [≥44 module credits (MC)] and complete a Capstone project (10 MC).
  • Of the nine courses required for the major, one course – Research Seminar – is required of all students.
  • Of the remaining eight courses, one must either be Biology Lab or a comparable field research course. The latter has not yet been offered as of this writing.
  • Of the remaining seven courses, at least five (25 MC) must be selected from amongst a suite of courses designated by the Head of Studies as Foundations for Advanced Biology (FAB) courses. The FAB courses ensure that students get the broad education in biology that will be expected of them, while allowing more flexibility than traditional required courses.
  • Of the remaining two courses (10 MC) at least one (≥ 4MC) must involve mathematics, statistics or computing.
  • The final course can be anything in the sciences, or other courses relevant to a Life Science major, as approved by the Head of Studies.

The remaining two courses for the major can be chosen from among the FAB courses or from additional optional courses offered in the Life Sciences at Yale-NUS or at NUS. More generally, courses in any of the natural sciences, mathematics, or computing will be accepted for this requirement. Courses related to the history or philosophy of science, or to the economics and policy implications of scientific discoveries will also typically be acceptable, but are subject to approval on a case-by-case basis by the Head of Studies and cannot be used to satisfy the requirements for a minor in another discipline. Courses taken during a study abroad programme can be used towards the major with the approval by the Head of Studies.


Biology Lab: This course or a comparable field research course (not yet offered) will introduce students to modern methods in life science research. Students will learn how to conduct original research, and why and how to apply techniques in a research lab setting. The course features semester long projects culminating in a research report modelled on the scientific literature. Students are strongly encouraged to take the Biology Lab course or comparable field course in their second year, and certainly by the end of their third year.

Research Seminar: It is suggested that students take this course in their third year. Typically the course will only be offered in second semester, so students expecting to study abroad may wish to take the course in their second year.  The purpose of the course is to prepare students to begin independent research projects for the capstone. The course will consist of tutorial style meetings to discuss assigned primary literature, as well as presentations by students on their research to date, whether conducted in the lab or based on literature readings. The Research Seminar will be capped by a research proposal for the capstone.

Foundations for Advanced Biology Courses

Students are required to take at least five courses (25 MC) from the Foundations for Advanced Biology category (FAB).  FAB courses are designed to allow students considerable flexibility to study aspects of biology that are of greatest interest, while also ensuring breadth of knowledge in biology. As of the beginning of 2017, FAB courses that have been offered include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Comparative Anatomy and Physiology (Human Biology)
  • Ecology and Ecosystems
  • Genetics
  • Evolution
  • Neurobiology and Behaviour

Additional courses likely to be offered soon and which will be designated FAB courses include Cell Biology, Developmental Biology and Molecular Biology.

NUS Courses and Study Abroad

In general, courses comparable to those offered at Yale-NUS will be accepted in lieu of Yale-NUS courses. However, approval by the Head of Studies must be obtained in advance in all cases.


The capstone project will typically be a guided, independent project in laboratory or field research. Students will begin preparing for the project no later than the third year with the Life Sciences Research Seminar, culminating in a proposal for their fourth year project. Students are encouraged to engage in research earlier in their college years, but the capstone project is required as an intensive research experience that will typically involve the development of hypotheses, design of experiments, collection and interpretation of data, and oral and written presentations of research findings. Proposals for alternative types of capstone projects that do not involve original research, such as policy papers, or the production of educational videos, will be considered with the approval of the Head of Studies.


Students must take five courses in the Life Sciences. These courses must be selected from the set of Foundations of Advanced Biology courses. There are no other requirements.