DPhil in Astrophysics | University of Oxford
VLT
Using a laser guide star at the Very Large Telescope in Chile, Oxford astrophysicists measure the extreme environment near the supermassive black hole in a powerful active galactic nucleus
(Image Credit: Dr Garret Cotter, Department of Physics)

DPhil in Astrophysics

About the course

The DPhil in Astrophysics is a research-based degree offered by the astrophysics and theoretical physics sub-departments, available to students interested in carrying out research in observational or theoretical astrophysics, or in instrumentation. The course has a strong track record of preparing students for careers in academia and beyond.

The DPhil is a research-based course that normally takes three to four years of study. You will be expected to carry out your own research in areas drawn from the sub-department's exceptionally broad range of research, exploiting access to high performance computing and to the full range of space and ground-based facilities where necessary.

You should closely consult the the sub-department's areas of research interest and the list of available projects; particular strengths are the study of cosmology, galaxies and black holes, instrumentation and large telescope projects and stars and exoplanets.

You will be a member of a lively research environment, and the department places great emphasis on matching student and supervisor so that work on the main research project can begin as soon as possible. A taught graduate course in the first year runs in parallel to this work, providing a comprehensive overview of both the state of modern astrophysics and the necessary skills required to make progress in 21st century research. Students are also expected to attend a suitable short course from the MPhys or other courses. Neither part of this graduate program is examined. 

The lively programme of seminars, colloquia and discussion meetings held in the department ensures that you remain in touch with the cutting edge of the subject and provide an opportunity to interact with staff and with the large number of visitors who pass through the department each year. They also provide plenty of opportunity for you to gain experience in presenting their science, a critical part of a modern researcher's life.

Graduate destinations

Over the past decade, about three quarters of graduates of the DPhil in Astrophysics have gone on to postdoctoral positions in astrophysics, and most stay the field long-term. Other graduates typically take up positions in industry, teach, or work in the financial sector. 

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in physics, astrophysics or astronomy, mathematics, engineering or related fields. 

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the typical minimum GPA sought is 3.3 out of 4.0. However, selection of candidates also depends on other factors in your application. Entry is competitive and most successful applicants have achieved higher GPA scores. 

The equivalent of a UK four-year integrated MPhys or MSci degree is also typically required.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

Directly-related professional expertise may be a substitute; for example, significant instrument-building experience.

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Interviews are normally held during February and March, following a shortlisting procedure which takes into account your academic qualifications (and professional track record if applicable), research statement and references. You will receive either one or two interviews with two members of staff, either in person, via Skype or on the phone. 

Publications

If you have publications, make sure they are highlighted in your research statement; the committee will consider your track record in light of your professional experience. However, many candidates with no peer-reviewed publications receive offers each year. 

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the standard level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Department of Physics to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Physics and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff
  • Under exceptional circumstances, a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Physics.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Resources

As a DPhil student, you will be provided with appropriate computing support.  You will be provided with a personal desktop computer in your office in the department, and partial funding is available for you to help buy a personal laptop computer. Additionally, if you are working on a computationally intensive project, you will have appropriate access to the departmental cluster computers and national facilities.

You will be provided with personal office space in the Denys Wilkinson Building or its theoretical annexe alongside astrophysics staff, with whom you will share a variety of meeting rooms and an on-site canteen which doubles as a social space for the group.

You will be expected (and usually supported) to travel during your DPhil, both to meet and work with collaborators and to carry out fieldwork where appropriate, through trips to observatories and on-site experimental work.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

For students applying to programmes within the MPLS Division at Oxford, Research Council and other funding opportunities available, subject to eligibility. These opportunities are included in the Fees, funding and scholarship search.

You may also be interested in departmental funding opportunities. Further details can be found on the department's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
c. £4,250£3,021c. £7,271
Overseas£19,335£3,021£22,356

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this programme that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, please note that, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You are welcome to contact either the admissions staff or academic staff who are offering research projects to discuss your application. However, such contact is not required and does not form part of the assessment of applicants.

If you are in any doubt about which physics sub-department to apply for then you are advised to contact the sub-departments concerned before applying.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
Up to two pages

Your statement should focus on your interest, experience and commitment to scientific work and to astrophysics more specifically, rather than more general interests. You are not expected to invent your own research plan.

This will be assessed for:

  • your interest in and experience of the subject, particularly any research experience you may have acquired in astrophysics or other fields
  • evidence of understanding of the area of study including preliminary knowledge of state-of-the-art research and for candidates with more experience, details of any relevant scientific publications.

The sub-department will look for evidence of scientific reasoning and an ability to cope with new ideas and concepts, as well as an ability to work independently. The sub-department is also interested in which areas of astrophysics attract you (if known at this stage), and in understanding the reasons behind that choice.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, all of which must be academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Your references must all be academic.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and your ability to work in a group.

Applying to other sub-departments

If your application is related to more than one of the physics sub-departments, there is no need to complete a separate application for each. Instead, please select one DPhil course in your application and then add any additional Physics DPhil courses for which you would like to be considered by giving the academic’s name (where relevant) and sub-department either in the 'Proposed supervisor name' field or, if there is insufficient space, clearly at the top of your research proposal. Your application will then be assessed for each of the Physics DPhil courses you have indicated.

If you wish to apply to a different department or to a particular CDT, you will need to submit a separate application for this. Information on application fee waivers for CDT applications is available in the Application Guide.