DPhil in Particle Physics | University of Oxford
ATLAS detector
The central part of the ATLAS detector at the LHC Geneva, built in Oxford
(Image Credit: Department of Physics)

DPhil in Particle Physics

About the course

The work of this world-class sub-department is in experimental particle physics, particle astrophysics and accelerator physics. Particle physics is the study of basic constituents of matter and their interactions. This is accomplished either directly with accelerators that create the particles under study or by observing high-energy particles from outer space.

The sub-department is one of the largest in the UK and is well equipped to carry out research in a wide range of topics, from the study of new particles produced at high energy accelerators to neutrinos, dark matter and dark energy in the Universe. The sub-department’s experiments are carried out at facilities around the world, in Switzerland, Japan, the USA and Canada.

You will spend half the first year on a lecture course in addition to starting your research and, if appropriate, spend your second year on-site at your experiment. Laboratories here in Oxford and experiments at overseas facilities provide access to a high-tech environment and excellent research training, directly applicable to a broad range of fields.

The world's biggest accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, is running and in 2012 the Higgs boson, a particle thought to give mass to all elementary particles, was discovered. The understanding of its properties is one of the main aims of the ATLAS experiment. The Oxford group is also focused on the search of new particles predicted in Supersymmetry and other beyond the Standard Model theories. Elucidation of CP violation, one of the mysteries of particle physics, is the aim of the sub-department’s other LHC experiment, LHCb. Both experiments will require you to obtain and analyse data from the highest-energy machine in the world.

The sub-department is also involved in the study of neutrino oscillations and neutrino properties at the T2K experiment in Japan, MicroBooNe in the USA, and at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO+) in Canada.

The sub-department has been involved in direct searches for dark matter for many years and studentships are now available associated to the LUX/Zeplin project. Recently it has begun a programme in collaboration with the sub-department of astrophysics to elucidate the nature of dark energy with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

The future of particle physics relies on the development of new instruments for detecting particles and novel ideas in accelerator physics. The sub-department is heavily involved in the development of these areas. It has outstanding facilities to build the new silicon detectors needed for the luminosity upgrade of the LHC and other applications. Furthermore, through the John Adams Institute, you will be involved in a range of projects on accelerators which would be used in high energy physics, nuclear physics, as X-ray sources, and in medical applications.

Graduate destinations

The particle physics doctoral programme at Oxford is ideally suited to students who would like to pursue a career in research, either in academia or industry all over the world.

Students have taken on a wide variety of jobs in other fields, including investment banking, business analysis, and consulting. Physics as a discipline is always in high demand.

Related courses

Multiple applications

In applying for this programme, you may submit further applications for up to two of the following associated programmes without paying an additional application fee:

For instructions, see Applying for more than one course in the Application Guide.

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. This would normally be an undergraduate masters' degree, known as an MPhys in the UK and taken over four years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or over five years in Scotland, though international equivalents are also considered.

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 and most successful applicants have achieved higher GPA scores. 

Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

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).

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.  

You will be asked questions which probe your current knowledge of particle physics. In particular you will be asked to talk about any projects you have done as part of your undergraduate degree programme or vacation placements.

Publications

Publications are not required.

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 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.

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Resources

You will be allocated your own desk in a shared office or laboratory. As a DPhil student, you will be provided with appropriate computing support to conduct your research. You will be given accounts on central Linux and Windows servers immediately and, once you arrive at Oxford, you will be able to select the machine and operating system which works the best in your research group. Additionally, if you are working on a computationally intensive project, you will have appropriate access to the departmental cluster computers and national facilities.

Depending on the project, you will often be able to spend significant amounts of time away at the experimental site for your research. A similar level of provision will be available at these sites.

You will be a member of a college which provide social facilities.

As a member of the University you will have access to the Radcliffe Science Library as well as to your college libraries. 

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 should contact the departmental representative at the details provided on this page with any queries rather than individual academics. It is not necessary to contact a prospective supervisor prior to 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.

Research proposal:
At least one paragraph, up to one page

You do not need to provide a detailed research proposal; you should only give a brief indication of the area in which you wish to carry out research. This may be quite specific, but need not be if you have not yet decided on your preferred topic or area.

The proposal should be written in English and any bibliography should be included in the overall page count.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • the coherence of the proposal
  • the originality of the project
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

Your proposal should focus on your research rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally 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.

Three academic references are usually required. However, if you have been out of education and in employment for a few years, you may arrange one professional and two academic references.

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.