DPhil in Zoology | University of Oxford
Blowfly
Visualisations of a blowfly thorax created using in-vivo time-resolved microtomography, highlighting several tiny steering muscles (green-blue) alongside the much larger power muscles (yellow-red)
(Image Credit: Dr Simon Walker, Department of Zoology)

DPhil in Zoology

About the course

The Department of Zoology maintains a large and interactive group of approximately 160 DPhil students at any one time, working in the research areas of the department.

As a doctoral student at the Department of Zoology, your primary focus will be your research, which will usually be conducted within one or more of the existing research groups. In addition, you will be encouraged to make the most of the doctoral training and research methods provision available across the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division.

Doctoral research projects can be based on fieldwork (sometimes in remote places), laboratory experiments, analysis of existing data sets, or mathematical theory, but in all cases must be original and rigorous, leading to publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

You will be part of a vibrant educational research community that includes an active set of doctoral student-led events, seminars and workshops. You will have the opportunity to present and discuss your work in progress with your supervisor, other faculty members and peers, informally day-to-day and by attending a variety of seminars and workshops in the department and at conferences elsewhere.

You will first be admitted as a Probationary Research Student (PRS) and at the end of your first year you will be able to apply for transfer to the status of DPhil candidate. Conferment of the title of DPhil is conditional on submission of a thesis and success in an oral (viva voce) examination in front of one Oxford-based and one external examiner.

MSc by Research in Zoology

In exceptional cases, the department also takes students who wish to study for a MSc by Research in Zoology, which typically takes two years. Since few students are accepted to this degree, there must be a strong academic case.

The minimum time in which a student can submit their final thesis for an MSc by Research is one year, and the maximum fee liability for an MSc by Research is two years, but the overall course length is three years.

The first step in applying is to contact a potential supervisor or supervisors to discuss potential projects. For further details and to apply to the MSc by Research, please contact Heather Green.

Graduate destinations

Zoology graduates, like DPhil graduates in biological sciences at Oxford as a whole, continue to a wide range of careers after graduating. Between 2008-13, 84% of DPhil graduates continued in bioscience-related posts, of which almost two thirds involved academic research.

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 subjects appropriate to the DPhil project.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

Admission to DPhil in Zoology does not normally require a master's level qualification.

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).

Evidence of genuine interest in biology and sometimes other relevant fields of research (eg mathematics, engineering, and statistics) will also be taken into consideration. This might be demonstrated by, for example, having undertaken independent field work or research, relevant vacation employment, or having already made research publications or presentations.

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 held as soon as is practicable after the applications have been assessed by the potential supervisor(s) and a mutually convenient date is found for the panel members. Interviews will normally be in person for candidates resident in the UK, and by video conference for overseas candidates where it is not possible for them to attend in person. There will always be a minimum of two interviewers.

The interviews will normally be approximately half an hour long, and will involve a ten minute presentation by the candidate on a suitable topic. Interviewees will be expected to answer questions based upon their presentation but potentially covering other relevant topics. Answers should demonstrate general knowledge, understanding of and enthusiasm for a particular area of research, competence in presentation skills and the English language, and where appropriate, numeracy in the treatment of biological data.

Other indicators will include suitability in terms of skill base and academic background for the DPhil in question, ability to discuss fundamental aspects of the relevant field (e.g. evolutionary biology, animal welfare, biomechanics, animal behaviour) in adequate depth and reasoning ability when answering biological questions.

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 higher 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 Zoology 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 Zoology 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 Zoology.

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.

It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.

Resources

The Department of Zoology has research strengths spanning from evolution to ecology, behaviour to biomechanics, and development to disease.

Despite its traditional name, the department covers research on animals, environments, plants, bacteria and viruses. Within the department are several research institutes, including the Edward Grey Institute (EGI), the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the Biodiversity Institute (BIO) and the Institute for Emerging Infections.

The EGI, founded in 1938, conducts research into the ecology, conservation, behaviour and evolution of birds, and is well known for its long-term population studies at Wytham Woods. Professor Ben Sheldon is the current EGI Director and Luc Hoffmann is Professor in Field Ornithology.

The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), directed by Professor David Macdonald CBE, is based at Tubney House eight miles from Oxford and seeks solutions to conservation problems through scientific research.

The Biodiversity Institute (BIO), directed by Kathy Willis, the Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity, is an interdisciplinary research institute focussed on the challenges facing global biological diversity in the 21st Century and the translation of science into policy, planning and strategy.

The Institute for Emerging Infections, co-directed by Professor Angela McLean FRS, is a multidisciplinary team of biologists, mathematicians and clinicians conducting research into the processes that drive the emergence and spread of novel human infectious diseases.

The Biodiversity Institute and the Institute for Emerging Infections are members of the Oxford Martin School, an interdisciplinary research initiative at Oxford University that aims to tackle global 21st Century challenges.

Seminars

In addition to external speakers, the department has internal seminar series where principal investigators, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students discuss their latest results in a constructive but challenging environment.

Libraries

The Alexander Library of Ornithology is one of the foremost ornithological reference libraries in the world.  It has a stock of around 11,000 books, 85,500 offprints/reports, 476 theses, some 500 current journals plus another 1,500 non-current journals.

The Radcliffe Science Library subscribes to over 20,000 journals and all University members can access them either on the University network or remotely.  The RSL also houses more than 1m volumes of printed materials and is one of the UK’s largest science libraries.

Darwin’s Café

To promote exchange between all members of the department, a central cafeteria/meeting place is provided in the centre of the building and informal discussions there frequently lead to joint projects and publications. Regular social and networking events are also held at the café organised by the Junior Researcher’s Club.

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

Many projects have associated costs such as field work, consumables and laboratory costs. These are usually covered by scholarships but not always. Students will need to establish with their supervisor whether they have funding available to cover any such costs.

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.

How to apply

The first step in the application process is to identify the areas of research that interest you and a named potential supervisor(s) within the Department of Zoology.

You will need to research the profiles of the department’s academics. Once you have identified a potential supervisor(s), you should contact them to discuss potential projects and funding routes.

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:
One to two pages

You should submit a detailed outline of your proposed research, written in English, covering areas such as the background to the research, methodology, expected results and the contribution to the field of learning. The overall page count should include any bibliography. 

However, in the case of applications for departmental or industrial studentships where a project has already been formulated, a personal statement of around 750 words should be submitted in place of a research proposal. 

In such cases, your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.

This will be assessed for:

  • reasons for applying
  • coherence of the proposal
  • originality of the project
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course
  • commitment to the subject
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability and ability to absorb new ideas.
It will be normal for your early ideas subsequently to change as you investigate the evidence and develop your own project. You should nevertheless make the best effort to demonstrate the extent of your understanding of the research question, sources and method at the time of applying.

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.

The references you provide should be academic. References will be assessed for the evidence they provide of your academic achievements, interests, and personal motivation. The selection committee will take into account the academic experience of the referee, as a scholar and as a teacher of successful graduate students.