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Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems (DPhil)

About the course

The DPhil offered by the Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems (AIMS) cohort-based training programme provides graduates with the opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge, understanding and expertise in autonomous intelligent systems. 

The programme provides a comprehensive, state-of-the-art view of autonomous intelligent systems, combining theoretical foundations, systems research, academic training and industry-initiated projects and thus mixing both practical and theoretical aspects of intelligent machines and systems.

Course outline

The first year (first two years if studying part-time) is oriented towards developing your knowledge base. You will need to take a number of courses during your first year (over two years if studying part-time). Your day will comprise of lectures each morning with laboratory sessions each afternoon. You will undertake two eight- to ten-week mini-projects, precursors to your DPhil study, to hone your research skills and shape your main research area (if studying part-time, you will take one in your first year and the other in your second year). You will meet your supervisor regularly to assess progress and discuss academic issues.

Years two to four (three to eight if studying part-time) see an increasing emphasis on individual research. You will be encouraged to develop projects based on your own research ideas within the four key research themes of Machine Learning, as a unifying core; Robotics & Vision, Control and Verification, and Cyber-Physical Systems (eg sensor networks). Training will continue in academic reading, writing and presentation skills, business and commerce (to include innovation and IP curatorship and entrepreneurship), career development and planning, and ethics and law, where the societal implications of autonomous systems will be considered.

Research seminars are used to discuss papers, for rehearsing conference talks and for building links between groups. An annual workshop gives the opportunity to present research to students, industrial partners and invited researchers from other universities. Industrial collaborators are invited to share their latest problems and market trends and to discuss opportunities for future collaboration.

If studying full-time, you will spend one or two months over the second or third summer in an industrial lab to gain experience in industry-led projects and expanding your horizons by engaging in an AIMS topic that is not your main one. If studying part-time, it is recommended that you take on an internship between years four and six.

After the end of the internship, further interaction will be encouraged by inviting your industrial supervisors to join your group in Oxford for short periods.

You will also be encouraged to take demonstrations of your systems to companies, government departments, as well as schools. In the fourth year, the cohort help organise the annual workshop, inviting keynote speakers, participating in the program committee, reviewing papers submitted by second and third year students, and publicising the workshop to universities and industrial partners beyond those directly involved in the cohort-based training programme.

Supervision

For this course, the allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Engineering Science and/or Department of Computer Science 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 Engineering Science and Department of Computer Science. 

Students will be expected to meet their supervisor on a regular basis to discuss their progress. For full-time students, these meetings should take place at least once every two weeks, averaged across the year, and once a month for part-time students.

Assessment

If you are studying full-time, you will be assessed continually throughout the first year during courses and projects and at its end the programme supervisors will assess whether sufficient progress has been made to continue to the research phase. At the end of the second year, you will be required to write a report and give a presentation on your research, and to present a detailed and coherent plan for the research-intensive phase in the third and fourth years of your doctoral studies. Progress towards completion is again formally assessed some way into the final year of study.

If studying part-time, you will be assessed over the first two years. Timings will differ for the presentation for part-time students. 

For the DPhil you will be required to submit a substantial thesis which is read and examined by experts in the field, one from the department and one from elsewhere. Often the thesis will result in the publication of several journal and conference papers.

Graduate destinations

The development of a positive group dynamic within and between year groups in the cohort-based training programme and the progressive increase of responsibility and external exposure, equips graduates from the AIMS programme for leadership roles in industry both nationally and internationally. It is anticipated that others will continue to spend time in postdoctoral research, probably developing the work in their theses towards product.

Changes to this course and your supervision

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. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic, epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

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 illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2024-25

Proven and potential academic excellence

The requirements described below are specific to this course and apply only in the year of entry that is shown. You can use our interactive tool to help you evaluate whether your application is likely to be competitive.

Please be aware that any studentships that are linked to this course may have different or additional requirements and you should read any studentship information carefully before applying. 

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours.

The qualification above should be achieved in one of the following subject areas or disciplines:

  • computer science
  • engineering
  • physics
  • mathematics
  • statistics; or
  • other related disciplines.

A previous master's qualification is not required.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are sought. 

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience 

Candidates will need to demonstrate a broad interest in some or all of the four AIMS themes:

  • robotics and vision
  • machine learning
  • control and verification
  • cyber-physical systems.

English language proficiency

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.57.0

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

110Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*191185
C2 Proficiency191185

*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.

Declaring extenuating circumstances

If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.

References

You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews (in person or by other means) may form part of the admissions process.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements described under that heading.

References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process. Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed

Shortlisting and selection

Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:

  • socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
  • country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
  • protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.

Processing your data for shortlisting and selection

Information about processing special category data for the purposes of positive action and using your data to assess your eligibility for funding, can be found in our Postgraduate Applicant Privacy Policy.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

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

Other factors governing whether places can be offered

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

  • the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
  • the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
  • minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.

Offer conditions for successful applications

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about offers and conditions

In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)

Some postgraduate research students in science, engineering and technology subjects will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate prior to applying for a Student visa (under the Student Route). For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.

Resources

The AIMS cohort-based training programme is jointly hosted by the Department of Computer Science and Department of Engineering Science.

The Department of Computer Science was established in 1957. It is one of the world’s leading computer science departments, ranked first in a number of respected university subject rankings. Many members of the department are active in externally sponsored research, with both government and industrial funding.

At present there are over 70 members of academic staff and over 140 research staff. The Department of Computer Science has close links with government, industry, and other departments within the University, including the Department of Mathematics, Engineering, Physics, Statistics and a number of life sciences departments. Research activities encompass core computer science, as well as computational biology, quantum computing, computational linguistics, information systems, cyber security, software verification and software engineering.

Engineering research and teaching at Oxford takes place in a unified Department of Engineering Science with over 100 academic staff, who are committed to advanced work in their own specialities, while recognising a common engineering foundation. This creates an intellectual space where interdisciplinary work thrives and where expert advice is available to students in areas which though not central to their core research still impinge on it. There are strong links too with researchers in other departments in the mathematical and physical sciences, and, ever increasingly, with researchers and practitioners in medical science departments and University hospitals.

The key research cluster for AIMS is information, control and vision engineering, which is well-supported by experienced technical, computing, and administrative staff. The department has well-equipped research areas and workshops, which together with offices, lecture theatres, library, common room, stores, reprographics and other facilities, occupies some 16,000 square metres. There are approximately 280 research students and about 80 postdoctoral researchers and research fellows. The Department of Engineering’s external research income is approximately £12m annually.

Departments offering this course

This course is offered jointly by the following departments:

Department of Engineering Science

The Department of Engineering Science brings together the study of all branches of engineering at Oxford. It has a community of around 550 graduate students at any given time.

The department has a substantial research portfolio, including much that is directly supported by industry. The major theme underlying this research portfolio is the application of cutting-edge science to generate new technology, using a mixture of theory, computation and experiment.

Study and research opportunities in the department include both conventional disciplines of engineering and newer areas of interest, such as information engineering, low-temperature engineering, nanotechnology and experimental plasma physics.

There are no barriers between different branches of engineering. The department is involved in a great deal of multidisciplinary and collaborative research with groups in other departments, from archaeology to zoology. 

The department has an excellent record of engagement with industry and of translating research results into real-world applications. It has generated numerous successful spin-out companies.

The department offers a range of research degrees, including four-year programmes as part of several specialised Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).

Department of Computer Science

The Department of Computer Science is at the heart of computing and related interdisciplinary activity at Oxford. 

The department is home to a community of world class researchers and is consistently ranked in the Times Higher Education University Rankings amongst the very best computer science departments in the world, for both teaching and research. 

The Department of Computer Science is committed to attracting the world’s most talented students and working with them to continue the success of the field of computer science. As a student here, you will join a vibrant community working in research areas including:

  • algorithms and complexity theory
  • artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • automated verification
  • computational biology and health informatics
  • data, knowledge and action
  • human centred computing
  • programming languages 
  • quantum
  • security
  • systems
  • software engineering.

The department’s strength comes from its firm grounding in core computer science disciplines, a high degree of mathematical sophistication among its researchers, and its committed engagement with applications and interdisciplinary work.

You will have the opportunity to meet other students and staff working across these research areas by attending seminars, workshops and lectures, and through social events organised by the Computer Science Graduate Society and the Oxford Women in Computer Science Society.

The department is home to undergraduates, full-time and part-time master's students, and has a strong doctoral programme.

Funding

We expect that the majority of applicants who are offered a place on this course will also be offered a fully-funded scholarship specific to this course, covering course fees for the duration of their course and a living stipend.

For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.

Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:

Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2024-25

Full-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£9,500
Overseas£31,480

Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.

Part-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£4,750
Overseas£15,740

Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.

Information about course fees

Course 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 course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

Continuation charges

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.

Where can I find further information about fees?

The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.

Additional information

Full-time study

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees (or, after fee liability ends, continuation charges) 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.

Part-time study

Please note that you are required to attend in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Also, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur further 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 course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2024-25 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,345 and £1,955 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. The current economic climate and high national rate of inflation make it very hard to estimate potential changes to the cost of living over the next few years. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2024-25, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of around 5% each year – although this rate may vary depending on the national economic situation. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.

If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.

College preference

Students enrolled on this course will belong to both a department/faculty and a college. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 43 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as societies and permanent private halls (PPHs). 

If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. Before deciding, we suggest that you read our brief introduction to the college system at Oxford and our advice about expressing a college preference. For some courses, the department may have provided some additional advice below to help you decide.

Before you apply

Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. You can use our interactive tool to help you evaluate whether your application is likely to be competitive.

If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide.

Application fee waivers

An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:

  • applicants from low-income countries;
  • refugees and displaced persons; 
  • UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and 
  • applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.

You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.

Readmission for current Oxford graduate taught students

If you're currently studying for an Oxford graduate taught course and apply to this course with no break in your studies, you may be eligible to apply to this course as a readmission applicant. The application fee will be waived for an eligible application of this type. Check whether you're eligible to apply for readmission.

Application fee waivers for eligible associated courses

If you apply to this course and up to two eligible associated courses from our predefined list during the same cycle, you can request an application fee waiver so that you only need to pay one application fee.

The list of eligible associated courses may be updated as new courses are opened. Please check the list regularly, especially if you are applying to a course that has recently opened to accept applications.

Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?

You are encouraged to communicate with the department's Administrator via the contact details provided on this page in order to refine your application, especially where studentships are involved.

Completing your application

You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents

If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.

Proposed field and title of research project

As you will not choose your research area until the end of year one, you do not need to specify a research field, or project title beyond "Cohort-based training programme in AIMS" in your application.

You should not use this field to type out a full research proposal. You will be able to upload your research supporting materials separately if they are required (as described below).

Proposed supervisor

As you will not choose your research supervisor until the end of year one, you do not need to specify a supervisor beyond "Cohort-based training programme in AIMS" in your application.

Referees:
Three overall, of which at least two 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 academic references should refer directly and specifically to the themes of the AIMS programme.

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 this course. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose and research proposal
A minimum of 1,000 to a maximum of 2,500 words

Your statement should focus on your research and career ambitions in the area of the programme, rather than on other personal achievements, interests and aspirations. It should refer directly and specifically to the themes of the cohort-based training programme.

As part of the same document, you should also include a brief, non-binding, speculative, research proposal.

This will be assessed for your past commitment to sustained and intense study, your reasons for wishing to undertake research in the area of autonomous intelligent machines and systems and how the interdisciplinary approach in the cohort-based training programme will be of benefit in this context.

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

Start or continue your application

You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.

Application Guide Apply - Full Time Apply - Part Time

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