The Very Large Telescope in Chile at night
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 of Physics, available to students interested in carrying out research in observational or theoretical astrophysics, or in astronomical instrumentation. The course has a strong track record of preparing students for careers in academia and elsewhere.

This course is participating in a pilot initiative in partnership with Rare Recruitment, who are leaders in diversity graduate recruitment. This pilot is part of the ‘Close the Gap’ project which aims to develop and test new disciplinary-specific, race-literate and fair selection processes that are designed to bring about meaningful change in doctoral candidate selection. Please carefully read the instructions concerning the submission of an additional questionnaire in the How to apply section of this page. Further details about this pilot, which applies to all applicants to this course who are ordinarily resident in the UK, can be found in our pilot selection procedure pages.

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 include the study of cosmology, galaxies and black holes, stars and exoplanets, and include instrumentation and large telescope projects.

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 select and attend one or two relevant optional courses from the MPhys or other courses. No part of this graduate course 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 your science, a critical part of a modern researcher's life.

Supervision

For this course, 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.

Your DPhil offer is based on working with a named supervisor(s), who will meet with you regularly (typically at least weekly). Your supervisor(s) will be your main source of information and advice throughout the course of your research. Their responsibilities include giving you early advice about the nature of research and the standard expected, and about planning the framework of your research programme. It is likely that you will also be working closely with other members of that supervisor’s group, and sometimes collaborators from other institutes (some of you may even be jointly supervised by an academic from another institute). There may be an option to add a co-supervisor if you find yourself working closely with another group member. Under exceptional circumstances, a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Physics.

Assessment

All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of six terms as a PRS student (and normally by the fourth term) you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status.

A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require satisfactory attendance at the compulsory graduate lecture programme. You will also be required to write a report on your progress during the first year and you will be assessed by two members of staff (neither of whom will be your primary supervisor) . Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within nine terms of admission, to show that your work continues to be on track. 

Both milestones normally involve an interview with two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.

You will be expected to submit a thesis of no more than 250 pages (roughly 125,000 words) within four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Astrophysics you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.

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 or in the growing number of jobs available to those with backgrounds in 'data science'. 

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 (including Covid-19), 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.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24

Proven and potential academic excellence

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 in physics, astrophysics or astronomy, mathematics, engineering or related fields. The equivalent of a UK four-year integrated MPhys or MSci degree is typically required. 

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

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. 

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) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience 

  • 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 and relative to opportunity. Note that many candidates with no peer-reviewed publications receive offers each year. 

English language proficiency

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's standard 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 standard level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.06.5

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

100Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*185176
C2 Proficiency185176

*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.

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

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 video link or on the phone.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published 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.

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.

Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Initiatives to improve access to graduate study

This course is participating in a pilot initiative in partnership with Rare Recruitment, who are leaders in diversity graduate recruitment. This pilot is part of the ‘Close the Gap’ project which aims to develop and test new disciplinary-specific, race-literate and fair selection processes that are designed to bring about meaningful change in doctoral candidate selection. Please carefully read the instructions concerning the submission of an additional questionnaire in the How to apply section of this page. Further details about this pilot, which applies to all applicants to this course who are ordinarily resident in the UK, can be found in our pilot selection procedures pages.

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

As a DPhil student, you will be provided with a personal desktop computer in your office along with access to appropriate computing support. 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, if appropriate, with the theory subdepartment - 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 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

The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. 

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 2023-24

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£8,960
Overseas£29,700

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

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.

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 course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees and Funding section of this website, which includes detailed fee status information.

Additional information

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.

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 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 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. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.

College preference

All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). 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. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs). 

For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges. 

The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Astrophysics:

Before you apply

Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. We recommend that you submit your application well in advance - two or three weeks earlier. 

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.

Applying to more than one physics DPhil course

You can indicate whether your application should be considered for other physics DPhil courses by following the instructions for stating the ‘Proposed field and title of research project'. If you decide to do this, you will only need to submit a single application and pay the application fee once. 

Contacting the department

You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.

Research areas may overlap across the different physics DPhil courses. If you are in any doubt about which course(s) to apply to, you are advised to read each of the physics course pages carefully before starting an application. If you have any course-related questions, please refer to the 'Further information and enquiries' section on each page for the relevant contact details.

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.

Questionnaire
Instructions for accessing the Rare Recruitment questionnaire

If you are ordinarily resident in the UK, you are asked to complete a short additional questionnaire provided by Rare Recruitment that you can access through the link below or via the University of Oxford graduate application form. 

The questionnaire is managed by Rare Recruitment, who are working in partnership with the University on a pilot initiative to develop and test new processes designed to bring about meaningful change in doctoral candidate selection.

Please use the same email address when you create an account in the University of Oxford graduate application form and the Rare Recruitment system. This is so we can match the data you have provided in the questionnaire to your application.

Rare Recruitment Questionnaire

In order for the information that you provide via the Rare Recruitment questionnaire to be considered during the assessment of your application, you will need to submit your questionnaire by the same deadline as the application for your course. Your application will proceed as standard (without consideration of the questionnaire during the assessment process) if you submit the questionnaire later than this deadline or if you choose not to submit the questionnaire at all.

Our 'pilot selection procedure' pages provide further information about the Rare Recruitment pilot as well as information about how your data is used in the assessment process.

Proposed field and title of research project

You should use this field of the application form to indicate whether you would like your application to be considered for other physics DPhil courses. To do this, insert the relevant acronym from the list below for each additional course that you would like your application to be considered for:

Your application will be considered for each additional course that you indicate - you should not apply for these courses separately or pay an additional application fee. Please ensure that your research proposal (which you will be asked to upload in a later section of the application form) meets the assessment criteria described on each relevant course page.

If would like your application to be considered for only this course, you do not need to enter an acronym from the list above.

Proposed supervisor

If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.

Referees:
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.

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:
A maximum of 1,000 words

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.

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

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.

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

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