DPhil in Astrophysics | University of Oxford
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.

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 attend a suitable short course from the MPhys or other courses. Neither part of this graduate program is examined. 

The lively programme of seminars, colloquia and discussion meetings held in the department ensures that you remain in touch with the cutting edge of the subject and provide an opportunity to interact with staff and with the large number of visitors who pass through the department each year. They also provide plenty of opportunity for you to gain experience in presenting 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). 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 our compulsory graduate lecture programme. You will also be required to write a report (no more than 5000 words) 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 2021-22

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

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

  • 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. However, many candidates with no peer-reviewed publications receive offers each year. 

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.

English language requirement

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.

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 Skype or on the phone.

Supervision

Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. 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. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

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.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will 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 Tier 4 visa. Further information can be found on our Tier 4 (General) Student visa page. 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 usually supported) to travel during your DPhil, both to meet and work with collaborators and to carry out fieldwork where appropriate, through trips to observatories and on-site experimental work.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. 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 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 college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2021-22

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£8,290
Overseas (including EU)£27,460

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 likely increases 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 section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our detailed fee status information and the Oxford and the EU webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

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 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 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 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

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:

How to apply

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

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

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

Official transcript(s)

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

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

CV/résumé

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

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
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.

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

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

Your references must all be academic.

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

Applying to multiple Physics DPhil courses

If your application is related to more than one Physics DPhil course, there is no need to complete a separate application for each or pay more than one application fee. Please refer to the instructions for applying to related courses.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.

Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:

Step 5: Start your application using the relevant button below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.

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