DPhil in Biochemistry | University of Oxford
Lab work
Cutting DNA bands from an agarose gel in the laboratory
(Image Credit: Laurynas Pliuskys / Graduate Photography Competition)

DPhil in Biochemistry

About the course

This programme aims to train students in cutting-edge laboratory research applying techniques in bionanotechnology, biophysics, computational biology, microscopy, molecular biology, structural biology and systems biology to a broad range of fields including cell biology, chromosome biology, drug discovery, epigenetics, host-pathogen interactions, membrane proteins, ion channels and transporters, and RNA biology.

You will be admitted directly to a particular research area led by departmental members who will be appointed DPhil supervisors. If you are admitted to a particular research supervisor you will not normally do laboratory rotations. You will be based in a research lab and undertake research on a subject agreed with your supervisor.

There are no taught courses examined by written papers, however you will have access to a wide range of lecture courses at taught master’s level and foundation or preliminary level, as appropriate. If you have changed fields, this will allow you to fill in gaps in your background knowledge. There is also a wide range of courses and workshops which you can attend to acquire skills that will be necessary for the pursuance and presentation of your research, as well as your professional development as a research scientist.

You will begin your course as a probationary research student (PRS) and near the end of the first year you will write a report to transfer to DPhil (PhD) status. To transfer your status you must make a formal application which will include a research report and statement of future research plans. You will also take an independent assessment by two assessors. Continuation in the programme is subject to passing the Transfer of Status exam.

After eight terms of study you will need to apply formally to confirm your DPhil status. You will be required to present your on-going work in a formal context where it will be reviewed by two independent assessors. Continuation in the programme is subject to successfully completing the Confirmation of Status.

The length of the programme ranges from three to four years with the exact duration depending on the following factors as judged by your supervisor(s) and assessors:

  • focus and rate of your research development and progress
  • achievement of acceptable focus and scope of thesis
  • publication quality research
  • length of available funding

A small proportion of DPhil students (about 5%) submit their theses within 3 years from starting, however on average most students submit within 3 to 4 years. By the end of the fourth year, 70-90% of students have submitted their theses.

Research at the Department of Biochemistry is divided into five main themes:

  • cell biology, development and genetics
  • chromosomal and RNA biology
  • infection and disease processes
  • microbiology and systems biology
  • structural biology and molecular biophysics.

Supervision

For this course, the allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Biochemistry 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 Biochemistry. Information about supervisors connected with this course can also be found at the Department of Biochemistry website.

Graduate destinations

Approximately 90% of the department’s alumni who completed in the years 2008 to 2015 have pursued a career within academic or industrial research. Other graduates hold positions within a variety of different sectors including Patent Law, scientific publishing and teaching.

The Department of Biochemistry has an active alumni network, with regular events held in Oxford and London, where past and current members of the department have the opportunity to meet and share ideas.

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. 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 sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

Applicants are strongly advised to visit the Medical Sciences Graduate School website to help them identify the most suitable course and supervisors.

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.

All graduate courses offered by the Department of Biochemistry

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

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.

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

  • biochemistry
  • chemistry
  • biology
  • cell biology
  • molecular biology
  • biophysics
  • physics
  • mathematics; or
  • computation.

Please note that entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree. 

A previous master's degree is not required in order to be considered for the programme.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0. However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a GPA of 3.7. 

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

  • Research or working experience in an area related to your proposed DPhil project would be an advantage.
  • It would be expected that you would be familiar with the recent published work of your proposed supervisor.
  • Whilst not required, publications demonstrating previous research success in a relevant field is likely to advantage your application.

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. 

Detailed requirements - standard level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level are:

IELTS Academic 7.0Minimum 6.5 per component
TOEFL iBT100

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced185Minimum 176 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency185Minimum 176 per component

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

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.  

The main round of interviews is held at the end of January and in early February. Additional interviews may be held at later dates subject to the availability of places.

Applications are reviewed by a panel of academics associated with the course. A short-list of applicants is confirmed, based on assessment of achieved or predicted undergraduate degree grade, academic references, personal statement and CV.

Interviews are in person or by video link/Skype, take approximately 30 minutes, and are conducted by a panel of at least two interviewers. Applicants are asked to talk about any research project(s) that they may have pursued and questioned on aspects of their research training to date, understanding of the proposed area of study and motivation for undertaking a DPhil.

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

You will have access to:

  • experimental facilities, as appropriate to your research
  • IT support from both the Department of Biochemistry and University IT Services
  • library services, such as the Radcliffe Science Library and the Cairns Library.

The provision of project-specific resources will be agreed with the relevant supervisor during the planning stages of the research project.

The Department of Biochemistry has in-house research facilities, such as NMR, X-ray diffraction, crystallization, biophysical analysis, analytical ultracentrifugation, FACS analysis and imaging microscopes.

There is the possibility to use facilities in other departments across the division and to access remote facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, DIAMOND Light Source and Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

You will be able to use the cafeteria at the Department of Biochemistry, where interaction between research groups in the department is encouraged. Departmental seminars and colloquia bring students together with academic and other research staff in the department to hear about on-going research, and provide an opportunity for networking and socialising.

Funding

There are over 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,970
Overseas£26,405

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 dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

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 2020-21 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,135 and £1,650 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 2020-21, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

Before you apply, please refer to the list of research group leaders to identify areas of research that interest you and make informal contact with the potential supervisor(s) in the department to discuss the possibility of joining their research group, as well as research projects that you could undertake. 

Once decided, you should name up to three potential supervisors in your application.

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:
Up to 1,000 words

The personal statement should be written in English and should focus on your interest in, and experience of your intended research field (rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations).

In your statement, please include:

  • details of up to three potential supervisors affiliated with the programme whose research is of interest to you;
  • in brief, the research areas and experimental approaches that you would wish to explore in a DPhil research project; and
  • how your academic/research background relates to your proposed study and career plans.

This will be assessed for your reasons for applying, evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study, and ability to present a reasoned case in English.

Please note that you are not expected to outline the intended research project in your personal statement.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

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

References should generally be academic though a maximum of one professional reference is acceptable where you have completed an industrial placement or worked in a full-time position. Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and your ability to work in a group. 

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 plan your time to submit your application well in advance.

Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.

Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).

Application GuideApply

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