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DPhil in Biology

About the course

The Department of Biology offers a broad range of research opportunities for graduate students. The department maintains a large and interactive group of around 200 DPhil students.

As a doctoral student, your primary focus will be your research, which will usually be conducted within one or more of the existing research groups. You will be expected to develop an original research project under the guidance of your academic supervisor(s) and normally on a topic related to their areas of expertise. In addition, you will be encouraged to make the most of the doctoral training and research methods provision available across the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division. The department also provides training to all DPhil students that focuses on developing both research and professional skills.

Doctoral research projects can be based on fieldwork (sometimes in remote places), laboratory experiments, analysis of existing data sets, or mathematical theory, but in all cases must be original and rigorous, leading to publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The vast majority of your time will, therefore, be spent in independent self-directed research and will involve a mixture of experimental, computational and observational activities.

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

The department has a friendly graduate community which provides a welcoming network to new students. The graduate student community offers a supportive environment, both social and scientific, allowing new graduates to develop into well-rounded and confident scientists. Graduates are a valued part of the department's research community and their work is showcased annually at the departmental Graduate Symposium.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department Biology 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 Biology.

As a graduate student you will be embedded in the research groups of two or more members of academic staff who act as your supervisors and provide the bulk of the research guidance and training. You will typically meet with your supervisor weekly or fortnightly to discuss your progress and developments in the field, although this may vary depending on the area of research, the nature of your project, and the stage of your studies.

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, you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status. This application is normally made by the fourth term.

A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require a report that will consist of an introductory part that could become the introduction to the thesis, one rather well-worked analysis of preliminary data representing roughly the equivalent of one thesis chapter, and a plan for the other chapters in the thesis including a detailed timetable. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that your work continues to be on track. This will need to done within nine terms of admission.

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

Students will be expected to submit a substantial thesis of up to 50,000 words after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Biology you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.

Graduate destinations

The DPhil in Biology is a new course, replacing the DPhil in Plant Sciences and the DPhil in Zoology.

100% of alumni from the DPhil in Plant Sciences are employed, across a wide range of sectors, with 60% working in academic research positions. The department retains contact with its alumni to find out what they have gone on to do after completing their course. Past students from the Department of Plant Sciences have gone on to careers both in the UK and other countries in teaching and research in schools, universities, policy for government departments, industry, and administration at local and national levels.

Zoology graduates, like DPhil graduates in biological sciences at Oxford as a whole, continue to a wide range of careers after graduating. Between 2012 and 2017, 83% of DPhil graduates continued in bioscience-related posts, of which almost three quarters involved academic research.

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.

All graduate courses offered by the Department of Biology

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 subjects appropriate to the DPhil project. Examples include, biology, natural science, and environmental science, but research in the department is very broad so the department is not prescriptive regarding previous degree subjects. Instead, you should make a case for why your  background makes you suitable for the research you plan to undertake.

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

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 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) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Evidence of genuine interest in biology and sometimes other relevant fields of research (eg mathematics, engineering, and statistics) will also be taken into consideration. This might be demonstrated by, for example, having undertaken independent field work or research, relevant vacation employment, or having already made research publications or presentations.
  • Publications are not required.
  • It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.

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, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. 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 are normally held as part of the admissions process.

Applicants will be selected for interview based on the aforementioned criteria.

Interviews will normally be held within four weeks of the application deadline and will either be in person or by remote video conferencing. 

The interview will be up to 30 minutes and will involve a ten minute presentation by the applicant on a suitable topic. Interviewees will be expected to answer questions based upon their presentation but potentially covering other relevant topics. Answers should demonstrate general knowledge, understanding of and enthusiasm for a particular area of research, competence in presentation skills and the English language, and where appropriate, numeracy in the treatment of biological data.

Other indicators will include suitability in terms of skill base and academic background for the DPhil in question, ability to discuss fundamental aspects of the relevant field in adequate depth and reasoning ability when answering biological questions.

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.

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 Department of Biology has research strengths spanning from evolution to ecology, behaviour to biomechanics, and development to disease. Researchers in the department work on wide range of organisms, including plants, animals and microbes. This diversity of research interests is reflected in the wide range of research facilities that are used by members of the department, including labs that are for cell and molecular biology, controlled growth facilities, field stations, and unique plant collections. Many of our students also carry out field work at in locations ranging from the Amazon rainforest to the Antarctic.

Within the department are several research institutes, including the Edward Grey Institute (EGI), the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) , the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), and the Ineos Oxford Institute for Antimicrobial Research (IOI).

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

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS) work at the interface of social and ecological systems, using a range of methodologies and interdisciplinary approaches to address key issues in current conservation. The research is focused around better understanding and influencing human behaviour and its impact on nature. Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland is the Group Leader.

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

The IOI was established in 2021 to transform our approach to combatting antimicrobial resistance, which is one of the biggest health challenges of our time. Research at the IOI focuses on understanding the factors that drive the spread of antimicrobial resistance in the settings where it poses the greatest threat to human health and on developing new antimicrobials. Professor Timothy Walsh played a key role in the establishment of the IOI and he is one of the academic leads of the institute.

In 2024, the Department of Biology plans to move into the new Life and Mind Building. The Life and Mind Building will transform the education experience for students, providing new laboratories and meeting spaces for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers, as well as lecture theatres, specialised support laboratories and opportunities for public engagement with our research. It will be the largest building project the University has ever undertaken and will be a catalyst for the advancement of psychological and biological science both at the University of Oxford and on a global platform.

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.

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

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.

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

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. 

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.

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.

Contacting the department

Before you apply, you will need to identify the areas of research that interest you and a named potential supervisor(s) within the Department of Biology. 

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

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

Under the 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field or area of research if this is known. If the department has advertised a specific research project that you would like to be considered for, please enter the project title here instead.

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

Under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic (s) who you would like to supervise your research. 

You can enter up to four names and you should list them in order of preference or indicate equal preference.

Referees:
Three overall, academic and/or professional

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 will used to help assessment of your intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation and research potential. In this context, references from academics able to comment on your performance on previous university courses are particular relevant. However, one or more references from previous research projects, industrial placements or other relevant professional activities are equally welcome.

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 and research proposal:
A maximum of 500 words each

Your statement of purpose/personal statement and research proposal should be submitted as a single, combined document with clear subheadings. Please ensure that the word counts for each section are clearly visible in the document.

Statement of purpose/personal statement

Please provide a cogent personal statement, written in English, arguing why you should be considered for the DPhil based on your previous experience and career goals.

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

The personal statement will also be assessed for evidence of motivation, of understanding of the proposed field of study (both broadly and in the specific project area being considered), and of your ability to present a reasoned argument in English.

Research proposal

Describe a current research problem within the remit of the DPhil in Biology, briefly indicate the information required to solve it and suggest a line of research that, if conducted, could fill this knowledge gap. No bibliography is required but if one is included, it must be counted in the word limit.  

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

This will be assessed for:

  • understanding of the research question and approaches proposed
  • originality of the research and/or proposed approach
  • ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques.

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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