Student doing lab work
Laboratory work in Oxford
(Image Credit: Ralph Williamson / Graduate Photography Competition)

DPhil in Cancer Science

About the course

This DPhil programme is for basic science graduates, clinical students and trainee clinicians who want to undertake advanced study in the field of cancer research. The programme provides a solid grounding in the study of oncology and cancer biology through the provision of advanced level seminars in the first year and subject specific training in your host department.

This course is taking part in a continuing pilot programme to improve the assessment procedure for graduate applications, in order to ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly. For this course, the socio-economic data you provide in the application form will be used to contextualise the shortlisting and decision-making processes where it has been provided.  Please carefully read the instructions concerning submission of your CV/résumé in the How to apply section of this page, as well as the full details about this pilot.

As a doctoral student on the programme, you will carry out research in a single laboratory for three to four years on a full-time basis. There is no period of rotation between laboratories. All doctoral students develop their skills through a range of research training and skills development in their first year of full-time study, by attending compulsory and optional courses and lectures in laboratory techniques and generic skills, including scientific writing and statistics, while also carrying out your research project.

You will be encouraged to attend lectures and seminars related to your programme of research and make the most of the doctoral training and research methods provision available across the University. The aim is to tailor this training to individual needs and bring all students up to an advanced level in background knowledge. Later training is focused on the skills required for a successful career in independent research and for clinicians, to successful re-integration into clinical training.

This course has four different tracks and your application will be considered for the track that is most appropriate to your previous study and/or employment. Clinical trainees (track 1) and medical undergraduates (track two) will enrol on a three-year programme. Non-clinical/fundamental scientists (track three and four) will enrol on a four-year programme. Students are admitted directly to work under the supervision of a Principal Investigator who is formally appointed as the DPhil supervisor. Students are based in a research group/laboratory to undertake one of the research projects advertised. 

This course provides an opportunity to join the Oxford Cancer community. DPhil students in the Cancer Science Programme at the University of Oxford are supported by a grant from Cancer Research UK, managed through the CRUK Oxford Centre.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre 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 Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre.

Students on the DPhil in Cancer Science Programme are from a diverse range of backgrounds and specialisms, and study an assortment of subjects across many different departments and institutes. As such, every student-supervisor relationship is tailored to the specific needs of each. Students can expect to meet with their supervisors between every one to four weeks for input and guidance, although this may change throughout the programme as students accumulate more experience. Independent mentorship and supervision will be provided centrally form the programme and will meet one to two times per year.

Assessment

Students begin the DPhil in Cancer Science programme as a probationary research student (PRS). Before the end of their fourth term, students are required to write a report prior to transfer to DPhil status. Progress is evaluated by two academic assessors, who are not directly involved in the student’s supervision. Continuation on the DPhil programme is subject to passing the Confirmation of Status assessment in year two or three. The doctoral work will culminate in a thesis that will be defended in an oral examination (viva voce). Students are expected to submit their thesis between the ninth and twelfth terms from being admitted as a PRS.

Graduate destinations

DPhil in Cancer Science was a new course for entry in 2020, but historically, postgraduate cancer research students follow a wide variety of career paths, including all branches of biomedical research, clinical medicine, teaching, health administration and commerce. Further information about alumni destinations for cancer research students can be found on the Oxford Cancer website.

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

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.

Courses suggested by the school

Clinical Medicine DPhil
Oncology DPhil

Entry requirements for entry in 2022-23

Proven and potential academic-experience

The degree-level qualifications that are required for this course vary according to the application type:

Degree-level qualifications for clinical trainees (Application type 1)

The requirements below apply to qualified doctors at all stages of training from the foundation training to higher specialist training. 

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 a relevant discipline such as biology, biochemistry, or medicine.

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

A previous master's degree is not required.

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.

Degree-level qualifications for medical undergraduate students (Application type 2)

The requirements below apply to medical undergraduate students.

Medical students who are currently undertaking a primary medical qualification (MBBS, MBChB or equivalent)

At entry (with the exception of Medical students currently at Oxford, see below), applicants should provide evidence of successful completion of at least the first two years of a primary medical qualification and 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 a relevant discipline such as biology, biochemistry, or medicine.
Medical students currently at Oxford

Medical students currently at Oxford should have successfully completed the Pre-clinical Course (First BM) and hold or be predicted to achieve:

  • a first class or strong upper second-class BA Honours in Medical Sciences.
All medical undergraduate students

Entrance is expected to be very competitive and it is anticipated that most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

A previous master's degree is not required.

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.

Degree-level qualifications for non-clinical/fundamental scientists (Application type 3)

The requirements below apply to science graduates.

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 a biological, medical, chemical, mathematical and physical science background, as appropriate for the projects offered.  

However, entrance is expected to be very competitive and it is anticipated that most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

A previous master's degree is not required.

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 a prior interest in the area of research proposed is likely to advantage your application.
  • Prior publications are not required, but research experience and a track record demonstrating an interest in research may be an advantage.
  • It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.
  • Commitment to and passion for a career in cancer research.
  • Reasoning ability and academic curiosity.

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.  

Candidates who are shortlisted are interviewed as part of the admissions process. Shortlisting will be based solely on the criteria given above. There will be a minimum of two to three academics on the interview panel. By preference, interviews will be conducted in person, but when this is not possible we will use telephone or Skype (with video) and ensure that applicants are not disadvantaged by using these forms of communication.  Normally the interview will consist of a five-minute presentation of previous project work by the applicant, followed by 15-25 minutes of questioning from the panel.

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. The After you apply section of this website provides further information about the academic assessment of your application, including the potential outcomes. Please note that any offer of a place may be subject to academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions may vary depending upon your individual academic circumstances.

Students are considered for shortlisting and 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, your offer letter will give full details of your offer and any academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course.  In addition to any academic conditions which are set, 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 student on this course you will have access to experimental facilities, as appropriate to your research. IT support will be provided from both the department hosting your research and University IT Services. You will also have access to 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 and host department during the planning stages for the research project. You will be based in various units, buildings and campuses around Oxford with the department supporting a wide range of clinical services located in Oxford’s John Radcliffe and Churchill Hospitals.

The Oxford Cancer team provide an induction to the programme in the first weeks of study and encourages attendance at divisional and University induction events.

Workspace will be allocated according to individual circumstances. If undertaking experimental work, you will be provided with bench space in a laboratory. If undertaking theoretical research, you will have shared office space.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2022-23. 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 college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Medical students currently at Oxford should refer to the funding advice available on the Oxford Students website. You will need to select the six-year course and refer to the information provided under 'Studying for a higher degree'.

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

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2022-23

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£8,620
Overseas£28,560

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 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 2022-23 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,215 and £1,755 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 2022-23, 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. 

If you are a current Oxford medical student and you would like to remain at your current Oxford college, you should check the list below to see whether it accepts applications for the course to which you are applying. If it does, you can indicate this preference when you apply. If it does not, please refer to the instructions in our application guide under the heading 'Can I stay at my current Oxford college?'.

The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Cancer Science:

How to apply

Please read all the instructions carefully before starting your application. You should pay particular attention to the instructions concerning the submission of your CV/résumé below.

You will be required to list and rank up to three projects selected from the DPhil Projects Book (which can be accessed via the course page on the Oxford Cancer website) in your application. It is strongly recommended that you contact potential supervisors directly to discuss the advertised project(s) before you apply. Once you have identified and contacted potential supervisors, you will need to enter the full name and project number of your proposed supervisor(s) in the relevant box on the ‘Courses’ tab of the application form.  For your application to be assessed, you must propose at least one supervisor and a maximum of three, and rank these in order of preference.

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

Official transcript(s):
Required for all applications. Medical undergraduate students also require a letter of permission.

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.

Medical undergraduate students must provide a letter from their medical school confirming permission to intercalate for the duration of the DPhil programme. You will need to upload this in the transcript section of the application form.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. You will need to upload a standardised CV to the graduate application form as part of your application. This standardised CV should be generated using the online form that requests certain information that you will likely have included on your CV. Once you have completed the form, you will have 15 minutes to download your CV as a PDF document. 

This PDF document will be in the same format for all applicants and you should not modify the document before you upload it, or submit your CV in a different format. 

Full instructions and a link to the standard CV creation form are provided on the Medical Sciences Division website. The instructions page contains links to example clinical and non-clinical CVs, with details of what to include and suggested answer formats.

If you require help or advice while generating your CV using the online form, please contact the Medical Sciences Graduate School for assistance (graduate.school@medsci.ox.ac.uk).

You can find more information about the standard CV form on our page that provides details of the continuing pilot programme to improve the assessment procedure for graduate applications.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 500 words

You should provide a statement of your research interests, in English, describing how your background and research interests relate to the programme. If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

The statement should focus on academic or research-related achievements and interests rather than personal achievements and interests.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying;
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study;
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English;
  • capacity for sustained and focused work; and
  • understanding of problems in the area and ability to construct and defend an argument.

It will be normal for students’ ideas and goals to change in some ways as they undertake their DPhil, but your personal statement will enable you to demonstrate your current interests and aspirations.

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.

Academic references are strongly encouraged, though you may use up to one professional reference provided that it is relevant to the course.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation and 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 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 link 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.

Application GuideApply

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