About the course
The DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology is jointly organised by the University of Oxford, Diamond Light Source and the Rosalind Franklin Institute. It provides outstanding training in structural biology methodology, allowing students to apply their knowledge to methods development or to the study of important molecular and cellular systems.
Students spend the first year learning a range of structural biology techniques, undertaking two five-month projects in different laboratories and following taught courses. We encourage students to learn two of the major structural biology techniques during these two projects.
Students then spend years two to four of the programme primarily engaged in their research projects. They have the opportunity to work with outstanding structural biologists, continuing to develop structural methods, or to investigate the molecular basis for cellular processes, including in infection or membrane biology. Collaborative projects are highly encouraged, with students building supervisory teams, which contain their primary structural biology supervisor as well as others with expertise in complementary methods or particular biological questions.
Training in key research techniques should include:
- X-ray crystallography
- nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy
- electron cryo-microscopy and electron tomography
- synchrotron radiation and integrative structural biology
- high-resolution light microscopy
- computational biochemistry and molecular simulations.
The students write reports at the end of each rotation project and have the opportunity to discuss the report and their research project with one of the principal investigators associated with the programme. They also prepare a project proposal at the end of the first year to outline what they plan to do during their DPhil project. Both of these activities provide valuable training in proposal and report writing.
Each student will be guided and supported by a supervisory team. The students are encouraged to be flexible about the supervisor until they arrive in Oxford, as the first week of their course is spent meeting all of those associated with the programme and making decisions about where to work during their rotation projects. A primary supervisor will be an expert in a core structural biology technique and will ensure the provision of training. Co-supervisors will bring expertise in specific methods, which may be structural or may be other techniques which enrich the training and the research. Students will receive termly progress reports from their supervisors, and in addition, the programme directors will regularly meet with students to provide guidance, support and careers advice.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre. It is also not always possible to offer students their preferred supervisor, as Wellcome have guidelines about the number of students who each individual supervisor can work with. However, with such a broad pool of excellent supervisors, this is rarely a problem. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre.
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.
A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require the submission of a report on progress to date on research and future plans. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within ten 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 an original thesis of up to 50,000 words within a maximum of four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.
Our programme prepares students for a wide range of future careers, providing project management experience, programming skills, and the experience of working in a precise and numerically rigorous scientific field. We equip and support our students to transition to careers in academia, industry and beyond, while ensuring that we train a cohort to continue to apply and to develop structural biology into the future.
Many graduates from this programme continue in research in prestigious laboratories worldwide and are now world-leading researchers, either as senior group leaders or in established academic posts. Many are leaders in research and development in industrial settings. Other graduates are in a wide range of different careers, including medicine, scientific administration, health management, consultancy, patent law and the civil service.
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, 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.
Entry requirements for entry in 2024-25
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- We generally require at least an upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in a relevant biological sciences subject, although those who have not achieved this level of qualification will be considered if they show strong performance in a master's course.
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.
Substantial professional experience or a graduate qualification may be a substitute for a lower grade at undergraduate level.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- We are looking for students with a proven enthusiasm for studying Cellular Structural Biology.
- Research or working experience in a relevant field is an excellent way in which to demonstrate that you have explored structural biology and that your application is fully informed. We are part of the UNIQ+ graduate summer school in Oxford, which is one way in which such experience might be gained.
- Whilst not required, publications demonstrating previous research success in a relevant field are likely to advantage a candidate’s application.
- Our aim is to recruit a diverse cohort of students from a range of backgrounds, selecting those with the greatest potential to flourish on the course.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's standard level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.0||6.5|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*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.
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.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application. 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 will be held as part of the admissions process. By preference, interviews will be conducted in person, but when this is not possible we will use telephone or video conferencing software and ensure that applicants are not disadvantaged by using these forms of communication.
Applications are reviewed by a panel of academics associated with the programme. A shortlist of applicants is confirmed, based on assessment of achieved or predicted undergraduate degree grade, academic references, personal statement and CV.
The interview panel will include at least three academics. You will be asked to give a presentation on a research project you may have carried out (around 10 minutes) and then to answer questions related to your project and about the general field of structural biology. You may be asked to analyse some data or a publication which you have not previously seen. You will be asked to explain your motivation for applying for this course.
There will be the opportunity to meet with current students and potential supervisors either before or after the interview.
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. Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
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.
Initiatives to improve access to graduate study
This course is taking part in a continuing pilot programme to improve the selection procedure for graduate applications, in order to ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly.
For this course, socio-economic data (where it has been provided in the application form) will be used to contextualise applications at the different stages of the selection process. Further information about how we use your socio-economic data can be found in our page about initiatives to improve access to graduate study.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
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:
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.
You will have access to:
- Experimental facilities, as appropriate to your research
- IT support from both your host department for your research 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 for the research project. There is the possibility to use facilities in 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 have access to the cafeteria/social areas in the host department for your research. Seminars and colloquia bring students together with academic and other research staff to hear about on-going research, and provide an opportunity for networking and socialising.
Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre
The Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre (MSDTC) accommodates the interdisciplinary, cross-departmental DPhil programmes in medical sciences.
Most are structured DPhil programmes, which provide students with the opportunity to undertake two or three 'rotation' projects and relevant course work in their first year of each four-year structured programme The main doctoral project starts in the second year of each programme. Most of our programmes receive external core-funding, and currently from the Wellcome Trust (WT), British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and EPSRC.
The MSDTC also accommodates the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars’ Programme, the DPhil in Cancer Science programme funded by CRUK which welcomes applications from clinicians, basic scientists, and medical undergraduates, and the new DPhil in Inflammatory and Musculoskeletal Disease which is funded by the Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research and is open to Oxford University medical students wishing to undertake DPhils in the fields of musculoskeletal disease, inflammation and immunology.
The department also offers an exciting new programme (the DPhil in Advanced Bioscience of Viral Products) run in collaboration with Oxford Biomedica, which aims to deliver the next generation of bioscience leaders to advance research on the underpinning bioscience of viral products for future gene therapies and vaccines.
Each programme has a distinctive intellectual flavour, designed to nurture independent and creative scientists. Students are supported in their development through:
- supervision and mentoring by world-class academics training in a wide range of research techniques
- development of student resilience and maintenance of mental health and wellbeing from the start and throughout each programme.
All applicants who are offered a place on this course will be offered a fully-funded scholarship, covering course fees for the duration of their course and a living stipend.
Please see the course page on the Graduate School website for further details about funding for this course.
Annual fees for entry in 2024-25
Annual Course fees
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.
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.
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 2024-25 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,345 and £1,955 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. The current economic climate and high national rate of inflation make it very hard to estimate potential changes to the cost of living over the next few years. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2024-25, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of around 5% each year – although this rate may vary depending on the national economic situation. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
Students enrolled on this course will belong to both a department/faculty and a college. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 43 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as societies and permanent private halls (PPHs).
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. Before deciding, we suggest that you read our brief introduction to the college system at Oxford and our advice about expressing a college preference. For some courses, the department may have provided some additional advice below to help you decide.
Merton and Jesus Colleges have each agreed to accept half of the graduate students studying on the Cellular Structural Biology program. To ensure provision and the development of strong student cohorts, the department recommends that applicants choose one of these two colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology:
Before you apply
We strongly recommend you consult the Medical Sciences Graduate School's research themes to identify the most suitable course and supervisor.
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. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
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.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
General enquiries about the course should be directed to the graduate studies administrator via the contact details provided on this page.
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.
For this course, the application form will include questions that collect information that would usually be included in a CV/résumé. You should not upload a separate document. If a separate CV/résumé is uploaded, it will be removed from your application.
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
As you do not need to select a project before you apply, please enter 'DPhil in Structural Biology' under 'Field and title of research project'.
It is not necessary for you to identify a potential supervisor in your application.
Three overall, academic preferred
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 should generally be academic, though professional references are acceptable if they are relevant to the course.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in a group.
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.
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 studies, but your personal statement will enable you to demonstrate your current interests and aspirations.