DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology | University of Oxford
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DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology

About the course

The DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology 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.

The students are also enrolled in the standard University-based monitoring of progress. They will receive termly progress reports. They will also write a report and have a viva with two experts in their research area, who will offer advice and determine whether they are ready to progress to the official status of a DPhil student. This process ensures that students receive support and advice and check that they are on track with their learning and their project.

Supervision

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. 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.

Graduate destinations

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. 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.

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:

  • 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 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 will be held as part of the admissions process.

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. 

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to attend interviews in Oxford. 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.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend in person, but we do offer candidates from outside the UK the opportunity to have an interview by Skype if required.

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 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.

Funding

All applicants who are offered a place on the DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology 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.

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.

Colleges

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, we recommend that applicants choose one of these two colleges.

The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Cellular Structural Biology:

How to apply

You are welcome to contact potential supervisors associated with the course before you apply but this is not required.

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

Your statement should be written in English and focus on your interest in, and experience of, this research field (rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations). You should give details of your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in. 

Your personal statement 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
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

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.

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.

When you complete your application, please give the following answers where requested.

About your course: 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'.

About your course: Proposed supervisor name

Please leave this field blank.

Funding: Departmental studentship applications

Answer 'no' to the question of whether you are applying to a specific studentship. 

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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