A CGI model of an X-ray crystal structure of a small molecule ligand
An X-ray crystal structure of a small molecule ligand bound to the bromodomain of the transcriptional co-regulator CREBBP
(Image source: Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, 53, 6126, generated by Professor Stuart Conway, Department of Chemistry)

DPhil in Chemistry in Cells: New Technologies to Probe Complex Biology and Medicine

About the course

The Chemistry in Cells programme provides bespoke training for outstanding graduates from a physical/chemical- sciences background, who want to develop and apply quantitative chemical and physical science techniques to contemporary questions in biomedical science.

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, statement of purpose, transcript and letters of support from referees in the How to apply section of this page, as well as the full details about this pilot.

The course supports four years of DPhil study. The first term of the programme will provide training in research and transferable skills. This will include both taught and practical courses, and the opportunity to meet prospective supervisors and career mentors. Following a 16-week Springboard Phase, students will undertake their full DPhil project for approximately 3.5 years.

Taught transferable skills courses


The induction is comprised of:

  • an orientation to Oxford, the programme, and relevant facilities;
  • an explanation of the course structure and procedures, expectations and responsibilities, research integrity/reproducibility and code of practice; and
  • promotion of cohort bonding and interaction with prospective supervisors.

Taught science courses

Cells and Systems

This module introduces core concepts in molecular/cell biology for graduate students with a background in physical sciences.

Quantitative Chemical Biology

This module provides an overview of a range of quantitative chemical biology techniques, tools, and statistical analyses used to study and manipulate biological systems.

Computational Approaches for Chemical Biology

This module is delivered in collaboration with our industrial collaborators and provides an overview of computational techniques, including coding and machine learning applied to biological questions.

Introduction to Drug Discovery

This module focuses on the principles and modern practise of probe and drug discovery and development. The first week is devoted to the fundamentals of medicinal chemistry and how they impact the process of probe and drug discovery. The second week explores more advanced concepts with case studies focusing on key emerging areas in drug discovery, generating thought-provoking ideas and activities. Some material and interactive sessions are delivered by scientists from our industrial collaborators.

Practical science courses

Introduction to Experimental Bioscience

This course is designed for students with a physical sciences background to gain experience in wet-lab biological/biochemical research. It includes hands-on experience in methods and techniques that will be useful in the full DPhil project.

Life Skills for Scientists

This module provides training in transferable skills, resilience, equality diversity & inclusion, and exploration into diverse career opportunities.

Rotations and placements

Our programme allows students to gain experience in a range of environments through a variety of placements, which feeds into the substantive DPhil project:

Project week

During project week students visit the laboratories of prospective supervisors to assist decision making on project choice. This approach supports our vision that communication and informed choice promotes a positive DPhil experience and promotes an improved research culture.

Scientific placements

A 16-week Springboard phase is used to tailor training to suit the individual student needs, maximising the interdisciplinarity of the training. After the Springboard phase, students spend 41 months engaged in their substantive DPhil research.

Industrial placements

Students whose projects involve industrial collaboration undertake a 3-month (approx.) placement at our industrial collaborators. This provides students with experience of working in an industrial setting. Work undertaken on the placement will prioritise techniques and approaches that are relevant to the project, but which are not available within Oxford, ensuring that students maximise the skills gained within their DPhil. Students are supported during their industrial placements by industrial mentors and visits from Oxford supervisors.

Clinical placements

All of the directors have been inspired to conduct medically-relevant research by interactions with patients. To provide a clinical perspective on research all students undertake a placement in a hospital or other clinical setting. This will further inspire students to address major societal needs in their work.

Flexible career placements

Flexible funding to support short-term postdoctoral activities is available.


The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre (MSDTC) and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. A supervisor is often found outside the department. Formal meetings between one or more members of the core supervisory team and the student will take place at least once a month.


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 within a maximum of four years from the date of admission.  To be awarded a DPhil in Chemistry in Cells you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners. 

Graduate destinations

This is a relatively new course and graduate destinations will be posted as data become available.  However, throughout the course, students will have the opportunity to meet the Chemistry in Cells pool of career mentors with scientific backgrounds and diverse career paths. Our career mentors provide advice and guidance to our students as they explore and develop their career paths. There is flexible funding to support short-term postdoctoral activities undertaken directly after the DPhil is completed.

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.

Courses suggested by the department

Cellular Structural Biology DPhil
Inorganic Chemistry for Future Manufacturing (EPSRC CDT)
Interdisciplinary Bioscience (EPSRC DTP)

Entry requirements for entry in 2022-23

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in chemistry, biochemistry or physics, or equivalent.

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.

The requirement for a first-class or strong upper second-class degree with honours can be alternatively demonstrated, for example with a strong a degree at masters level and/or relevant professional experience.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

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. 

Shortlisting will be completed by the programme directors and additional supervisors from the programme. The applications will be anonymised before shortlisting takes place. 

We will use a multiple mini-interviews (MMI) approach, in which candidates will participate in up to 5 mini interviews assessing a range of biology, chemistry and physical science skills and competencies required for the programme.


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. 

This programme is participating in the Academic Futures programme, including the Black Academic Futures programme, to address the under-representation of candidates who are members of certain groups in postgraduate study. It is also participating in a continuing pilot to improve the assessment procedure for graduate applications, in order to ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly. Therefore, information on socio-economic background may be used in the selection of candidates for shortlisting or admission, and information on race and ethnic origin may be used at shortlisting where candidates have met academic criteria.

Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed. Applicants who meet eligibility criteria will subsequently be considered for funding through the Academic Futures programme or other University scholarships in addition to studentship funding available through the programme. 

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.


The Chemistry in Cells Programme is hosted by the Department of Chemistry, which is located in three buildings in the University Science area on South Parks Road. There are numerous seminar and meeting rooms available within the department, fully equipped with audio-visual equipment.

You will be provided with bench and/or fume hood space in your supervisors’ laboratories and a suitable desk. The laboratories are all state-of-the-art, spacious and well equipped. There are central facilities for microbiology and molecular biology, NMR, MS, and other contemporary analytical techniques. Training and support are available for use of all these resources. You will have your own computer and have access to the department’s IT infrastructure and servers. You will also have access to the University Libraries including the Radcliffe Science Library and the Cairns Library. Library access includes full online access to all relevant scientific journals, available anywhere.

You will have access to the extensive range of seminars and symposia in this and other departments at the University. During term-time there are regular departmental seminars which all graduate students are expected to attend. Student also present at regular progress seminars, which bring together groups in the department working in related areas. Your research group will be able to advise you as to which seminar series you should attend. All seminars are advertised on the web portal Oxford Talks.


All applicants who are offered a place on the DPhil in Chemistry in Cells course will be offered a fully-funded scholarship, covering course fees for the duration of their course and a living stipend. Please see the Graduate School website for further details about funding for this course.


Annual fees for entry in 2022-23

Fee status

Annual Course fees


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. 

The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Chemistry in Cells:

How to apply

Please read all the the instructions carefully before starting your application. You should pay particular attention to the instructions concerning the submission of your standardised CV and contextual information, statement of purpose, and anonymised letters of support from referees.

A key aspect of the DPhil in Chemistry in Cells is to maximise diversity and inclusion throughout recruitment. Following submission of your application files, to avoid unconscious bias during shortlisting we will be anonymising applications using a standard format for the CV and statement of purpose, taking into consideration socio-economic data as part of the shortlisting and decision-making process, and taking positive action to address the under-representation of Black-British students in STEM subjects at doctoral level in the shortlisting of applications of interview.

This means that all references to your name and your gender pronouns (she/he/they/ze) will be removed in anything used by the academic assessors to assess your application during the shortlisting procedure. The people assessing your application will, therefore, have no idea of your cultural background, gender, from your name or pronouns at the academic shortlisting stage.

The reason for using anonymised applications is because research has shown that information inferred from your name can lead to bias in the shortlisting process.

We request that you assist in the anonymisation of applications by carefully reading the instructions below to ensure that you:

  • anonymise your CV and statement of purpose when you submit your application; and
  • ask your referees to anonymise their letters of reference in relation to your name and gender pronouns.

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.

Standardised CV and contextual information
Instructions and link to the standardised CV form and contextual statement submission form

Standardised CV form

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. We request that you anonymise your CV in relation to your name and gender pronouns. 

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. 

Generate your standardised CV

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

Contextual statement

If you wish to provide a contextual statement with your application, you may also submit an additional statement to provide contextual information on your socio-economic background or personal circumstances in support of your application.

Submit a contextual statement

It is not necessary to anonymise this document, as we recognise that it may be necessary for you to disclose certain information in your statement. This statement will not be used as part of the initial academic assessment of applications at shortlisting, but may be used in combination with socio-economic data to provide contextual information during decision-making processes.

Please note, this statement is in addition to completing the 'Extenuating circumstances’ section of the standard application form.

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

Further information

Considering socio-economic and contextual information, and anonymising your CV as part of the assessment procedure, are some of the actions we are taking as part of a pilot aimed at minimising conscious and unconscious bias in the admissions procedure for graduate students. Further information about con be found on the page outlining the pilot assessment procedure for MPLS doctoral training courses.

Statement of purpose:
A maximum of 1000 words

Please provide a statement of purpose, in English, describing how your background and research interests relate to the programme, following the template below. The statement should focus primarily on academic, research or employment-related achievements and interests rather than personal achievements and interests.

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

Briefly explain your motivation for undertaking doctoral study, including at least one specific example of how you have prepared yourself for doctoral study that illustrates your commitment and motivation.

Summarise your previous achievements and experience, including information on any research you have conducted, relevant employment or work experience (if any), and any activities or experience that illustrate your communication skills, team skills or personal strengths.

For doctoral programmes without a pre-defined research project, please describe your current research interests and identify any potential supervisors or groups you are particularly interested in working with, explaining which aspects of their work most interest you.

If you are applying to undertake a specific, advertised project with a named supervisory team, please explain your motivation for applying to undertake this project.

Explain your motivation for applying to this doctoral programme and why you are a suitable candidate for the programme or project you are applying to.

Your statement of purpose 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
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • understanding of problems in the area and ability to construct and defend an argument.

It will be normal for your ideas and goals to change in some ways as you participate in the programme and if you are applying for the main DTP programme rather than a specific advertised project, you are not committed to work in the specific subject area or with any supervisor(s) you highlight in your application. We understand that not everyone has had the opportunity to gain relevant research experience. You should nevertheless make the best effort you can to demonstrate your current interests and aspirations.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least one must be academic. Referees should anonymise their references.

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.

One professional reference is acceptable, though your other references should be academic and should comment specifically on your academic ability.

Your references will be assessed for: your intellectual ability, your academic achievement, your motivation and interest in the course and subject area, your ability to work effectively both in a group and independently and your capacity for sustained work.

We are requesting that referees anonymise their references with respect to name, ethnicity and gender as one of the actions we are taking as part of a pilot aimed at minimising conscious and unconscious bias in the admissions procedure for graduate students. Please ensure any referees you approach are aware of this requirement. 

In addition, Chemistry in Cells will contact referees and ask them to answer a small number of specific questions about the candidates. This will be in addition to the standard reference requirements as listed above

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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