DPhil in Chemistry in Cells: New Technologies to Probe Complex Biology and Medicine | University of Oxford
An X-ray crystal structure of a small molecule ligand bound to the bromodomain of the transcriptional co-regulator CREBBP
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 will provide bespoke training for outstanding graduates from a physical/chemical-sciences background, who want to develop and apply quantitative chemical and physical science techniques to research at the interface with biomedicine.

The programme 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 rotation period, students will undertake their full DPhil project for approximately 3.5 years.

Taught transferable skills courses

Induction: Orientation to Oxford, the programme, and relevant facilities. Explanation of course structure and procedures, explicitly lay out expectations and responsibilities, research integrity/reproducibility and code of practice. Cohort bonding and interaction with prospective supervisors will be promoted through ‘star speaker’ slots throughout the week.

Life Skills for Scientists: This new module will provide training in transferable skills, resilience, equality diversity & inclusion, and explore diverse career opportunities.

Taught science courses

Cells and Systems: This existing module introduces core concepts in molecular/cell biology for graduate students with a background in physical sciences.

Quantitative Chemical Biology: This new module will be delivered with our industrial collaborators (AstraZeneca, GSK, Merck, and OxStem) and will provide an overview of different quantitative chemical biology techniques, tools and statistical analysis used to study and manipulate biological systems.

Computational Approaches for Chemical Biology: This new module will be delivered with our industrial collaborators and will provide an overview of computational techniques, coding and machine learning in biology.

Introduction to Drug Discovery: This module introduces the practice of pharmaceutical discovery from drug-target discovery to clinical trials. Some material will be delivered by industrial scientists.

Practical science course

Introduction to Experimental Bioscience: This course is designed for students with a physical sciences background and little experience with wet-lab biological/biochemical research. It will include hands-on experience in method development techniques.

Rotations and placements

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

Project week: during project week students will visit the laboratories of prospective supervisors to assist decision making on scientific rotation and project choice. This approach supports our vision that communication and informed choice will promote a positive DPhil experience and promote an improved research culture.

Scientific rotations: a flexible 16-week rotation phase will be used to tailor training to suit the individual student needs, maximising the interdisciplinarity of the training. After the rotation phase, students will spend 41 months engaged in their substantive DPhil research.

Industrial placements: students whose projects involve industrial collaboration will undertake a 3-month (approx.) placement at our industrial collaborators. This will provide 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 will be 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 will 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 will be 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. 

Graduate destinations

This is a new course and there are no alumni yet. Graduate destinations will be posted as data become available.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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 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. 

A number of gathered fields will be held, starting in later 2019. 

We will use a multiple mini-interviews (MMI) approach, in which candidates will participate in up to 10 mini interviews assessing a range of 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. 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.


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 fumehood 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 is 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 such as 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 2020-21

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,970

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.


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

How to apply

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.


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.

Personal statement:
Up to one A4 page

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford and your relevant experience and education. You should indicate which area you are interested in working in:

  1. synthetic chemistry and chemical biology
  2. quantitative analysis in chemical biology
  3. imaging in chemical biology
  4. synthetic biology in chemical biology.

The personal statement/covering letter should include, and will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • motivation for the area of study
  • 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, of which at least one must be 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.

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.

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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