About the course
The DPhil in Computational Discovery is a multidisciplinary programme spanning projects in Advanced Molecular Simulations, Machine Learning and Quantum Computing to develop new tools and methodologies for life sciences discovery.
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, the socio-economic data you provide in the application form will be used to contextualise the shortlisting and decision-making processes where it has been provided. Please carefully read the instructions concerning submission of your CV/résumé in the How to apply section of this page, as well as the full details about this pilot.
This innovative course has been developed in close partnership between Oxford University and IBM Research. Each research project has been co-developed by Oxford academics working with IBM scientists. Students will have a named IBM supervisor/s and many opportunities for collaboration with IBM throughout the studentship.
The scientific focus of the programme is at the interface between Physical and Life Sciences. By bringing together advances in data and computing science with large complex sets of experimental data, more realistic and predictive computational models can be developed. These new tools and methodologies for computational discovery can drive advances in our understanding of fundamental cellular biology and drug discovery. Projects will span the emerging fields of Advanced Molecular Simulations, Machine Learning, and Quantum Computing while addressing both fundamental questions in each of these fields as well as at their interfaces.
Students will benefit from the interdisciplinary nature of the course cohort as well as the close interactions with IBM Scientists. After a very short induction period of one or two weeks, during which some basic training is provided, you will start a research project in your academic supervisor’s laboratory.
Most laboratories have weekly meetings where members present and discuss their research results with other members of the laboratory. You will also regularly present your work in progress seminars, which are attended by other research groups working in related areas.
Whilst working on your research project you will participate in a comprehensive, flexible skills training programme which includes a range of workshops and seminars in transferable skills, generic research skills and specific research techniques. There are also numerous seminars and lectures by local and visiting scientists and you are provided with many opportunities to meet leading scientists.
Projects available for entry in 2022-23
Projects will be available across three related themes. Topics will include both fundamental and applied in each field. Particular focus will be given to interdisciplinary research at the interface of the three fields.
Theme One: Advanced Molecular Simulations
- Improved physical models of bio-materials
- Protein-membrane interactions
- Using molecular dynamic simulations to advance drug discovery or medicinal chemistry
- Combining computational and structural biology approaches to molecular discovery
Theme Two: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
- Fundamental methodologies for ML
- Neuroscience inspired AI
- Applications of ML in molecular discovery
Theme Three: Quantum Computing
- Algorithm development
- Applications in chemistry and molecular simulations
- Interface of Quantum and Classical computing
If you have any questions about these projects or themes, please contact the relevant academic using the contact details in the How to apply section of this page. Although you are not required to name a proposed supervisor as part of your application, a list of potential supervisors can be found on the Medical Sciences Division website.
The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Medical Sciences Graduate School and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the department leading the course.
Your supervisor may appoint a senior member of the laboratory as your day-to-day supervisor. Further support is available from your college advisor.
The frequency of meetings with supervisors will depend on which department your DPhil is based. Commonly, within those departments based with the Medical Science Division, once a fortnight is typical.
There are a number of key stages in the research programme. Within a month of starting, you will meet with your academic and IBM supervisors to finalise your project and agree on an initial programme of research. Within the first three months, you will complete an analysis of your training needs with your academic supervisor.
Students begin the DPhil in Computational Discovery programme as a probationary research student (PRS). Before the end of their fourth term students are required to apply for Transfer to DPhil Status.
A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require the submission of a transfer report. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that their work continues to be on track. This will need to done within nine terms of admission.
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 after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.
It is anticipated that the graduates of this course will have destinations in academic research, in the computing sector, and in end user sectors of machine learning more generally, especially in applications in the life sciences.
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.
Other courses you may wish to consider
Applicants are strongly advised to visit the Medical Sciences Graduate School website to help them identify the most suitable course and supervisors.
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
Courses closely related to the DPhil in Computational Discovery
All graduate courses offered by the Medical Sciences Division
Entry requirements for entry in 2022-23
Proven and potential academic excellence
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.
The qualification above should be achieved in one of the following subject areas or disciplines:
- cell biology
- molecular biology
Please note that entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree.
A previous master's degree is not required in order to be considered for the programme.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0. However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a GPA of 3.7.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- Research or working experience in an area related to your proposed DPhil project(s) would be an advantage.
- Whilst not required, publications demonstrating previous research success in a relevant field is likely to advantage your application.
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 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.
The main round of interviews is held at the end of January and in early February. Additional interviews may be held at later dates subject to the availability of places.
Applications are reviewed by a panel of academics associated with the course. A short-list of applicants is confirmed, based on assessment of achieved or predicted undergraduate degree grade, academic references, personal statement and CV.
Interviews are in person or by video conferencing software, take approximately 30 minutes, and are conducted by a panel of at least two interviewers. Applicants are asked to talk about any research project(s) that they may have pursued and questioned on aspects of their research training to date, understanding of the proposed area of study and motivation for undertaking a DPhil.
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 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 on selection procedures 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.
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:
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.
You will have access to:
- experimental facilities, as appropriate to your research
- IT support from both the 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.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2022-23. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2022-23
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.
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 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.
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.
How to apply
Please read all the instructions carefully before starting your application. You should pay particular attention to the instructions concerning the submission of your CV/résumé below.
Questions about themes and projects can be directed to:
- Theme One - Professor Phil Biggin
- Theme Two - Professor Charlotte Deane
- Theme Three - Professor Phil Biggin
Once you have identified up to three projects that you would like to work on, you will need to enter these in the proposed supervisor box on the 'Courses' tab of the application form, making sure you identify them by number, eg Theme 1.2, Theme 2.3, etc. The three projects can be from different themes.
Please note, you are not required to name a proposed supervisor, however a list of potential supervisors can be found on the Medical Sciences Division website.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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.
Full instructions and link to standard CV creation 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.
This PDF document will be in the same format for all applicants and you should not modify the document before you upload it, or submit your CV in a different format.
Full instructions and a link to the standard CV creation form are provided on the Medical Sciences Division website. The instructions page contains links to example clinical and non-clinical CVs, with details of what to include and suggested answer formats.
If you require help or advice while generating your CV using the online form, please contact the Medical Sciences Graduate School for assistance (email@example.com).
You can find more information about the standard CV form on our page that provides details of the continuing pilot programme to improve the selection procedure for graduate applications.
Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 500 words
You should provide a statement of your research interests, in English, describing how your background and research interests relate to the programme. If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
The statement should focus on academic or research-related achievements and interests rather than personal achievements and interests.
This will be assessed for:
- your reasons for applying;
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study;
- the ability to present a reasoned case in English;
- capacity for sustained and focused work; and
- understanding of problems in the area and ability to construct and defend an argument.
It will be normal for students’ ideas and goals to change in some ways as they undertake their DPhil, but your personal statement will enable you to demonstrate your current interests and aspirations.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
References should generally be academic though a maximum of one professional reference is acceptable where you have completed an industrial placement or worked in a full-time position. Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and your ability to work in a group.
Start or continue an application
Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.
Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.
Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.
Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds who meet the eligibility criteria;
- residents in a country on our low-income countries list (refer to the eligibility criteria);
- current Oxford graduate taught students applying for readmission to an eligible course; and
- additional applications to selected research courses that are closely related to your first application.
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.