DPhil in Earth Sciences
About the course
The Earth sciences are the focus of scientific understanding about this and other planets, embracing a large range of fundamental topics including the evolution of life, how climate has changed in the past and will change in the future, the nature of planetary surfaces and interiors and the processes underlying natural hazards like earthquakes and volcanoes.
The DPhil is an advanced degree by research that will take between three to four years to complete. You will typically join a research group and work alongside other research students, postdoctoral researchers and academics in the same general research area – all of whom provide additional support and advice for DPhil students. Academic activity across research groups is also strongly encouraged.
While the focus of the DPhil is on your development to conduct independent research, there are formal courses available both within the Department of Earth Sciences and other departments in the Maths, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division. Formal courses are organised through the MPLS Graduate Academic Program and include generic skills such as advice on science writing, as well as subject specific specialist courses. These allow the structured course components to be tailored to your individual research project needs.
There are also paid opportunities for you to gain teaching experience by demonstrating laboratory classes to undergraduates, assisting on undergraduate fieldtrips or in tutorial teaching.
You will be encouraged to present your research at national and international meetings and publish in internationally-recognised science journals. You may also choose to take part in outreach activities, explaining to the public and schoolchildren the exciting science conducted in the department. Within the department you will be part of a community of seventy research students including students enrolled on the Environmental Research NERC Doctoral Training Partnership course.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Earth Sciences 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 of Earth Sciences.
You will have at least two (and sometimes more) supervisors, who are experts in their field, and who provide the project research framework, guidance and mentoring throughout the program.
You should expect to meet with your lead supervisor at least once a term, and have meetings with any member of the supervisory team at least once every two weeks averaged across the year.
All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of four 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 written work. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within nine terms of admission, to show that your work continues to be on track.
Both milestones normally involve a presentation and 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 a substantial/original thesis not exceeding 250 pages after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Earth Sciences you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.
Many graduates choose to stay in academia. Others go on to environmental work or work in industry. The Department of Earth Sciences has an active and vibrant alumni network. With an annual newsletter, alumni dinners, networking and other events throughout the year, there are many different opportunities to keep in contact with the department.
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
Environmental Research NERC DTP
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Earth Sciences
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in science or mathematics.
However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a minimum of an upper-second or first-class degree or the equivalent.
Most candidates have a master's degree or the 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.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Publications are not required.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's standard level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.0||6.5|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.
Candidates are considered against the academic ability criteria and also the research proposal or statement. If you meet the academic criteria and there is a supervisor interested in your research then you will be invited for interview. Most interviews will be held by Skype (with video preferably), or in the Department of Earth Sciences.
Interviews will take place throughout the year but most take place in February. There will usually be three interviewers.
Typically an interview may last for up to half an hour. During this time your application will be discussed in detail and you may expect a challenging conversation with panel members. However, it is hoped that you may find this a stimulating opportunity to discuss your work. The department will also try to arrange for you to meet with your potential supervisor and discuss project-related matters with them.
The Department of Earth Sciences occupies a building specifically designed for the teaching and research needs of geoscientists. Whatever the area of the Earth sciences you have chosen to study at DPhil level, the specialist research facilities are world class. This is whether you require access to supercomputers, local workstations or state of the art mass spectrometers. In addition to the department facilities, the University library and e-resources provide access to archived and recent research journals. Research facilities are also available across the Maths, Physical and Life Sciences division and take advantage of strong links with the local DIAMOND synchrotron high energy light source and Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Underlying support for all research groups within the department includes facilities for preparing thin and polished rock sections; IT support; a well-equipped machine shop; computer laboratory; SEM and FEG-SEM and a dedicated departmental library. You will have your own desk within a shared graduate student office and access to breakout rooms for small group meetings. With other graduate students, you will organise you own seminar program and also attend the department’s informal and formal seminar series. You will also have access to the Research Common Room (RCR) where they organise Friday ‘happy hour’ and other social events, but also during coffee and lunch have the opportunity to meet and mingle with postdocs and faculty from across all research areas in the department.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. 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 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
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.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
Many projects have associated costs such as field work, computing, consumables and laboratory costs. These are usually covered by scholarships advertised by the Department of Earth Sciences, but not always covered by scholarships the students may have been awarded from elsewhere. Students will need to establish with their supervisor whether they have funding available to cover any such 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 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 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 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
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 Earth Sciences:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Readmission for current Oxford graduate taught students
If you're currently studying for an Oxford graduate taught course and apply to this course with no break in your studies, you may be eligible to apply to this course as a readmission applicant. The application fee will be waived for an eligible application of this type. Check whether you're eligible to apply for readmission.
Application fee waivers for eligible associated courses
If you apply to this course and up to two eligible associated courses from our predefined list during the same cycle, you can request an application fee waiver so that you only need to pay one application fee.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
Before you apply, you should identify an academic member of staff who is willing to supervise you and has the resources to support your proposed research project. You should do this by contacting them directly. Details of academic staff, including their research interests and contact details, can be found on the department's website.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Proposed field and title of research project
Under the 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field or area of research if this is known. If the department has advertised a specific research project that you would like to be considered for, please enter the project title here instead.
You should not use this field to type out a full research proposal. You will be able to upload your research supporting materials separately if they are required (as described below).
If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.
Three overall, of which at least two 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.
Professional references are acceptable if you have been away from academic study for more than five years; otherwise at least two of your references should be on your academic background.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement and motivation.
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.
A maximum of 1,000 words
You should submit an outline of your proposed research, written in English. The overall word count should include any bibliography.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course (a maximum of four years)
- commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
- preliminary knowledge of research techniques
- capacity for sustained and intense work
- reasoning ability
- the ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.
Your research proposal should focus on your research interests and experience rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations.
A maximum of 500 words
You should submit a piece of written work with the following title:
"Discuss a research problem within the Earth sciences, briefly outline the information required to solve it, and suggest a line of research that - if conducted - could fill this knowledge gap."
The word count does not need to include brief footnotes or any bibliography.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
The written work need not relate closely to the proposed area of study, but should be an area that you feel comfortable discussing as it may come up if invited for interview.
This will be assessed for:
- comprehensive understanding of the subject area
- understanding of problems in the area
- ability to construct an defend an argument
- powers of analysis
- powers of expression.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.