DPhil in Earth Sciences | University of Oxford
Earth Sciences
The Earth Sciences building, part of the University's Science Area
(Image Credit: Tess Ablitt)

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 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 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.

Examination of the DPhil is in three stages. After the first year and between years two and three a formal report, presentation and interview are required to confirm your status as a DPhil candidate. At the end of the degree a written thesis is submitted and this is examined viva voce by an external expert in the field and moderated by an internal member of faculty.

Supervision

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.

Graduate destinations

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. 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

Environmental Research NERC DTP

All graduate courses offered by the Department of Earth Sciences

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

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

  • 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

Publications are not required.

English language requirement

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's standard level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. 

Detailed requirements - standard level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level are:

IELTS Academic 7.0Minimum 6.5 per component
TOEFL iBT100

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced185Minimum 176 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency185Minimum 176 per component

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. For more information about the English language test requirement, visit the Application Guide

Supporting documents 

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews 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.

Resources

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.

Funding

There are over 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,970
Overseas£26,405

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

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.

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.

How to apply

You are strongly encouraged to make contact with an academic member of staff as a prospective supervisor before you 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.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Research proposal:
One to two pages

You should submit an outline of your proposed research, written in English. The overall page count should include any bibliography.

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.

Written work:
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.

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.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two should generally 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.

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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