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 within the Environmental Research NERC Doctoral Training Partnership strand.

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.

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 the course

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. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2019-20

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in science or mathematics.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

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.

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

Other appropriate indicators will include:

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(s)

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.


Publications are not required. 

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the standard level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Department of Earth Sciences to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work; 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision 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.

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, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

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.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.


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.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

For students applying to programmes within the MPLS Division at Oxford, Research Council and other funding opportunities available, subject to eligibility. These opportunities are included in the Fees, funding and scholarship search.


Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,665

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 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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 2019-20, 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.


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: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

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