Close up of large metal machinery in a lab
Laboratory work for the DPhil in Inorganic Chemistry
(Image Credit: Chenbo Wang / Graduate Photography Competition)

DPhil in Materials

About the course

The Oxford DPhil in Materials is a doctoral research degree programme, typically of three to four years in duration and known as a PhD at other universities. Doctoral research projects in this leading materials department are available in most branches of materials science, as well as some aspects of solid state physics and chemistry.

As a student on the DPhil in Materials programme you will be part of one of the top-ranked materials departments in the world (QS World University Rankings 2022). This vibrant research school consists of around 30 academic staff, about 12 Senior Research Fellows, and around 240 research students and 80 postdoctoral researchers. Research students are of many nationalities and come to the department from diverse scientific backgrounds. They are graduates in the traditional subjects of materials science, physics, chemistry and engineering and also mathematics, earth sciences and biology.

The DPhil in Materials is normally carried out in three and a half to four years of full-time study under the supervision of an experienced member of staff. A wide range of exciting DPhil projects is available, including a number on Materials for Nuclear Fusion Reactors (some of which may be part of the Fusion CDT doctoral programme). Details of the DPhil programme, including training opportunities (academic courses, research- specific skills and generic transferable career skills) and progression requirements, can be found in the current version of the Materials graduate course handbook.

Research interests of the department extend over most branches of materials science, as well as some aspects of solid state physics and chemistry: they include the study of a wide range of materials of relevance in advanced technological applications, including metals and alloys, composites, semi- and super-conductors, polymers, biomaterials, ceramics and materials for quantum information processing.

Much of the research is carried out in close collaboration with industry. World-leading research takes place on:

  • characterisation of materials, where there is emphasis on electron microscopy and related techniques
  • processing and manufacturing of materials
  • modelling of materials, where there is attention to both structures and processes
  • properties of materials
  • energy materials, including those for batteries, nuclear fusion and photovoltaics
  • quantum computing and quantum devices, which includes groups working on experimental studies, theory and modelling.

Each of the department's research groups works within one or more of the following broad themes and research projects available to applicants for the DPhil in Materials are listed under these themes:

  • energy materials
  • structural and nuclear materials
  • device materials, including semiconductors, superconductors, quantum computing and quantum devices and NEMS
  • polymers and biomaterials
  • nanomaterials
  • processing and manufacturing, including metals, alloys, superconductors and polymers
  • characterisation of materials
  • computational materials modelling.

Further information on current research and individual members of staff is available via the Materials Science website.

An overview of the provision for research students in the Department of Materials can be found at the Summary of Provision for Materials Research Students webpage. 

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Materials 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 from outside the Department of Materials.

Typically, a student should expect to have meetings with his/her supervisor or a member of the supervisory team with a frequency of at least once every two weeks averaged across the year. The regularity of these meetings may be subject to variations according to the time of the year, and the stage the student is at in his or her research programme.

The department’s website provides further guidance on supervision arrangements.

Assessment

In common with other UK universities, the first year is a probationary year, soon after which, subject to satisfactory progress, you will normally transfer from Probationer Research Student (PRS) to full DPhil status. A second formal assessment of progress, Confirmation of Status, takes place later in the programme, normally in the middle of the third year. The Transfer of Status and Confirmation of Status assessments are conducted by two members of staff other than the student’s supervisor(s) or advisors.

Examination for the DPhil takes place at the end of the programme by means of a written thesis and an oral examination.

Graduate destinations

Graduates of the DPhil and MSc by Research in Materials are highly regarded by a wide range of employers, including universities, high-tech start-up companies, engineering consultancies, industry (including aerospace, electronics, automotive, steel manufacture, medical and household products sectors), world-famous technology companies, schools and colleges, and the financial and business sectors.

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

Materials MSc by Research
Nanotechnology PGCert

All graduate courses offered by the Department of Materials

Materials DPhil
Materials MSc by Research

Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

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 a suitable science subject.

The qualification above should normally be achieved in one of the following subject areas:

  • materials science
  • chemistry
  • physics
  • mathematics.

However, other subjects may be acceptable depending on the area of research chosen.

For candidates offering a UK bachelor's degree or UK integrated undergraduate master's degree normally an overall grade of at least 65% is required. 

As examples of international equivalents to this requirement: for the US system a GPA of 3.5 out of 4.0 on a four-year bachelor's programme is normally regarded as equivalent and for the Chinese system an overall degree mark of 85% on a four-year bachelor's degree programme from a Double First Class University is normally regarded as equivalent.

In some countries at least some of their bachelor's degrees are not acceptable for direct progression to a PhD in that country; normally such degrees are not acceptable for entry to the course unless the candidate also holds or expects to achieve a master's degree with an overall mark equivalent to at least 65% in a UK taught master's degree.

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.

Normally the required qualification(s) must be achieved by the date of commencement of the research programme for which you have applied.

GRE General Test scores

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

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

Additional indicators considered when assessing an application against the department's criteria include performance in previous research project(s), the award of national prizes, the award of substantial scholarships to assist with previous university-level study/activity (please indicate monetary value and duration), preliminary knowledge of relevant research techniques, and your suitability for the research projects in which you have expressed interest.

The criteria against which your written application and performance at interview will be assessed are:

  • appropriate indicators of proven and/or potential: academic excellence, research excellence, originality, ability to absorb new ideas, reasoning ability, creativity of thought, initiative, and capacity for sustained and intense work; 
  • sufficient evidence, in the view of the assessors, to suggest that you have the academic ability, motivation and commitment to (i) pursue the chosen research programme to a successful conclusion within the required time limits, and (ii) to pursue research in the subject of materials at a high level;
  • the programme of study, including research topic, that you wish to pursue is well suited to the academic interests and abilities to which you and/or your referees have drawn attention in your application. For some projects this may include the ability to work as part of a team; and
  • sufficient evidence of ability to (i) engage in a scientific or technical discussion in English at a satisfactory level, both verbally and in writing, (ii) understand a reasoned case presented in English and (iii) present a reasoned case in English.

Publications are not essential but will be taken into account. Please include in your CV the references and abstracts of any publications you may have in peer-reviewed international journals.

Further guidance

It should be noted that acceptance on a particular programme gives no guarantee of final success, and all research programmes require you to develop your learning and skills to new levels in order successfully to undertake all the assessment hurdles of a research programme.

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.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.06.5

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

100Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*185176
C2 Proficiency185176

*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.

It is very important that, at the earliest possible opportunity, you take steps to meet the University’s standard minimum English language requirement. If you have yet to attain this minimum level any offer of a place that may be made to you will be conditional on your achieving the standard minimum requirement. Students who require a visa will not be able to apply for this visa until they have met this and other conditions of their offer. If you do not meet the conditions of your offer by the deadline set by the department, normally the offer will lapse.

Please note that it can take up to three months to obtain an examination date for IELTS or TOEFL, so it is strongly recommended that all applicants who need an English test apply for one at the earliest opportunity, and preferably sufficiently in advance that you would have time to obtain a date for a retake examination should this be necessary. In this respect please note also that the department requires not only a minimum overall score in the English test but also minimum scores in each individual component of the tests.

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.

References

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.

Supporting documents

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 for short-listed candidates are normally held as part of the admissions process.

Interviews normally take place after you submit your application and normally within an eight-working week period of the application deadline for which you submitted a complete application.

These interviews may be conducted face-to-face or by telephone or video-link, including Skype. Shortlisting for interview is carried out according to the criteria included in the present entry requirements as judged from your written application (including references).

Normally the applications of candidates who are recommended post-interview by a prospective supervisor as suitable for a place will be assessed by at least two members of staff with experience of supervising doctoral students and in addition may be assessed by the department’s Director of Graduate Studies. All decisions to offer a place require approval by the Director of Graduate Studies or deputy.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.

An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed

Shortlisting and selection

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 selection procedure 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.

Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Processing your data for shortlisting and selection

Information about processing special category data for the purposes of positive action and using your data to assess your eligibility for funding, can be found in our Postgraduate Applicant Privacy Policy.

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.

Other factors governing whether places can be offered

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

  • the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
  • the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
  • minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.

Offer conditions for successful applications

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions

In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also 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 Student visa (under the Student Route). For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.

Resources

The department's high rating for research is evidence of its excellence in a wide range of materials research. In the UK Government's most recent assessment of research excellence in UK universities, the 2021 REF, research from Oxford’s Department of Materials and its Department of Engineering Science was jointly submitted to REF Unit of Assessment (UOA) 12 - Engineering^. For this submission 71% of the research activity of the two departments was judged to be in the highest, Grade 4* ('World-leading'), category of excellence and a further 26% as Grade 3* ('Internationally Excellent'). 90% of research impact was judged to be ‘World-leading’. [^There is not a specific REF UOA for Materials.]

The department has available excellent and wide-ranging research resources including:

  • a world-class suite of electron microscopy facilities including a JEOL ARM analytical STEM, a JEOL 3000F FEG STEM, and two Zeiss Merlin ultrahigh resolution SEMs optimised for EBSD and EDX analysis, together with a number of supporting and training instruments. Much of this equipment is installed in the David Cockayne Centre for Electron Microscopy;
  • further electron microscopy facilities are available at the national electron Physical Science Imaging Centre;
  • acoustic and scanned probe microscopes together with extensive further facilities for characterising materials including, for example, nanoSIMS, XPS, and Raman microscopy;
  • advanced sample preparation and micromachining facilities including a Zeiss NVision 40 FIB/SEM and three other FIB instruments;
  • microhardness measurement facilities (at high temperatures and at the nm scale);
  • special processing or manufacturing facilities for ceramics, composites, carbon nanomaterials, rapidly solidified materials and devices such as novel batteries. The department also has superb facilities for 3-D atom probe analysis (including LEAP 3000XSi and 3DAP-LAR);
  • a new alloy processing and mechanical properties laboratory, for aerospace and nuclear materials; and
  • several parallel computation Linux clusters with InfiniBand interconnects, operated by the Materials Modelling Laboratory, and access to all the Oxford Supercomputing Centre facilities.

The department’s Institute for Industrial Materials and Manufacturing is housed at the University's Begbroke Science Park and has world-class facilities for advanced materials processing and characterisation. A major suite of equipment is available for the characterisation of materials used in microtechnology and nanotechnology, as detailed on the Oxford Materials Characterisation Service website.

The Begbroke site also houses a number of Materials-related spinout companies.

In addition to the excellent central and college library provision, there is a specialist Materials Science Library housed in the department.

Funding

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.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2023-24

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£8,960
Overseas£29,700

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.

Continuation charges

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.

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 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.

College preference

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 Materials:

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. We recommend that you submit your application well in advance - two or three weeks earlier. 

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.

Contacting the department

Having first read the guidance and project descriptions on the Department of Materials website, if you wish to learn more about a specific project please contact the relevant supervisor by e-mail.

Before applying you are strongly encouraged to contact the department's Graduate Admissions Secretary for advice and assistance using the contact details provided on this page.

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 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field(s) or area(s) of research if known.
 
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).

Proposed supervisor

Under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic (s) who you would like to supervise your research. 

Referees
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.

It is desirable that one of your references is from an academic staff member who has supervised you in a research project.

If you are a current master’s student or have completed a master’s course, one of your referees should be your supervisor or course director on this course. If you do not provide a reference from your master’s supervisor or course director, the department will usually ask you to do so before completing the assessment of your application.

Normally at least two of your references should be from academic staff members who taught or supervised you during your bachelor’s and/or master’s degree programmes. The primary purpose of the three references is to provide the department with evidenced insight into your potential to excel as a research student.

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.

It is very important that you include official evidence of your overall mark (%) or cumulative GPA if this is not clearly stated on your transcript.

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.

In your CV/résumé, please include the references and abstracts of any publications you may have in peer-reviewed international journals. Please do not include full copies of your publications.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 400 words, accompanied by a list of preferred projects and supervisors

A detailed research proposal is not required. Instead, you should provide a single document comprising both:

  • a list of up to four research projects (and the associated supervisors) in which you are interested, in order of preference, selected from currently advertised projects; and
  • an outline of your research interests, written in English, that clearly indicates the rationale behind your choice of projects.

Please be sure to also include all of the supervisor names in the supervisors field of the application form. However, there is no need to repeat the project titles in the research project field of the application form.

The 400-word limit applies to the outline of your research interests. There is no word-count limit for the list of preferred projects and supervisors. 

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

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.

Application Guide Apply

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