A student in a lab coat cutting DNA
Cutting DNA bands from an agarose gel in the laboratory
(Image Credit: Laurynas Pliuskys / Graduate Photography Competition)

DPhil in Molecular Cell Biology in Health and Disease

About the course

You will spend up to four years in one of the department's many research groups, working on a project supervised by the group's principal investigator. During this period you will have the opportunity to take part in the comprehensive training programme organised for graduate students.

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.

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 supervisor’s laboratory.

There are a number of key stages in the research programme.

  1. Within a month of starting, you will meet with your supervisor and graduate advisor to finalise your project and agree on an initial programme of research.
  2. Within the first three months, you will complete an analysis of your training needs with your supervisor.
  3. Within the first six months you are expected to complete a literature review on a topic relating to your area of research. 
  4.  After one year you will apply to transfer to DPhil status. (See Assessment)
  5. You will apply to confirm your DPhil status by the end of your third year. (See Assessment)
  6. The final stage is submission of your DPhil thesis, which needs to be done within four years.

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. Further support is available from your college advisor.

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.

There are a wide range of events organised for DPhil students. All students participate in an annual graduate students' symposium, which is attended by the entire department. Student contributions are carefully evaluated and prizes are awarded to the best posters or presentations in each year.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology 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 Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. 

You will be supervised by a team that includes your main supervisor, a graduate advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Your graduate adviser will usually be another experienced principal investigator in the department. Your supervisor may appoint a senior member of  the laboratory as your day-to-day supervisor. 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. Further support is available from your college advisor.

Assessment

There are two formal assessments that need to be passed before you are able to submit your DPhil Thesis. 

In Oxford all research students start out holding probationary research student (PRS) status.

You need to transfer to DPhil status within four terms (about 15 months). To do this you write a report describing your research to date and plans for the future. This will be assessed by two independent experts, who interview you as part of the process.

You need to confirm your DPhil status within three years. This involves writing a short progress report and thesis outline and giving a presentation. The application is assessed by two experts.

The final stage is submission of your DPhil thesis, which needs to be done within four years. This is assessed by two experts in the field, one of whom is external to Oxford. The assessment includes an interview or viva.

Graduate destinations

The majority of graduates from the DPhil in Molecular Cell Biology in Health and Disease (previously the DPhil in Pathology) pursue research careers in academic institutions or industry. Graduates also pursue careers in management (in pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies), consulting, law, teaching, with science funding organisations, charities and in scientific publishing.

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

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.

All graduate courses offered by the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology

Entry requirements for entry in 2022-23

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 any subject relevant to the proposed research project.

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

A previous master's qualification is not required.

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.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Research experience, such as an undergraduate research project and/or industry placement is very important. Most successful applicants will have relevant research experience.
  • It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor(s).
  • Publications are not required, but they do provide an advantage.

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.

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. 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.

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.  

All applications are assessed by a panel of (typically 5-7) academics using these selection criteria and ranked. A shortlist of approximately 30 applicants is interviewed by a panel of at least three academics. Applicants are required to give a 10-minute presentation of one of their research projects and this is followed by around 20 minutes of questions from the panel. Interviews usually take place in Oxford, but international students may be interviewed by virtual means.

Supervision

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 gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

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:

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.

Resources

The department is located in the University Science Area in central Oxford adjacent to the beautiful University Parks. It occupies attractive landscaped grounds and comprises three main research buildings. These are all joined by a striking link building which includes a cafeteria, recreational area, and library. There are numerous seminar/meeting rooms available within the department, fully equipped with audio-visual equipment.

You will be provided with plenty of bench space in your supervisor's laboratory and a suitable desk. The laboratories are all newly-refurbished, spacious and well equipped. There are central facilities for flow cytometry, light and electron microscopy, surface plasmon resonance, proteomics and genome engineering. Training and support is available for use of all these resources. You will have your own computer and have access to the department’s IT infrastructure and servers. You will also have use of University Libraries such as the Radcliffe Science Library and the Cairns Library. Library access includes full online access to all relevant scientific journals, available anywhere.

You will also have access to the extensive range of seminars and symposia in this and other departments at the University. During term-time there are regular departmental seminars which all graduate students are expected to attend. Students also present at regular progress seminars, which bring together groups in the department working in related areas. Your research group will be able to advise you as to which seminar series you should attend. All seminars are advertised on the web portal Oxford Talks

Graduate students in the department run a lively Graduate Students' Association and meet regularly for social, science and networking events.

Funding

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 college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course, including information about departmental scholarships linked to a particular college, can be found on the department's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2022-23

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£8,620
Overseas£28,560

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.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our detailed fee status information and the Oxford and the EU webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

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 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.

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 Sir William Dunn School of Pathology recommends that applicants state a preference for a college that awards scholarships in association with the school. A link to further information on the department's website can be found in the Funding and Costs section of this page. 

The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Molecular Cell Biology in Health and Disease:

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.

If you are applying to one of the listed available supervisors in the departmental studentship competition, it is not necessary to make contact with these supervisors before you apply.

In all other cases you should contact prospective supervisors before you submit any application to ensure that a supervisor is able to consider your application. Contact should initially be made via email and should include a CV/résumé.

If you are applying to the departmental studentship competition, you should list on the application form up to two supervisors/projects ordered by preference from the choices provided on the departmental website, and quote the studentship ref code path22 where indicated. You will need to enter these details in the relevant box on the 'Course' tab of the application form:

  • Under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the supervisor(s) you are applying to, listing them in order of preference or indicating equal preference; and
  • Under 'Proposed field and title of research project' enter the project you are applying to, in order of preference or indicating equal preference.

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
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 (graduate.school@medsci.ox.ac.uk).

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 professional references relevant to the course are also acceptable, eg from research employment.

Your references will support academic achievement and intellectual ability, appropriateness of background knowledge, proficiency in research, motivation and commitment, 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:

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.

Application GuideApply

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