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. 

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. 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, scientific publishing, medical writing, and with science funding organisations and, charities.

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

You are strongly advised to visit the Medical Sciences Graduate School website to help 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.

Courses suggested by the school

Cardiovascular Science DPhil
Cellular Structural Biology DPhil

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

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 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.

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.

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 are normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Interview will either be in person (in Oxford) or virtual. Applicants invited for interview are required to give a presentation of one of their research projects.

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.

Initiatives to improve access to graduate study

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. Further details about this pilot, which applies to all applicants to this course, can be found in our pilot selection procedures section.

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.

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, microscopy, surface plasmon resonance, and genome engineering. Members of the department also have access to a wide range of shared facilities in the science area, including proteomics, imaging, structural biology, genomics, and drug-discovery. 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.

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. There are multiple opportunities for students to present their work, including the annual Departmental Graduate Student Symposium, and other Student Symposia within the University. All students have opportunities to present their work at national and international conferences.

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 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, including information about departmental scholarships linked to a particular college, 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.

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 and Funding section of this website, which includes detailed fee status information.

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 Sir William Dunn School of Pathology recommends that applicants state a preference for a college rather than submit an Open College application. 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:

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

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

In all other cases you should contact prospective supervisors before you submit any application in order to ensure that a supervisor is able to consider your application. Contact should initially be made via email and should include a CV/résumé. Contact details can be found on the department's website.

Any general course queries can be directed to the course administrator 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 'Proposed field and title of research project' enter the project (s) you are applying to, in order of preference or indicating equal preference. You should not use this field to type out a full research proposal.

Proposed supervisor

Under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the supervisor(s) you are applying to, in order of preference, or indicating equal preference.

Referees:
Three overall, academic preferred

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.

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.

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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