About the course
The DPhil in Musculoskeletal Sciences is intended to provide clinical and non-clinical graduates with a wide variety of research skills, in-depth knowledge, understanding and expertise in specific musculoskeletal-related fields of research. Furthermore, as part of your training you will be exposed to a range of topics such as critical appraisal, epidemiology and medical statistics.
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 short induction period in Michaelmas term, during which some basic training is provided, you will start a research project in your supervisor’s unit. There are a wide range of projects that can be undertaken under this title, including projects on epidemiology, clinical trials, pathophysiology of various musculoskeletal disorders, bioengineering, cancer biology, stem cell and epigenetics, cartilage and tendon biology, among others.
Most research groups have weekly meetings where members present and discuss their research results with other members of their team. You are likely to be asked to 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.
Your training will be tailored to your particular needs, drawing from the vast range of training available at Oxford and covering both specialist scientific methods and techniques and transferable skills. Please note that there is no formal taught component of the DPhil in Musculoskeletal Sciences. However, you will develop your research skills through a range of research training in your first year, including compulsory attendance at core subject lectures on a variety of topics such as an introduction to pathophysiology of musculoskeletal disorders, epidemiology, basic immunology, clinical trials and rehabilitation.
During your first year, you will be expected to attend a number of topic-related modules. Attendance on a two-day Data Analysis: Statistics Designing Clinical Research and Biostatistics course is compulsory to assist you with appropriate research design. You are also encouraged to work with your supervisor(s) on your research-specific literature review and to develop a study design for your thesis within the first term (two terms for part-time students) of your research training.
You will be required to attend and present at postgraduate seminars, not only to develop your presentation skills but also to benefit from the feedback, support and interaction from your University peers and senior academics.
As a member of Medical Sciences Graduate School, you will be entitled to attend various workshops run by the Medical Sciences Skills Training programme. Further academic and pastoral support will be provided for by the Departmental Graduate Studies Team which consist of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) as well as the departmental Graduate Studies Officer (GSO) and Assistant (GSA). Further support is available from your college advisor.
As a part-time student you will be required to attend induction week, core & specialised lectures, departmental seminars, & workshops as well as individual/group research meetings with your supervisors. You will have the opportunity to tailor your part-time study in liaison with your supervisor and agree your pattern of attendance. Attendance is required for a minimum of thirty days per annum to be arranged with the agreement of your supervisor, for the period that you remain on the Register of Graduate Students.
Attendance in person will be required during term-time as determined by mutual agreement with your supervisor. This will solely depend on the nature of your studies (clinical or basic science) and the percentage of FTE that you will be conducting your research (no less than 0.5 FTE).
Attendance outside of term-time will be similar to that during the academic terms. Research protocol and experimentation should be planned and completed based on the available timeline for submission of various milestones set by the Division.
You will also be required to attend termly meeting with your Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) to discuss your academic progress.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of Medical Sciences and the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) 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 Medical Sciences and NDORMS.
All students must have a core supervisory team of at least two supervisors. At the beginning of your programme, you will meet with your supervisors regularly to finalise your project and agree on an initial programme of research. Within the first three months, you will complete an analysis of your training needs for the duration of your research (TNA) with your supervisor and submit it as part of your compulsory termly reporting.
Regularity of student/supervisor meetings will be agreed between the student and supervisors directly. Every student should meet their supervisors at least once per month. A Thesis Committee is a recommended second strand of supervisory support in the Botnar Research Centre.
Within the first six to twelve months (twelve to twenty four months for part-time students) you are expected to complete a literature review on a topic relating to your area of research.
In the case of students who require specific help to adjust to an academic programme or to a new range of skills, the supervisor will work with them to ensure that they have additional support.
Your attainment will be evaluated via:
- Completion of termly reports by you and your supervisor(s) through Graduate Supervision Reporting (GSR)
- Transfer of Status, to be completed before the end of the fourth term (eighth term for part-time students). The process includes preparation and submission of a transfer report and assessment in a viva.
- Confirmation of Status, to be completed before the end of the eighth term (sixteenth term for part-time students). This process includes assessment in a viva including presentation of findings and an outline of the thesis.
- Submission and defence of the final thesis by viva, no later than twelfth term (twenty fourth term for part-time students - depending on funding duration).
Stages 2, 3 and 4 will be assessed by two independent senior academics to ensure you are on track with your research and that you are receiving adequate guidance.
According to the department's records, DPhil in Musculoskeletal Sciences alumni are employed, across a wide range of clinical professions (eg rheumatology, orthopaedics or physiotherapy) and non-clinical related professions (eg in postdoctoral academic and industrial research, teaching, pharmaceuticals, marketing and scientific writing). A number of alumni have set up their own businesses or changed paths completely into banking or medical writing, a group which constitutes around 1% of the total number.
The Director of Graduate Studies and Graduate Studies Assistant follow the department's alumni to establish the long-term career paths of past students.
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.
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.
All graduate courses offered by the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
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 as a minimum, in biological sciences and/or related topics.
The department also considers applicants from medically qualified individuals. In special circumstances, applications from other medically related subjects (eg nurses, and/or allied health professionals) will be considered for the DPhil. If you fall into this category, please contact the Graduate Studies Officer.
You do not need to have a previous master's degree to be considered for this DPhil.
For applicants from the USA or China, 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 or working experience in any field may be an advantage. For clinical applicants, evidence of your employer's support will be required.
- In exceptional circumstances, an applicant could be considered if they have substantial professional experience in a musculoskeletal-related field.
- It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.
- Although it is not essential, preference will be given to applicants who have had recent publications and/or awards from various funding bodies.
- Previous publications are not a requirement; however, they would be advantageous to your application.
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.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.0||6.5|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*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.
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.
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.
All shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in person or by video-conference (depending on the applicant's native country). The interview will be conducted by up to six senior academics and it will last a maximum of 45 minutes. Those shortlisted for interviews will be notified 7 to 14 days prior to the interview date.
The shortlisted applicants will be required to give a 10-15 minute presentation on their previous research or that proposed to be undertaken for the DPhil.
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
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:
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.
The Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) is a large multi-disciplinary department with a broad range of sciences related to medicine. Research spans the translational research spectrum, from basic biological research through to clinical and epidemiological research.
The NDORMS is committed to training the next generation of scientists in biological and clinical sciences and has a large number of staff (over 400 people), approximately 100 postgraduate research students and a grant portfolio in excess of £150 million.
NDORMS has state-of-the-art research facilities across the spectrum of our research expertise.
There is student representation within the various departmental committees, providing student-led support as well as representing students’ interests in departmental decision-making.
You will have access to a wide range of resources within the department and University, including the following facilities.
You will have access to University IT services and Medical Sciences Division IT support. You will be allocated unique single-sign-on (SSO) credentials which will allow you to access numerous resources such as information on local seminars (Oxford Talk), other departmental and University information, the divisional skills training portal, Researchers' Toolkit, significant information on the University's student gateway, career courses and libraries online.
You will have access to local libraries: the Bodleian Library, the Cairns Library based in the John Radcliffe Hospital and musculoskeletal-related topics at the Girdlestone Library located at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre's Knowledge Centre on the Old Road Campus. Furthermore, through the central University library services, you will have access to a wide range of articles and publications.
Study and experimental space
Workspace will be related to and dependent on your individual circumstances. If undertaking experimental "wet" lab work, you will be provided with bench space in a relevant laboratory. If undertaking data analysis and computer-based research, you will be allocated an office space that may be shared.
Lectures and seminars
You will be notified by regular emails about seminar schedules within the department and you are encouraged to visit the Oxford Talk website to access other departments' and divisions' seminars and lectures.
NDORMS Student Committee
Currently there are around 100 DPhil and MSc research students. There is an active student committee which organises regular social events, a Christmas gathering with a band, and a picnic in the park during the summer. At least two students are represented at the department’s Graduate Studies Committee, the Athena SWAN Committee and the University's Graduate Joint Consultative Committee to express students' opinions, concerns and views.
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.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Annual Course fees
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.
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.
Please note that you are required to attend in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Also, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur further 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.
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.
If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.
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 for full-time study on this course:
The following colleges accept students for part-time study on this course:
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.
Contacting the department
Before you apply (if you are not applying for an advertised project), you should approach a supervisor to ensure they have the capacity to take you on and are willing to support your application. You will also need to agree on a research project, a proposal for which should be submitted as part of your application. Details of potential supervisors can be found on the department's website.
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
You must enter the project you are applying to under 'Field and title of research project' on the 'Course' tab of the application form.
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).
Under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic (s) who you would like to supervise your research.
If you are applying for an advertised project, you should leave this field blank.
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.
One professional reference is acceptable, though your other references should be academic and should comment specifically on your academic ability.
Your references should support your intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation and ability to work independently.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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 and research proposal:
A maximum of 500 words each
All applicants should submit a personal statement. If you are not applying for specified studentships, you will also need to submit a research proposal.
Your statement of purpose/personal statement and research proposal should be submitted as a single, combined document with clear subheadings. Please ensure that the word counts for each section are clearly visible in the document.
Statement of purpose/personal statement
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.
A research proposal should only be submitted if you are not applying for a specified studentship.
Your research proposal should comprise a detailed outline of your proposed research, written in English. The research proposal should include details of the background/rationale of the research, hypotheses and methodology. It should explain the originality/novelty of the work and outline how completion within twelve academic terms (ie four years) can be achieved. The overall word count should include any bibliography.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.