DPhil in Oncology | University of Oxford
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 Oncology

About the course

This programme aims to train the next generation of leaders in translational oncology research by applying state-of-the-art techniques to address fundamental biology of cancer and how to optimise treatments for patients.

The Department of Oncology employs multidisciplinary approaches from physics, biology, chemistry and mathematical modelling to investigate DNA biology and epigenetics, cell and environmental biology of tumour tissue and both systemic and local immunological responses in cancer. This programme focuses on expanding scientific knowledge with a particular focus on therapies involving drug discovery or action and combination therapies with radiotherapy.

The DPhil in Oncology is a three-to-four year DPhil programme and is based on the conduct of a specific research project conducted in a single research group or laboratory. Applications are accepted from both basic scientists and clinicians.

Students will be admitted directly to a particular research area, within a research group/laboratory lead by a Principal Investigator who will be formally appointed as their DPhil supervisor.

Examples of recent projects include:

  • Investigating the relationship between BRAF status and melanoma response to anti-angiogenic therapy
  • Proteomic profiling of metastatic matrisome reveals citrullination as a marker of colorectal liver metastasis
  • Expression of factors within tumours to reverse immune suppression

As a graduate student you will have access to a wide range of resources offered by the department, the Medical Sciences Division and the wider University, to obtain the sills you need to become an outstanding researcher. There is also a wide range of courses and workshops which you can attend to acquire skills that will be necessary for the pursuance and presentation of your research, as well as your professional development as a research scientist. Please note there are no taught elements for the DPhil in Oncology. 

Supervision

For this course, the allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Oncology and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences if incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Oncology.

Information about research groups and supervisors connected with this course can also be found on the Department of Oncology website.

The University has a code of practice for supervision of research under which supervisors must:

  • Advise, guide and support the student in all aspects of their research project
  • Identify a clear plan of research
  • Draw up a timetable for research
  • Have regular meetings, at a minimum once every two weeks
  • Report on the student’s progress
  • Identify the student’s training needs
  • Encourage the student to participate in the wider Oxford community

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 they have additional support.

Assessment

All students are initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of four terms candidates are expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status.

A successful transfer of status assessment will require satisfactory attendance, submission of a thesis outline and presentation to the assessors. Students who are successful at transfer will then be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within nine terms of admission, to show that their work continues to be on track.

Both milestones normally involve a presentation and an interview with two assessors.

To be successfully awarded a DPhil candidates are required to attend a viva voce to defend their thesis (up to 50,000 words) to two appointed examiners, of which one is from the University and one is external from another institution.

Graduate destinations

After completion of their doctoral training, graduates of the Department of Oncology progress to postdoctoral research positions in Oxford, elsewhere in the UK or internationally (around 50%), to study medicine (around 25%), or to employment in medical charities and other professional organisations (around 25%).

Research students are expected to leave the DPhil in Oncology equipped with the scientific knowledge and cutting-edge technical skills that enable them to become the scholars, teachers and researchers of the next generation, both in the UK and globally.

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 Department of Oncology

Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22

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 a biological, medical, chemical, mathematical and physical science background, as appropriate for the projects offered.

However, entrance is highly competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent. A previous master's degree is not required, but is an advantage.

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

  • Publications are not required, but they may advantage an application.
  • It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.

Further guidance

All students are cleared for security. Non-EU students will require approval from the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) for courses at the Department of Oncology.

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 (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. It is expected that interviews will be scheduled in early February and will normally be held by video conference, or in the Department of Oncology.

Shortlisting meetings to consider applicants for interview and the interview panels include a minimum of three academics. There is normally a 3:1 target ratio of interviewees to places. The format of the interview is a five-minute presentation of your research experience or recent scientific project, followed by a question-and-answer session designed to investigate your:

  • experience or potential
  • knowledge of the field
  • interactive skills
  • presentation skills
  • analytical skills
  • experimental design
  • scientific motivation
  • career plan.

The interview will last between 30-40 minutes. During this time your application will be discussed in detail and you may expect a challenging conversation with panel members. However, it is hoped that you may find this a stimulating opportunity to discuss your work.

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. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. 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, 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.

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 Tier 4 visa. Further information can be found on our Tier 4 (General) Student visa page. For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.

Resources

Students will normally have two strands of supervision and the support of the Director of Graduate Studies, as well as administrative support within the department.

The Department of Oncology provides an induction to the department in the first weeks of study and encourages attendance at divisional and University induction events. 

In the Department of Oncology, students work alongside and learn from leaders in their field, and are provided with a world-class academic environment. They benefit from excellent support services, including a comprehensive portfolio of personal and professional skills development. Students are encouraged to attend training opportunities that include both subject-specific and generic research and transferable skills.

The University has a well-developed skills training portfolio in line with the UK Research Councils Joint Statement on graduate skills. The Medical Sciences Division training opportunities cover all aspects of research-related or technical skills, such as ethics, data analysis and statistics and bioinformatics; communications skills including scientific writing and oral and poster presentations, careers and personal development such as personal effectiveness and career planning; and finally academic practice including grant writing, teaching and intellectual property.

In addition, the Careers Service provides a full list of online courses, that are complementary to the Divisional provision, and provide advice on career progression and job applications. Other facilities and support are available through Oxford University IT Services, the Language Centre, and the Oxford Learning Institute for professional development. 

Students are provided with laboratory workspace, desk space and IT facilities in support of their research. In addition there are on-site library and social facilities.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. 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 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 can be found on the department's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2021-22

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£8,290
Overseas (including EU)£27,460

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our 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 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 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 2021-22, 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 following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Oncology:

How to apply

Before you apply please refer to the list of research themes and associated groups to identify areas of research that interest you, then contact a potential supervisor(s) to discuss the availability of research projects. You may list up to three potential supervisors in your application. 

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

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.

Personal statement:
A maximum of 1,000 words

You are required to submit a personal statement to explain your scientific experience and background, your interest in your chosen project and provide some insight into how you would develop your research.

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

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability.

The personal statement should focus on your personal research experience in this field rather than personal achievements and interests.

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.

Academic references are strongly encouraged, though you may use up to one professional reference provided that it is relevant to the course.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation and 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 plan your time to submit your application well in advance.

Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.

Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).

Application GuideApply

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