DPhil in Particle Physics | University of Oxford
The ATLAS detector
The central part of the ATLAS detector at the LHC Geneva, built in Oxford
(Image Credit: Department of Physics)

DPhil in Particle Physics

About the course

The work of this world-class sub-department is in experimental particle physics, particle astrophysics and accelerator physics. Particle physics is the study of basic constituents of matter and their interactions. This is accomplished either directly with accelerators that create the particles under study or by observing high-energy particles from outer space.

The sub-department is one of the largest in the UK and is well equipped to carry out research in a wide range of topics, from the study of new particles produced at high energy accelerators to neutrinos, dark matter and dark energy in the Universe. The sub-department’s experiments are carried out at facilities around the world, in Switzerland, Japan, the USA and Canada.

You will spend half the first year on a lecture course in addition to starting your research and, if appropriate, spend your second year on-site at your experiment. Laboratories here in Oxford and experiments at overseas facilities provide access to a high-tech environment and excellent research training, directly applicable to a broad range of fields.

The world's biggest accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, is running and in 2012 the Higgs boson, a particle thought to give mass to all elementary particles, was discovered. The understanding of its properties is one of the main aims of the ATLAS experiment. The Oxford group is also focused on the search of new particles predicted in Supersymmetry and other beyond the Standard Model theories. Elucidation of CP violation, one of the mysteries of particle physics, is the aim of the sub-department’s other LHC experiment, LHCb. Both experiments will require you to obtain and analyse data from the highest-energy machine in the world.

The sub-department is also involved in the study of neutrino oscillations and neutrino properties at the T2K experiment in Japan, MicroBooNe & DUNE in the USA, and at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO+) in Canada.

The sub-department has participated in direct searches for dark matter for many years and studentships are now available associated to the LZ project. Recently it has begun a programme in collaboration with the sub-department of astrophysics to elucidate the nature of dark energy with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).

The future of particle physics relies on the development of new instruments for detecting particles and novel ideas in accelerator physics. The sub-department is heavily involved in the development of these areas. It has outstanding facilities to build the new silicon detectors needed for the luminosity upgrade of the LHC and other applications.

The sub-department is playing a major role in the ProtoDune experimental program at CERN, which is designed to test and validate the Liquid Argon Time Projection Chamber technologies for the construction of the DUNE Far Detector at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). 

Furthermore, through the John Adams Institute, students can engage in a range of projects on accelerators which would be used in high energy physics, nuclear physics, as X-ray sources, and in medical applications.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Physics 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 Department of Physics.

You will be allocated at least one supervisor who should be your primary contact for guidance throughout your research degree. Research students join an existing research group which typically consists of academics, postdocs, fellows and current students. Students will meet with supervisors regularly. This could be in person, via email, or video conferencing.

Assessment

All students will be initially be admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). You will be required to attend lectures and complete problem sets during your first year. The problem sets will count towards you end of first year interview. Upon successful completion of a report and an interview you will be transferred to DPhil Status.

During your third year you will go through a confirmation of status assessment this will involve a report including a thesis plan and will be assessed by two assessors. Upon a successful assessment interview your DPhil status will be confirmed this will confirm you are on track to complete your thesis.

Graduate destinations

The particle physics doctoral programme at Oxford is ideally suited to students who would like to pursue a career in research, either in academia or industry all over the world.

Students have taken on a wide variety of jobs in other fields, including investment banking, business analysis, and consulting. Physics as a discipline is always in high demand.

Changes to this course and your supervision

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

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 physics, mathematics or related fields. The equivalent of a UK four-year integrated MPhys or MSci degree is typically required. Bachelor's degrees with a minimum four years' standard duration may satisfy the entry requirements.

Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent. In exceptional cases, the requirement for a first-class or strong upper-second class undergraduate degree with honours can be alternatively demonstrated by a graduate master’s degree or substantial directly-related professional or research experience.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the typical minimum GPA sought is 3.3 out of 4.0. However, selection of candidates also depends on other factors in your application and most successful applicants have achieved higher GPA scores. 

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

It is helpful to include details of any of the following applicable attributes, which may strengthen your application:

  • Details of any publications.  Many candidates with no peer-reviewed publications receive offers each year.
  • Research or professional experience in areas aligned with the proposed supervisors' research interests.
  • Depending on the project, evidence of training in scientific computer programming or related numerical techniques.
  • Previous experience in a scientific or technical research environment.

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.  

It is expected that interviews will take place in February. Interviews will normally take place in person or by video link. 

You will be asked questions that probe your current knowledge of particle physics. In particular you will be asked to talk about any projects you have done as part of your undergraduate degree programme or vacation placements.

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

You will be allocated your own desk in a shared office or laboratory. As a DPhil student, you will be provided with appropriate computing support to conduct your research. You will be given accounts on central Linux and Windows servers immediately and, once you arrive at Oxford, you will be able to select the machine and operating system which works the best in your research group. Additionally, if you are working on a computationally intensive project, you will have appropriate access to the departmental cluster computers and national facilities.

Depending on the project, you will often be able to spend significant amounts of time away at the experimental site for your research. A similar level of provision will be available at these sites.

You will be a member of a college which provide social facilities.

As a member of the University you will have access to the Radcliffe Science Library as well as to your college libraries. 

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.

How to apply

You should contact the departmental representative at the details provided on this page with any queries rather than individual academics. It is not necessary to contact a prospective supervisor prior to applying. 

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 research if you have undertaken any, and any relevant professional experience.

Research proposal:
A maximum of 500 words

You do not need to provide a detailed research proposal; you should only give a brief indication of the area in which you wish to carry out research. This may be quite specific, but need not be if you have not yet decided on your preferred topic or area.

The proposal should be written in English and any bibliography should be included in the overall page count.

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

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • the coherence of the proposal
  • the originality of the project
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

Your proposal should focus on your research rather than personal achievements, 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.

Three academic references are usually required. However, if you have been out of education and in employment for a few years, you may arrange one professional and two academic references.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and your ability to work in a group.

Applying to multiple Physics DPhil courses

If your application is related to more than one Physics DPhil course, there is no need to complete a separate application for each or pay more than one application fee. Please refer to the instructions for applying to related courses.

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 button 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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