About the course
This is a research degree leading to the award of a DPhil in Physical and Theoretical Chemistry. Many training opportunities are available throughout the course, including seminar series throughout the Department of Chemistry and the annual Hinshelwood Lectures, but the focus of the course is the research project.
The breadth of research interests in the Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory (PTCL) is a particular strength, and current areas of research are listed in further detail below.
Current areas of research
Theory and modelling of complex systems
Provides a key interface with physics, materials science and biology, with research including: quantum condensed matter theory, chemical reaction dynamics and mechanism, and the electronic and optical properties of macromolecular systems.
Kinetics, dynamics and mechanism
Research areas include: interfacial kinetics, reaction dynamics, photochemical and radical processes, computation of reaction pathways, atmospheric chemistry and modelling.
Chemistry at the interface with biology and medicine
Cutting-edge work includes research into: single molecule sensing, protein chemistry and molecular imaging.
Advanced functional materials and interfaces
Key areas are: molecular nanotechnology & nanolubrication (opening up new opportunities in the molecular- scale engineering of electronic, optoelectronic and photonic devices), quantum theory of strongly correlated materials, complex reaction pathways.
Innovative measurement and photon science
Current research areas include: electrochemistry, reaction dynamics, imaging, interface measurements, magnetic resonance, sensors and instrumentation.
Further course details
The department provides a stimulating intellectual environment and well-equipped laboratories for graduate students funded under a wide range of schemes. DPhil graduates are highly valued by both academic and industrial employers and many alumni go on to distinguished research careers.
The nature of each student’s working week depends on their project, but students would typically carry out their research in one of the department’s buildings, engaged in full-time experimental or theoretical/computational work (or a mixture of the two).
During the first year, in addition to starting work on their research, students will be encouraged to follow training courses chosen from the vast number offered by the department and the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division Graduate School, and it is recommended that they attend at least three of these. A quarterly report on each student’s progress is submitted by their supervisor throughout the course.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Chemistry 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 Chemistry.
Research students join a research group supervised by one or more members of the Department of Chemistry, sometimes in collaboration with other departments.
All students have frequent meetings with their research supervisors; these would normally occur either weekly or fortnightly.
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.
Students are admitted as Probationary Research Students. At the end of the first year, they undergo a Transfer of Status assessment, which is to ensure that they have the potential to gain a doctorate. This assessment is made on the basis of a report and oral examination.
Research proceeds with quarterly reporting throughout the next two years, and there is the opportunity to follow further courses during this period. By the end of the third year, students must pass the Confirmation of Status assessment to ensure that they are on track to complete the thesis within a reasonable time.
The degree is examined by thesis and oral examination by two examiners, one of whom is normally from Oxford and one from elsewhere.
Most alumni from the DPhil in Physical and Theoretical Chemistry remain in chemistry, some in the educational sector, and some go into industry, particularly including the computer industry. There is a wide variety of other destinations, including scientific writers, patent attorneys, government and the civil service, and a few go into financial services.
The department runs an annual careers conference for graduate students and the careers service offers a wide variety of support, including CV workshops. The department also hosts a large number of visits from prospective employers, where students can find out more information. There is an alumni officer, who keeps in touch with graduates, and the department runs a number of social and scientific events for them.
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
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 department
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Chemistry
Entry requirements for entry in 2022-23
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 in a subject relevant to the proposed research. Normally this will be a chemistry degree, but degrees in other physical sciences or in a biological science may be suitable.
However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.
A previous master's degree (either an integrated master's degree or standalone) is preferred but is not required.
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
- Applicants with substantial professional experience are welcome.
- Prior publications are not expected but may help to indicate your aptitude for research.
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 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.
The criteria for shortlisting are academic merit, references and motivation. Typically the interview lasts 30 minutes and it may include discussion on your research interests and subject-related questions.
Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. The After you apply section of this website provides further information about the academic assessment of your application, including the potential outcomes. Please note that any offer of a place may be subject to academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions may vary depending upon your individual academic circumstances.
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to 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 on selection procedures 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.
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
After an offer is made
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer letter will give full details of your offer and any academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will be required to meet the following requirements:
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.
Students are supervised by some of the country’s most gifted research chemists, many of whom have world-class reputations. Graduate students work in an environment which encourages and inspires them to acquire and develop a wide range of communication, study, and research skills.
Workspace will be related to individual circumstances. If undertaking experimental work, you will be provided with space in a laboratory with access to all the required equipment. If undertaking theoretical research, you will have shared office space.
You will have access to the Department of Chemistry IT support staff, to the Radcliffe Science Library and other university libraries, and centrally provided electronic resources, technical workshops and glass workshops. Experimental facilities are available as appropriate to the research topic. The provision of other resources specific to your project should be agreed with your supervisor as a part of the planning stages of the agreed project.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2022-23. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of 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 2022-23
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.
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.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2022-23 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,215 and £1,755 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2022-23, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.
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 Physical and Theoretical Chemistry:
How to apply
You are very strongly encouraged to make contact with prospective supervisors before applying, in order to work out whether this course is the right choice and the likely availability of funding.
You can list supervisors from different Sections of Chemistry within one application.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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.
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.
Statement of purpose:
A maximum of 1,000 words
Rather than a research proposal, you should provide a statement of purpose.
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
Please provide an indication of the area of your proposed research and supervisor(s) in your statement.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for the coherence of the statement; evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study; the ability to present a reasoned case in English; and commitment to the subject.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
References should generally be academic though a maximum of one professional reference is acceptable where you have completed an industrial placement or worked in a full-time position.
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 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:
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds who meet the eligibility criteria;
- residents in a country on our low-income countries list (refer to the eligibility criteria);
- current Oxford graduate taught students applying for readmission to an eligible course; and
- additional applications to selected research courses that are closely related to your first application.
Step 5: Start your application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.