DPhil in Plant Sciences | University of Oxford
A close up of a stem and leaves of a plant
A research photograph showing a close-up of the subject
(Image Credit: Department of Plant Sciences)

DPhil in Plant Sciences

About the course

The DPhil in Plant Sciences allows graduates to undertake both fundamental and applied research in topics across the breadth of plant science. You will gain a wide range of research skills as well as in-depth knowledge and expertise in your chosen field of research. At the end of this course you will have developed the skills needed for independent critical enquiry and made a significant contribution to understanding in the specific area of investigation.

As a graduate student you will be expected to develop an original research project under the guidance of your academic supervisor(s) and normally on a topic related to their areas of expertise. The vast majority of your time will, therefore, be spent in independent self-directed research and will involve a mixture of experimental, computational and observational activities in either the laboratory or field locations, depending on the precise nature of your project. Alongside your research work, you will have the opportunity to attend a range of short training courses (mainly in your first and second years) designed to develop skills you will need as a scientist and more general transferable skills. These include courses on critical analysis of the literature, scientific writing, presentation skills, as well as foundation courses in plant biodiversity, bioinformatics and statistics, if appropriate. Such training courses are expected to take up no more than 10% of your time.

The department has a friendly and vibrant graduate community which provides a welcoming network to new students. The graduate student community offers a supportive environment, both social and scientific, allowing new graduates to develop into well-rounded and confident scientists. Graduates are a valued part of the department’s research community and their work is showcased annually at the departmental Graduate Symposium.

Supervision

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

As a graduate student you will be embedded in the research groups of one or more members of academic staff who act as your supervisors and provide the bulk of the research guidance and training. You will typically meet with your supervisor weekly to discuss your progress and developments in the field, although this may vary depending on the area of research, the nature of your project, and the stage of your studies.

Assessment

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

A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require you to present a convincing research proposal, demonstrate satisfactory progress in its development, and show that the work you are conducting is of an acceptable scientific standard. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within nine terms of admission, to show that work continues to be on track.

Both milestones normally involve an interview with two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.

You will be expected to submit an original thesis of up to 50,000 words after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Plant Science you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.

Student insights

Graduate destinations

100% of alumni from the DPhil in Plant Sciences are employed, across a wide range of sectors, with 60% working in academic research positions. The department retains contact with its alumni to find out what they have gone on to do after completing their course.

Past students from the Department of Plant Sciences have gone on to careers both in the UK and other countries in teaching and research in schools, universities, policy for government departments, industry, and administration at local and national levels.

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.

All graduate courses offered by the Department of Plant Sciences

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 in biological sciences or a related subject.

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

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

  • Evidence of training, research or working experience in the proposed research area would strengthen the application.
  • Publications are not required but would be useful to include where applicable.
  • Graduate applicants are expected to be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor and have an understanding of the background to their proposed area of study.

Performance at interview(s)

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 higher 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 higher level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.57.0
TOEFL iBT (Institution code: 0490)110Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*191185
C2 Proficiency191185

*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.  

Applicants will be selected for interview based on the aforementioned criteria. Interviews will normally be held within four weeks of the application deadline and will either be in person or by remote video conferencing and will take around 30 to 45 minutes. Admission decisions are made by the department's Graduate Studies Committee in consultation with the Head of Department; you can therefore expect to be interviewed by a panel of two or three committee members.

Applicants will be asked to talk about their academic history and any research project(s) that they may have pursued and questioned on aspects of their research training to date, understanding of the proposed area of study and motivation for doing a DPhil.

Prior to the interview applicants may be sent a short article to read which is relevant to their research; they should be prepared to answer questions on this at the interview.

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

Academic resources

The Plant Sciences Department is centrally situated in the University Science Area. All the laboratories are excellently equipped for modern cell and molecular technologies.

You will have access to a range of unique facilities comprising the living collections and arboretum of the University Botanic Gardens and, on site, two herbaria of international standing. Specialist facilities available to you include confocal and electron microscopy, mass spectrometry and extensive transgenic plant growth facilities (glasshouses and controlled-environment rooms).

Research seminars

You will have access to the seminars that individual research groups or groups with common areas of interest organise for their own members and others. You are entitled to attend any University lecture - timetables for each term are published as lecture lists and updated in the weekly University Gazette, both documents are available in digital format via the University intranet. You should also check departmental and college noticeboards for notices of other lectures, seminars, meetings, etc. You are expected to attend the departmental research seminars, usually held in the Large Lecture Theatre each week during term.

IT support, library facilities and experimental facilities

You will have access to a computer, and the departmental intranet run by the departmental computing service, who will also provide you with IT support. In addition to the Radcliffe Science Library - the scientific section of the Bodleian Library - and other University libraries, you will have access to centrally-provided electronic resources, including a wide range of scientific journals. Library staff will explain the functioning of the University's library services during your induction week. Your University card will give you access to the Radcliffe Science Library and all other Bodleian 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.

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 Plant Sciences:

How to apply

You are strongly encouraged to communicate with potential supervisors before you apply to explain why you want to come and work in your particular field of study, to answer any questions on research projects and to refine your application, especially where scholarships are involved.

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.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 1,000 words

You do not need to submit a detailed research proposal. Instead, please provide a cogent personal statement, written in English, explaining why you wish to take the proposed course and how the degree relates to your long-term career objectives. The statement should also briefly indicate your proposed research area.

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

The personal statement will also be assessed for evidence of motivation, of understanding of the proposed field of study (both broadly and in the specific project area being considered), and of your ability to present a reasoned argument in English.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, academic and/or professional

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.

Your references will used to help assessment of your intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation and research potential. In this context, references from academics able to comment on your performance on previous university courses are particular relevant. However, one or more references from previous research projects, industrial placements or other relevant professional activities are equally welcome.

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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