DPhil in Social Data Science
About the course
The DPhil in Social Data Science provides an opportunity for students to formulate and address novel research questions at the intersection of the computational and social sciences, supported by the multidisciplinary faculty at the OII, Engineering Science, Statistics, Sociology, Computer Science and other departments across the University of Oxford, as well as by the complementary strengths of the student cohort, who draw upon expertise and experience from across the disciplinary spectrum.
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. For more information see the full details about this pilot.
Students are encouraged to pioneer new approaches to contemporary social problems, exploiting fast expanding possibilities in large-scale data collection, machine learning, and statistical modelling. This degree will train individuals to develop and adapt techniques such as machine learning to analyse large, structured and unstructured, complex datasets in order to improve decision making and answer social science research questions.
Beyond the technical skills, the programme will also provide students with a solid grounding in social science theory and methodology, and reflection on the consequences of the techniques applied. Ordinarily, students will be expected to have training similar to that offered within the MSc in Social Data Science, but gaps may be filled with courses from the MSc curriculum as well as other existing courses at the University.
Over the course of the three to four years, you are expected to produce an important and original piece of scholarship that will make a significant contribution to the dynamic area of Social Data Science. On completion, you will have the qualities and transferable skills necessary to excel in teaching, research, policymaking or business.
The DPhil programme at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is also available on a part-time basis. The part-time programme is spread over six to eight years of study and research. The part-time degree offers the flexibility of part-time study with the same high standards and requirements as the full-time DPhil programme. The part-time DPhil also provides an excellent opportunity for professionals in high tech industries to undertake rigorous long-term research that may be relevant to their working life. Please visit the department website for further details on part-time doctoral study or contact the Graduate Studies Assistant.
As a part-time student you will be required to attend seminars, supervision meetings and other obligations in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year.Attendance will be required during term-time a minimum of one day each week. There will be limited flexibility in the dates and pattern of attendance, which will normally be determined by the fixed teaching and seminar schedule during term.Attendance may be required outside of term-time on dates to be determined by mutual agreement with your supervisor. You will have the opportunity to tailor your part-time study in liaison with your supervisor and agree your pattern of attendance.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Oxford Internet Institute and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff.
Supervision for the DPhil in Social Data Science spans multiple departments (please see the full list of faculty members eligible to supervise DPhil students for this programme). A supervisor may be found outside the list on the course web page, and co-supervision is also possible.
Students should normally expect to meet with their supervisor around three to four times a term.
The sequence of milestones for a DPhil student are as follows:
- Admission as a Probationer Research Student (PRS)
- Transfer to DPhil status (‘Transfer of Status’)
- Confirmation of DPhil status for DPhil students (‘Confirmation of Status’)
- Submission of thesis
All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS), during which time you will be required to attend. core foundational courses from the OII’s training programme as directed by the Graduate Studies Committee. Within a maximum of four terms as a full-time PRS student or eight terms as a part-time PRS student, you will be expected to apply for, and achieve, transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status.
A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require the student to show that their proposed thesis and treatment represents a viable topic and that their written work and interview show that they have a good knowledge and understanding of the subject. Students are also required to demonstrate satisfactory completion of the foundational courses by this point.
Following successful transfer, students will need to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that the work continues to be on track. This will need to be completed within nine terms of admission for full-time students and 18 terms of admission for part-time students.
Both milestones involve an interview with two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.
Full-time students will be expected to submit an original thesis of not more than 100,000 words three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. If you are studying part-time, you be required to submit your thesis after six or, at most, eight years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Social Data Science you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.
Employers recognise the value of a degree from the University of Oxford, and graduates from our existing programmes have secured excellent positions in industry, government and NGOs. Alumni who have pursued academic careers have taken up research and teaching positions at the University of Oxford, Cornell University, University of Hong Kong, Imperial College London, Durham University, University of New South Wales, Coventry University, University of Leicester, University of Ottawa and Michigan State University. OII DPhil alumni also work in wide-range of organisations including The World Bank, Oxfam, Cisco, McKinsey and Google.
The OII Alumni Wall features interviews from both MSc and DPhil alumni about their time at the Department and career paths after Oxford.
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.
Courses suggested by the institute
Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems EPSRC CDT
Computer Science DPhil
Engineering Science DPhil
Health Data Science EPSRC CDT
Modern Statistics and Statistical Machine Learning EPSRC CDT
Sociology and Demography MPhil
All graduate courses offered by the Oxford Internet Institute
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 master's degree with a mark of at least 65%; and
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any subject.
It is expected that all applicants will hold a taught masters or other advanced degree.
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
Strong analytical abilities in understanding the social aspects of the Internet, World Wide Web and related technologies, as shown by the candidate’s writing sample and/or the reports of referees, are required. It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.
Applicants are expected to demonstrate quantitative aptitude or experience in at least half of the material covered by the MSc in Social Data Science.
Applicants may demonstrate this aptitude/experience in a variety of ways including:
- graduate and undergraduate transcripts;
- on-the-job training and practical experience;
- evidence of the successful completion of online courses.
Applicants are not expected to have published academic work previously, although publication may help the assessors judge your writing ability and thus could help your application.
Academic research related to data science or experience working in related businesses is not required, but may be an advantage.
Part-time applicants will also be expected to show evidence of the ability to commit time to study and, if applicable, an employer's commitment to make time available to study, to complete coursework, and attend course and University events and modules. Where appropriate, evidence should also be provided of permission to use employers’ data in the proposed research project.
English language proficiency
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.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
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 held as part of the admissions process.
All applications are reviewed by at least two members of faculty with relevant experience and expertise. Applicants are shortlisted based on the quality of the written application. Those who are shortlisted will usually be interviewed.
Interviews are typically held three to six weeks after the application deadline. There is usually only one interview held, which lasts 30 to 40 minutes and can be held via a video conferencing platform. You will be asked questions about your academic background, your research plan, and why you think the Oxford Internet Institute would be the best place to conduct your studies. The interview panel will consist of at least two interviewers which will normally include the potential supervisor.
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 DPhil in Social Data Science is offered by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in partnership with Statistics, Engineering Science, Sociology, and other departments. The OII faculty works at the cutting-edge of their fields, and this innovative research is fully reflected in their course teaching. The department prides itself on providing a stimulating and supportive environment in which all students can flourish. As a fully multidisciplinary department, the OII offers you the opportunity to study academic, practical and policy-related issues that can only be understood by drawing on contributions from across many different fields.
During the DPhil, in addition to the formal requirements of the DPhil thesis, all OII doctoral students receive regular training in the key professional skills necessary to support their research and future employment. These range from classes on specific tools or skills to more generic training such as presentation skills, academic writing and peer review. You will attend a weekly seminar (normally convened by the DPhil Programme Director) in which you will present your own work for critique, and critique the work of your peers. The OII also provides opportunities for DPhil students to gain teaching experience through mentored assistantship roles in some of its core MSc courses.
The department's busy calendar of seminars and events brings many of the most important people in Internet research, innovation and policy to the OII, allowing students to engage with the 'bleeding edge' of scholarship and debates around the Internet.
OII students also take full advantage of the substantial resources available at the University of Oxford, including world- leading research facilities and libraries, and a buzzing student scene. The departmental library provides students access to a range of resources including the texts required for the degree. Other University libraries provide valuable additional resources of which many students choose to take advantage.
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 institute'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.
Information about course fees
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.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
There are no compulsory elements of this programme that entail additional costs beyond fees 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.
Whilst many graduate students do undertake employment to support their studies, please remember that students on the full-time arrangement of the OII's DPhil programme are subject to limits on the number of hours that may be worked each week. Part-time student are not subject to these limitations.
Within these limitations, many of the OII's existing full-time DPhil students have been employed on a short or long-term basis as Research Assistants on grant-funded projects gaining valuable research experience. The OII also offers Teaching Assistant positions on the MSc degree for DPhil students who can display the appropriate skills. In addition, there are employment opportunities within the University (such as teaching, translation, and research assistance) as well as within the OII.
For full information on employment whilst on course, please see the University's paid work guidelines for Oxford graduate students.
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. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
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.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You are recommended to contact a potential supervisor (or supervisors) in the first instance to get feedback on the fit of your proposed research with the expertise of the supervisor before you apply. The full list of faculty members eligible to supervise DPhil students for this course, including their research interests and contact details, can be found on the departmental website. Please note that the Oxford Internet Institute will only admit students where appropriate supervision is available.
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
Under the 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field or area of research if this is known. If the department has advertised a specific research project that you would like to be considered for, please enter the project title here instead.
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).
If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.
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.
Professional references are acceptable, particularly if you have been out of education for some time, but should focus particularly on your intellectual abilities rather than more narrowly on job performance.
Your references will be assessed for:
- your intellectual ability;
- your academic achievement; and
- your motivation and interest in the course and subject area.
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.
Personal statement and research proposal:
Statement of a maximum of 500 words and a proposal of a maximum of 2,500 words
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.
Your statement should explain your motivation for applying for the DPhil course at Oxford and the specific research areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in. It should focus on your academic achievements and research interests rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations. You should also include details of any relevant experience in engaging in social data science related research.
Your statement should be written in English and be a maximum of 500 words.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
Your statement will be assessed for:
- interest and commitment for the study of social data science;
- evidence of aptitude for working with data-driven research; and
- alignment of your areas of interest with the availability of supervision, as all students will be assigned a supervisor to guide their research.
A coherent thesis proposal is required in an area of study covered by at least one member of the research staff within the Social Data Science programme. Your proposal should focus on specific research you propose to undertake rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations.
The proposal should be submitted in English only and be a maximum of 2,500 words. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
Your research proposal will be assessed for:
- the coherence of your proposal;
- the relevance of the topic as it relates to the research of the Oxford Internet Institute and collaborating department;
- the clarity of research question(s), and the knowledge gap the proposal intends to fill;
- the appropriateness of the methods and research design as related to the research question(s); and
- the overall quality of the project proposed.
It is normal for your ideas to change in some ways as you commence your research and develop your project. However, you should make the best effort you can to demonstrate the extent of your research question, sources and method at this moment.
One essay of a maximum of 2,000 words
An academic essay or other writing sample from your most recent qualification, written in English, is required. If you have not previously written on areas closely related to the proposed research topic, you may provide written work on any topic that best demonstrates your academic abilities. The written work does not need to be data science related, but should demonstrate your critical and analytical capabilities and ability to present ideas clearly.
The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes. Extracts of the required length that originally come from longer essays are also acceptable.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- a comprehensive understanding of the subject area, including problems and developments in the subject;
- your ability to construct and defend an argument;
- your aptitude for analysis and expression; and
- your ability to present a reasoned case in proficient academic English.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.