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Engineering Biology (DPhil)

About the course

Engineering Biology applies engineering principles to biology and aims to exploit our synthetic biology knowledge to drive the bioeconomy. The Engineering Biology training programme will provide bespoke cohort-based training with a focus on how synthetic biology concepts and technologies can be translated into products with real-world impact.

This course is run jointly with the University of Bristol. 

After training in the fundamentals of mathematics, biology, engineering and computing and team-based problem solving projects, you will complete two short research projects, one of which will develop into your substantive DPhil project. Throughout the course, you will undertake bespoke training in translational aspects.

Throughout the four years of the programme, there will be bespoke innovation and commercialisation training, responsible innovation, EDI and bioethics training, and career development programmes.

Each year, a summer school will take place in June/July which will include talks from engineering biology leaders, pitches from the innovation in engineering biology projects, and outreach projects.

Course structure

The first year of the course will be divided into three segments. 

The first segment will begin with a series of inductions as part of the department's welcome weeks in Oxford. This will include meeting tutors, potential supervisors, the management team, and students from other cohorts.

You will then receive around four weeks of foundation training. The student cohort will be split into two groups, based on background. Those students with a background in life sciences will receive foundation training in engineering and computational principles, and for those with engineering/physical sciences backgrounds, foundation training in biology will be provided.

This will be followed by around six weeks of specialised training in engineering biology topics, techniques and challenges. This training will take place at the University of Bristol for all students. It will typically include interdisciplinary training in engineering biology design across scales (from biomolecules to cells), as well as advanced engineering biology topics and techniques such as:

  • Modelling and control theory
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Gene circuit design
  • Protein design and engineering
  • Tissue engineering.

At the end of this first segment, you will typically attend a retreat for innovation in engineering biology group projects. This may be attended by students from earlier cohorts, Synthetic Biology graduates, industrial partners, and supervisors, who will provide input and case studies.

During the first four weeks of your second segment, you will work on your innovation in engineering biology group projects and write a report in the style of a scientific publication and make (where possible) data and code available to students of future cohorts to offer the opportunity to build on the research performed (eg via GitHub). This will be followed by the first of two individual short research projects.

Segment three will comprise the second of these research projects and a summer school. Research will aim to align with four major focus areas:

  1. Robust methods for bioengineering;
  2. Rational biomolecular & biosystems design;
  3. Evolution-guided biodesign; or
  4. Digital cells & AI.

Potential collaborative research projects will also be offered by the University of Bristol and can be found on the institution's website.

One of the two short research projects will typically develop into the substantive DPhil project that you will work on throughout years two to four.

You will also take advanced units in AI and robotics for engineering biology and in current engineering biology applications for industry alongside the rest of the course cohort.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Engineering Science and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. A supervisor is often found outside the Department of Engineering Science.

Students will meet with course directors on a termly basis during the training year. During their DPhil studies they will meet according to the stipulations of their host department.

Assessment

During the training year there will be formative and summative assessment (eg essays, presentations).

You will also complete two short research projects during this first year, one of which you will develop into your substantive DPhil. Projects will be assessed via written reports and oral presentations.

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

If you cannot complete transfer to DPhil status in Oxford, exit awards (from the University of Bristol, regardless of home institution) will be made depending on the credit points (CPs) gained (MRes with 180 CPs, or different for lower CPs, following the University of Bristol Credit Framework).

A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require submission of work and interview according to the local rules of your host department. Students who are successful at transfer will subsequently be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within 10 terms of admission, to show that your work continues to be on track.

You will be expected to submit a substantial, original thesis after four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.

Graduate destinations

As this is a new course for 2024-25, there is no graduate destination data. However, for context, graduates of the Synthetic Biology programme which preceded this Engineering Biology cohort-based training programme, progressed into industry (50%), academia (40%), and start-ups (10%).

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, 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.

Entry requirements for entry in 2024-25

Proven and potential academic excellence

The requirements described below are specific to this course and apply only in the year of entry that is shown. You can use our interactive tool to help you evaluate whether your application is likely to be competitive.

Please be aware that any studentships that are linked to this course may have different or additional requirements and you should read any studentship information carefully before applying. 

Degree-level qualifications

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 engineering, biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, medicine or related disciplines.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 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

  • Experience of, and an interest in, interdisciplinary research
  • Experience of research projects involving modelling, wet lab research or ideally a combination of the two
  • A publication record commensurate with the opportunities and experience of the applicant is expected

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.

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, including the 'Home Edition'

(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.

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.

References

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.

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application. 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 normally held as part of the admissions process.

The interview will be conducted by two course directors and possibly an expert in the field of research of interest to the student. The interview will last approximately 40 minutes and will cover your interest in and understanding of the field, research experience, your understanding of the fundamental mathematics and biology relevant to your experience and also your future aspirations. The interview will take place face-to-face where possible; online arrangements will also be offered.

Finally, there will be discussion of some mathematical and biological concepts relating to the your experience and background education. These will be pen and paper exercises lasting about five minutes.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements described 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. Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

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.

Processing your data for shortlisting and selection

Information about processing special category data for the purposes of positive action and using your data to assess your eligibility for funding, can be found in our Postgraduate Applicant Privacy Policy.

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:

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 Student visa (under the Student Route). For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.

Resources

Oxford's Department of Engineering Science is located across several sites, including central Oxford buildings adjacent to the University Parks, as well as the commercial and clinical translational hub in Headington (Old Road Campus and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre).

There are numerous seminar and meeting rooms available within the department, fully equipped with audio-visual equipment. You will be provided with bench space in your supervisor's laboratory and a suitable desk.

There are central facilities for nanoscale characterisation, flow cytometry, microscopy and genome engineering. Members of the department also have access to a wide range of shared facilities, including proteomics, imaging, structural biology, genomics, 3D printing and bioprinting, and drug-discovery. Training and support is available for use of all these resources.

You will have use of University Libraries such as the Radcliffe Science Library and the Cairns Library. Library access includes full online access to all relevant scientific journals.

You will also have access to the extensive range of seminars and symposia in both the Department of Engineering and other departments of the University. During term-time there are regular departmental seminars which all graduate students are expected to attend, along with the annual Department of Engineering specific Lubbock Lecture and BioEnginuity events. Students also present at regular progress seminars, which bring together groups in the department working in related areas. Your research group will be able to advise you as to which seminar series you should attend. All seminars are advertised on the web portal Oxford Talks.

There are multiple opportunities for students to present their work, within the course and to a wider university audience. All students also have opportunities to present their work at national and international conferences.

Graduate students in the department run a lively Graduate Students' Association and meet regularly for social, science and networking events.

Engineering Science

The Department of Engineering Science brings together the study of all branches of engineering at Oxford. It has a community of around 550 graduate students at any given time.

The department has a substantial research portfolio, including much that is directly supported by industry. The major theme underlying this research portfolio is the application of cutting-edge science to generate new technology, using a mixture of theory, computation and experiment.

Study and research opportunities in the department include both conventional disciplines of engineering and newer areas of interest, such as information engineering, low-temperature engineering, nanotechnology and experimental plasma physics.

There are no barriers between different branches of engineering. The department is involved in a great deal of multidisciplinary and collaborative research with groups in other departments, from archaeology to zoology. 

The department has an excellent record of engagement with industry and of translating research results into real-world applications. It has generated numerous successful spin-out companies.

The department offers a range of research degrees, including four-year programmes as part of several specialised Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).

Funding

We expect that the majority of applicants who are offered a place on this course will also be offered a fully-funded scholarship specific to this course, covering course fees for the duration of their course and a living stipend.

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.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2024-25

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£9,500
Overseas£31,480

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.

Continuation charges

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.

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 2024-25 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,345 and £1,955 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. The current economic climate and high national rate of inflation make it very hard to estimate potential changes to the cost of living over the next few years. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2024-25, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of around 5% each year – although this rate may vary depending on the national economic situation. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.

Please consult the University of Bristol website for further information about living costs while studying at that institution.

College preference

Students enrolled on this course will belong to both a department/faculty and a college. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 43 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as societies and permanent private halls (PPHs). 

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. Before deciding, we suggest that you read our brief introduction to the college system at Oxford and our advice about expressing a college preference. For some courses, the department may have provided some additional advice below to help you decide.

The following colleges accept students on the Engineering Biology cohort-based training programme:

Before you apply

Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. You can use our interactive tool to help you evaluate whether your application is likely to be competitive.

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. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide.

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 do not need to make contact with the department before you apply, but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course. 

Any informal enquiries should be made to the department's graduate studies administrator in the first instance. 

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.

For this course, the application form will include questions that collect information that would usually be included in a CV/résumé. You should not upload a separate document. If a separate CV/résumé is uploaded, it will be removed from your application.

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

You are not expected to identify a research project in advance of applying. Please leave this field blank.

Proposed supervisor

It is not necessary to identify a potential supervisor in your application. Please leave this field blank. 

Referees:
Three overall, academic preferred

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Academic references are preferred, although a maximum of one professional reference is acceptable where you have completed an industrial placement or worked in a full-time position. If you are a current master’s student or have completed a master’s course, one of your referees should be your supervisor or course director from this course. If you do not provide a reference of the kind, the department will usually ask you to do so before completing the assessment of your application.

Your references will support your intellectual ability, your academic achievement, your motivation and interest in the course and the subject area, and your ability to work both in a group and independently.

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.

Personal statement:
A maximum of 1,000 words

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. It should focus on your academic achievements and interests rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations. 

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

Your statement will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • your ability to present a reasoned and coherent case in English
  • your commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • your preliminary knowledge of the subject area and research techniques
  • your capacity for sustained and intense work
  • your reasoning ability
  • your ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace
  • your interest in interdisciplinary research within a cohort-based training-type DPhil

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.

Application Guide Apply

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