Environmental Research (NERC Doctoral Training Partnership) | University of Oxford
Fieldwork in earth sciences
(Image Credit: William Hutchison / Graduate Photography Competition)

Environmental Research (NERC Doctoral Training Partnership)

About the course

The NERC-Oxford DTP in Environmental Research is a four-year DPhil programme which offers a novel training environment across three broad science streams. The DTP focuses on finding solutions to real-world problems in collaboration with its outside partners. You will carry out your research projects in one of eight departments after an initial training period.

The three streams of the NERC-Oxford DTP are as follows:

Biodiversity, ecology and evolutionary processes

Research in this theme in Oxford spans pure to applied science, linked by an overarching aim to understand the generation, maintenance and loss of biological diversity from the gene to the species, and the structure, function and dynamics of ecosystems at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

Pure aspects of research include unravelling biotic and abiotic interactions between the atmosphere and biosphere, and their role in the Earth System; the effect of the environment on evolutionary processes at all levels from genes and genomes to populations; the use of experimental, macroecological and phylogenetic approaches to understand the biology and distribution of species; the quantification of evolutionary patterns and the assembly of modern biodiversity by integrating fossil and genetic datasets; and understanding carbon and other biogeochemical cycles.

Information generated by research in these areas provides the critical foundation to address many of the global challenges facing humanity today from climate change and biodiversity loss, to food security, to pest and pathogen outbreaks. 

Physical climate system

Oxford researchers are advancing understanding of the behaviour of the climate system across the full breadth of atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere and biosphere. This includes atmospheric dynamics from weather to seasonal prediction to climate; atmospheric composition, clouds and aerosols; the physics and biogeochemical coupling of the oceans; and studies of past climates and the effects of biosphere change on climate.

Oxford has new strengths in cryosphere and Arctic research and our researchers are established in the areas of effects of anthropogenic climate change on the physical climate system and biogeochemical processes, and lead the way in innovative citizen science, from climateprediction.net which uses a distributed network of volunteer computers to provide very large ensembles of climate model simulations, to rapid disaster response.

Dynamic Earth, surface processes and natural hazards

Within this stream investigators are developing new analytical, theoretical and experimental approaches to image, simulate and understand Earth’s internal structure; and advancing understanding of the fundamental processes that underpin the behaviour of earthquakes, volcanoes and their impacts on timescales from the human, to the geological.

The CDT is developing new approaches in the field of climate adaptation, and the management of climate-related risks to infrastructure, and redefining relationships between Earth surface processes and climate in desert and wider dryland regions. Oxford researchers continue to develop and apply new ways to investigate deep Earth and Earth-surface processes from the formation of the Earth to human history through experiment, analysis and theory.  

You will either be recruited to a research stream or to a pre-determined project, but in either case you will begin your course based in the DTP space located in the Gibson Building. During the first two terms, you will undergo an intensive training programme during which you will have the opportunity to gain experience and skills in all eight departments and acquire an understanding of how researchers in other disciplines operate before writing your own research proposal in collaboration with your supervisor and in most cases an external partner. You will also carry out a short interdisciplinary group project in the second term, before you start on your DPhil project.

You will be trained in 'hard' skills such as mathematics, programming and scientific computing, as well as being offered a broad-brush understanding of the Earth system across all disciplines of the DTP. There will also be course modules in softer transferable skills such as project design, proposal writing, communication and problem solving to underpin the exploration of research methodologies.

Elective training will continue throughout the degree and you will be able to select from a portfolio of advanced training courses to create your own tailored training programme. Later in the course modules will include thesis writing and paper writing. You will remain a member of the DTP even after transferring out to a department.

Your work will be informally assessed on these training modules and you will need to attain a certain number of attendance and submission credits before you begin your research degree, and each year thereafter.

You will gain your DPhil from the department in which you carry out your research project. The eight departments of the DTP are as follows:

  • Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art
  • Department of Physics (sub-department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics)
  • Department of Earth Sciences
  • School of Geography and the Environment 
  • Department of Plant Sciences
  • Department of Zoology
  • Mathematical Institute
  • Department of Chemistry.

Graduate destinations

You will be equipped with a wide range of skills that you will need whether you wish to pursue a career in research, government or private sector.

Changes to the course

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. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2019-20

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in archaeology, biology, botany, chemistry, computing, geography, geology, mathematics, meteorology, physics, statistics or zoology.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

Although it is not required, in practice a master's degree is often helpful. 

Professional experience, especially research experience, is valuable and will be taken into consideration as a substitute for an academic qualification.

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

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(s)

Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Interviews are conducted in person in Oxford unless you are abroad, in which case Skype interviews can be arranged. The DTP are able to interview a maximum of three candidates per place, and candidates are short-listed as follows: each application is assessed by three separate assessors, scored against agreed criteria, and then ranked.  These ranked applications are compiled into a short-list by the DTP management committee.  Interviews are normally held one month after the final application deadline.


Publications are not expected, but should be included as they may assist your application.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Doctoral Training Partnership to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Doctoral Training Partnership 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 Doctoral Training Partnership.

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 sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

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.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.


During the initial training period, you will be housed in the DTP suite located within the Gibson Building. The DTP has its own dedicated teaching spaces here and students are provided with shared offices housing two to five students each. Students and staff have access to a common room on the same floor. The administrative staff are also based here and can provide support and advice. Students will be given a DTP laptop for the first year of the course and thereafter computing requirements are met by the department. 

When you move out to your department you will also have access to the facilities provided by that department. You will remain a member of the DTP and be able to return to the DTP headquarters to use the facilities there.

You will have access to seminars in all six departments as well as across the wider university. In addition to the training modules offered by the DTP, you will be able to sign up for training courses and modules offered by departments across the university via the University's Researcher Training Tool.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.


Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,665

The fees shown above are the annual course fees for this course, for entry in the stated academic year.

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. You may have seen separate figures in the past for tuition fees and college fees. We have now combined these into a single figure.

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.

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 dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

NERC studentships come with an additional research training support grant (RTSG) to cover costs of associated fieldwork, laboratory and equipment. Individual research projects come with variable research costs and students will need to discuss these with their supervisor and plan a budget for their project. In some cases students may need to apply for additional funding, either from the RTSG or from college or other sources. Students should always involve their supervisor with such funding requests.

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 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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 2019-20, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

You are encouraged to research the profiles of academics with whom you might wish to study on the DTP website.

You are not required to include the name of a potential supervisor on your application, as you are not applying to a project but to a stream. However, it can be highly beneficial to have contacted one or more supervisors to discuss your interests before you submit your application.

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.


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:
Around 500 words or one page

It is not necessary to submit a research proposal as you are not being admitted to a project but to a stream. Instead you should provide a personal statement in which you should specify which stream you are applying to and the research areas that interest you. If you have an idea of which supervisor(s) you would like to work with this should also be included.

Any skills or experiences which might be relevant to any of the streams should be included along with any research projects.

This will be assessed for:

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

Written work:
One essay of 500 words

You should submit a piece of written work with the following title:

"Discuss a research problem within the remit of the DTP in Environmental Research, briefly outline the information required to solve it, and suggest at line of research that - if conducted - could fill this knowledge gap."

The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for:

  • comprehensive understanding of the subject area
  • understanding of problems in the area
  • ability to construct an defend an argument
  • powers of analysis
  • powers of expression.

The written work need not relate closely to the proposed area of study, but should be an area that you feel comfortable discussing as it may come up if invited for interview.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least one must be 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.

You must submit at least one academic reference - if you are applying from a recent qualification at least two academic references would be expected, though if you have been out of education for a substantial period then two professional references are acceptable.

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

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

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