MSc by Research in Materials | University of Oxford
Inorganic chemistry
Laboratory work for the DPhil in Inorganic Chemistry
(Image Credit: Chenbo Wang / Graduate Photography Competition)

MSc by Research in Materials

About the course

The Oxford MSc by Research in Materials is a master's level research degree programme, typically of two years duration, carried out under the supervision of an experienced member of staff. Research projects in this leading department are available in most branches of materials science, as well as some aspects of solid state physics and chemistry.

As a student on the Oxford MSc by Research in Materials you will be part of one of the top-ranked materials departments in the world. This vibrant research school consists of around 30 academic staff, 14 Senior Research Fellows, and around 200 research students and 82 postdoctoral researchers. Research students are of many nationalities and come to the department from diverse backgrounds. They are graduates in the traditional subjects of materials science, physics, chemistry and engineering and also mathematics, earth sciences and biology.

Only a small number of places are offered on the MSc by Research in Materials each year as the majority of our research students are enrolled on the doctoral programme, the DPhil in Materials. The MSc students work, train and study alongside the DPhil students, together forming a cohort of research students in materials.

The MSc by Research in Materials is normally carried out in two years of full-time study under the supervision of an experienced member of staff. It is examined at the end of the programme by means of a written thesis and an oral examination. A wide range of exciting projects is available. In common with other UK universities the first year is a probationary year, soon after which, subject to satisfactory progress, students normally transfer to full MSc by Research status. Details of research degree programmes, including training opportunities (academic courses, research-specific skills and generic transferable career skills) and progression requirements, can be found in the current version of the Materials graduate course handbook.

Research interests of the department extend over most branches of materials science, as well as some aspects of solid state physics and chemistry: they include the study of a wide range of materials of relevance in advanced technological applications, including metals and alloys, composites, semi- and super-conductors, polymers, biomaterials, ceramics and materials for quantum information processing.

Much of the research is carried out in close collaboration with industry. World-leading research takes place on:  

  • characterisation of materials, where there is emphasis on electron microscopy and related techniques
  • processing and manufacturing of materials
  • modelling of materials, where there is attention to both structures and processes
  • properties of materials
  • energy materials, including those for batteries, nuclear fusion and photovoltaics
  • quantum information processing, which includes groups working on experimental studies, theory and modelling.

Each of the department's research groups works within one or more of the following broad themes and research projects available to applicants for the MSc by Research in Materials are listed under these themes:

  • energy materials
  • structural and nuclear materials
  • applied superconductivity
  • device materials, including semiconductors and NEMS
  • polymers and biomaterials
  • nanomaterials
  • processing and manufacturing, including metals, alloys, ceramics, superconductors and polymers
  • characterisation of materials
  • computational materials modelling
  • quantum information processing (experimental studies, theory, and modelling).

Further information on current research and individual members of staff is available via the Materials Science website.

An overview of the provision for research students in the Department of Materials can be found at the Outline of Provision for Materials Research Students webpage. Also available is Guidance on Supervision Arrangements.

Graduate destinations

Graduates of the DPhil and MSc by Research in Materials are highly regarded by a wide range of employers, including universities, high-tech start-up companies, engineering consultancies, industry (including aerospace, electronics, automotive, steel manufacture, medical and household products sectors), world-famous technology companies schools and colleges, and the financial and business sectors.

Other courses in this area

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 a suitable science subject; normally this subject would be one of materials science, chemistry, physics or mathematics, but could include other subjects depending on the area of research chosen.

For candidates offering a UK bachelor's degree or UK integrated undergraduate master's degree, normally an overall grade of at least 60% is required. As examples of international equivalents to this requirement: for the US system a GPA of 3.3 to 3.4 out of 4.0 on a four-year bachelor's programme is normally regarded as equivalent and for the Chinese system an overall degree mark of 82% on a four-year bachelor's degree programme from a Double First Class University, Project 985 or Project 211 institution is normally regarded as equivalent.

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants for the department's research degrees have at least an overall mark of 65% in a UK bachelor's degree with Honours, or equivalent. International equivalents to this requirement: for the US system a GPA of 3.5 to 3.6 out of 4.0 on a four-year Bachelor's programme is normally regarded as equivalent and for the Chinese system an overall degree mark of 85% on a four-year bachelor's degree programme from a Double First Class University, Project 985 or Project 211 institution is normally regarded as equivalent.

Normally the required qualification(s) must be achieved by the date of commencement of the research programme for which you have applied.

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).

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 normally take place after you submit your application and normally within an eight-working week period of the application deadline for which you submitted a complete application.

These interviews may be conducted face-to-face or by telephone or video-link, including Skype. Shortlisting for interview is carried out according to the criteria included in the present entry requirements as judged from your written application (including references).

Normally the applications of candidates who are short-listed for interview will be assessed by at least two members of staff with relevant experience and expertise, and in addition may be assessed by the department’s Director of Graduate Studies. All decisions to offer a place require approval by the Director of Graduate Studies or deputy.


Publications are not essential, but will be taken into account. Please include in your CV the references and abstracts of any publications you may have in peer-reviewed international journals.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

Additional indicators considered when assessing an application against the department's criteria include performance in previous research project(s), the award of national prizes, the award of substantial scholarships, preliminary knowledge of relevant research techniques, and your suitability for the research projects in which you have expressed interest.

The criteria against which your written application and performance at interview are assessed are:

  • appropriate indicators of proven and/or potential: academic excellence, research excellence originality, ability to absorb new ideas, reasoning ability, creativity of thought, initiative, and capacity for sustained and intense work;
  • sufficient evidence, in the view of the assessors, to suggest you have the academic ability, motivation and commitment to (i) pursue the chosen research programme to a successful conclusion within the required time limits, and (ii) to pursue research in the subject of materials at a high level;
  • the programme of study, including research topic, that you wish to pursue is well suited to the academic interests and abilities to which you and/or your referees have drawn attention in your application. For some projects this may include the ability to work as part of a team; and
  • sufficient evidence of ability to (i) engage in a scientific or technical discussion in English at a satisfactory level, both verbally and in writing, (ii) understand a reasoned case presented in English and (iii) present a reasoned case in English.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the standard 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 Department of Materials 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 Department of Materials 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 Materials.

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.

It is very important that, at the earliest possible opportunity, you take steps to meet the University’s standard minimum English language requirement. If you have yet to attain this minimum level any offer of a place that may be made to you will be conditional on your achieving the standard minimum requirement. Students who require a visa will not be able to apply for this visa until they have met this and other conditions of their offer. If you do not meet the conditions of your offer by the deadline set by the department, normally the offer will lapse.

Please note that it can take up to three months to obtain an examination date for IELTS or TOEFL, so it is strongly recommended that all applicants who need an English test apply for one at the earliest opportunity, and preferably sufficiently in advance that you would have time to obtain a date for a retake examination should this be necessary. In this respect please note also that the department requires not only a minimum overall score in the English test but also minimum scores in each individual component of the tests.

It should be noted that acceptance on a particular programme gives no guarantee of final success, and all research programmes require you to develop your learning and skills to new levels in order successfully to undertake all the assessment hurdles of a research programme.


In the UK government’s most recent assessment of research excellence in UK universities, the 2014 REF, Oxford Materials was one of the top-rated materials departments in the country. 34.1 (FTE) academic staff, including several early career researchers (Royal Society URFs, RAEng fellows and similar postdoctoral fellows), were submitted for assessment and 98% of the department's activity was judged to be in the highest categories of excellence - grades 4*(60%) and 3*(38%), respectively ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’. 90% of the department's 'impact' was judged to be 'world-leading'.

The department has available excellent and wide-ranging research resources including:

  • a world-class suite of electron microscopy facilities including a JEOL ARM analytical TEM, a JEOL 2200FS aberration-corrected high resolution TEM, and two new Zeiss Merlin ultrahigh resolution SEMs optimised for EBSD and EDX analysis, together with a number of supporting and training instruments. Much of this equipment is installed in the David Cockayne Centre for Electron Microscopy;
  • acoustic and scanned probe microscopes together with extensive further facilities for characterising materials including, for example, nanoSIMS, XPS, and Raman microscopy;
  • advanced sample preparation and micromachining facilities including a Zeiss NVision 40 FIB/SEM and two other FIB instruments.
  • unique microhardness measurement facilities (at high temperatures and at the nm scale);
  • special processing or manufacturing facilities for ceramics, composites, carbon nanomaterials, rapidly solidified materials and devices such as novel batteries. The department also has superb facilities for 3-D atom probe analysis (including LEAP 3000XSi and 3DAP-LAR);
  • a new alloy processing and mechanical properties laboratory, for aerospace and nuclear materials; and
  • several parallel computation Linux clusters with InfiniBand interconnects, operated by the Materials Modelling Laboratory, and access to all the Oxford Supercomputing Centre facilities.

The department’s Institute for Industrial Materials and Manufacturing is housed at the University's Begbroke Science Park and has world-class facilities for advanced materials processing and characterisation. A major suite of equipment is available for the characterisation of materials used in microtechnology and nanotechnology, as detailed on the Oxford Materials Characterisation Service website.

The Begbroke site also houses a number of Materials-related spinout companies.

In addition to the excellent central and college library provision, there is a specialist Materials Science Library housed in the department.


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.

For students applying to programmes within the MPLS Division at Oxford, Research Council and other funding opportunities available, subject to eligibility. These opportunities are included in the Fees, funding and scholarship search.


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

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 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

Having first read the guidance and project descriptions on the Department of Materials website, if you wish to learn more about a specific project please contact the relevant supervisor by e-mail.

Before applying you are strongly encouraged to contact the department's Graduate Studies Secretary for advice and assistance.

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.

Please include official evidence of your overall mark (%) or cumulative GPA if this is not clearly stated on your transcript.


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.

In your CV/résumé, please include the references and abstracts of any publications you may have in peer-reviewed international journals. Please do not include full copies of your publications.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
400 words, accompanied by a list of preferred projects and supervisors

A detailed research proposal is not required. Instead, you should provide a single document comprising both:

  • a list of up to two research projects (and the associated supervisors) in which you are interested, in order of preference, selected from currently advertised projects; and
  • an outline of your research interests, written in English, that clearly indicates the rationale behind your choice of projects.

Please be sure to also include all of the supervisor names in the supervisors field of the application form. However, there is no need to repeat the project titles in the research project field of the application form.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two 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.

It is desirable that one of your references is from an academic staff member who has supervised you in a research project.

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 on this course. If you do not provide a reference from your master’s supervisor or course director, the department will usually ask you to do so before completing the assessment of your application.

Normally at least two of your references should be from academic staff members who taught or supervised you during your bachelor’s and/or master’s degree programmes. The primary purpose of the three references is to provide the department with evidenced insight into your potential to excel as a research student.

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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