Synthesis for Biology and Medicine (Centre for Doctoral Training)
About the course
The SBM CDT programme is a research degree leading to the award of a DPhil. The CDT offers joint academic-industrial training in all aspects of chemical synthesis coupled with an in-depth appreciation of its application to biology and medicine.
The programme aims to train next-generation doctoral scientists capable of addressing major challenges across the entire remit of organic chemistry, with a focus on skills relevant to the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.
Designed in collaboration with international pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies who have offered specific expertise to enhance the CDT's training and research, the CDT has adopted an open-access model to ensure free exchange of information, knowledge and expertise between all students, academics and industrial partners.
Students are admitted to the programme without being assigned to a specific research group and are trained initially through a series of taught courses in a single cohort in all aspects of organic synthesis. Details on the modules are provided on the course’s website. Students subsequently undertake two 16-week research rotations in laboratories of their choosing before joining a specific group for a substantive three-year DPhil research project. To enable significant and long term research goals to be tackled, research projects are clustered into four broad areas (‘project fields’):
- new reaction discovery
- exploring new molecular space
- natural product chemistry
- tools for chemical biology.
During all four years of the programme, students also receive a tailored programme designed to broaden their research and professional skills, including seminar series throughout the department and a world-class annual visiting speaker programme.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Chemistry and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. A supervisor may also be found outside the Department of Chemistry.
In the case of students who require specific help to adjust to an academic programme or to a new range of skills, the supervisor will work with them to ensure that they have additional support.
All students have meetings with their research supervisors to discuss and review progress; these typically occur weekly or fortnightly.
All modules during the taught course involve some aspect of formal assessment, including written reports, problem solving, and group and individual presentations. Similarly, each project rotation will be assessed based on a short report submitted thereafter.
Students are admitted as Probationary Research Students. At the end of the second year, they undergo a Transfer of Status assessment, which is to ensure that they have the potential to gain a doctorate. This assessment is made on the basis of a report and oral examination.
Research proceeds with quarterly reporting throughout the next two years, and there is the opportunity to follow further courses during this period. By the end of the third year, students must pass the Confirmation of Status assessment, which is to ensure that they are on track to complete the thesis within a reasonable time.
The degree is examined by thesis and oral examination by two examiners, one of whom is normally from Oxford and one from elsewhere.
Most SBM CDT Alumni remain in chemistry, pursuing academic or industrial research, particularly the health-related industries such as pharmaceuticals. There is a wide variety of other destinations, including patent attorneys, life sciences consultancy and start-up companies.
The department runs an annual careers conference for graduate students and the careers service offers a wide variety of support, including CV workshops. The CDT and the department also host a large number of visits from prospective employers, where students can find out more information. There is a department's alumni officer, who keeps in touch with graduates, and the department runs a number of social and scientific events for them.
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 department
DPhil in Chemistry in Cells: New Technologies to Probe Complex Biology and Medicine
Inorganic Chemistry for Future Manufacturing (EPSRC CDT)
Interdisciplinary Bioscience (BBSRC DTP)
Sustainable Approaches to Biomedical Science (EPSRC and MRC CDT)
DPhil in Organic Chemistry
DPhil in Chemical Biology
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Chemistry
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 first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in a relevant chemical sciences subject.
However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or equivalent.
A previous master's degree (either an integrated master's degree or standalone) is preferred but is not required.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- Evidence of a prior interest in the area of research proposed is likely to advantage an application.
- Prior publications are not expected but may help to indicate your aptitude for research
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 normally held as part of the admissions process. The SBM CDT assesses applications and offers places to the programme throughout the year.
The criteria for shortlisting are academic merit, references and motivation. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to attend an interview. If shortlisted you will be given an interview by a panel of at least two academics.
In the first part of the interview, 'talk', you will be asked to give a short presentation on a research project you have carried out. You may also be asked to give a short presentation on a research paper chosen from a list provided in advance. The second part, 'tech', is a technical problem-solving interview that aims to assess your understanding of fundamental organic chemistry.
You may be subject to a pre-screen online interview to assess suitability for the course by a panel of two academics. This ten-minute interview will focus mainly on your knowledge of fundamental synthetic chemistry.
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.
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 SBM CDT is based in the Department of Chemistry. The majority of the taught courses during the first year will be held in the newly repurposed Doctoral Training Suite. There is a dedicated student office with individual desk areas and allocated computers.
Rotations and the research programme are based in the state-of-the-art Chemistry Research Laboratory.
Students are supervised by some of the country’s most gifted research chemists, many of whom have world-class reputations. You will work in an environment which encourages and inspires you to acquire and develop a wide range of communication, study, and research skills.
Workspace will be related to individual circumstances. If undertaking experimental work, you will be provided with space in a laboratory with access to all the required equipment. If undertaking theoretical research, you will have shared office space.
You will have access to the Department of Chemistry IT support staff, to the Radcliffe Science Library and other university libraries, and centrally provided electronic resources and technical workshops. Experimental facilities are available as appropriate to the research topic. The provision of other resources specific to your project should be agreed with your supervisor as a part of the planning stages of the agreed project.
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.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
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 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.
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.
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.
You are encouraged to state no college preference when you apply in order to allow the CDT to assign your application to an appropriate college if you are accepted.
The following colleges accept students on the Synthesis for Biology and Medicine CDT:
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.
Application fee waivers for eligible associated courses
If you apply to this course and up to two eligible associated courses from our predefined list during the same cycle, you can request an application fee waiver so that you only need to pay one application fee.
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.
If you are unsure about your suitability for the course, you should contact the CDT team with your CV, via the contact details provided on this page.
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
Please leave 'Field and title of research project' blank on the 'Course' tab of the application form.
It is not necessary for you to identify a potential supervisor in your application.
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.
References should generally be academic though a maximum of one professional reference is acceptable where you have completed an industrial placement or worked in a full-time position.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and your ability to work in a group.
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:
A maximum of 1,000 words
Rather than a research proposal, please provide a statement of purpose.
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 and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
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.
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.