About the course
The SBM CDT programme 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.
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.
You can typically expect to meet with your supervisor or a senior member of the research team on a weekly basis.
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.
A termly report on the student’s progress is submitted by their supervisor throughout the course.
All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of six terms as a PRS student (and normally by the end of the fifth term for CDT students) you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status.
A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require the submission of a report and oral examination. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within nine terms of admission, to show that your work continues to be on track.
Both milestones normally involve an interview with two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.
You will be expected to submit a thesis after four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Synthesis for Biology and Medicine you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed 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 an 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.
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.
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Chemistry
Entry requirements for entry in 2022-23
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 the equivalent.
A previous master's degree (either an integrated master's degree or standalone) is preferred but is not required.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.6 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.
Substantial professional experience or a graduate qualification may be a substitute for a lower grade at undergraduate level.
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.
- Publications demonstrating previous research success in a relevant field is likely to advantage an application.
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 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
Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process. The SBM CDT assesses applications and offers places to the programme throughout the year.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited to attend an interview in Oxford. If shortlisted you will be given two interviews, each by a panel of at least two academics.
In the first 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 interview, 'tech', is a technical problem-solving interview that aims to assess your understanding of fundamental organic chemistry.
You are strongly encouraged to attend in person, but those unable to travel to Oxford for interview may be assessed by video link/Skype.
You may be subject to a pre-screen Skype 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.
Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. The After you apply section of this website provides further information about the academic assessment of your application, including the potential outcomes. Please note that any offer of a place may be subject to academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions may vary depending upon your individual academic circumstances.
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 on selection procedures 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.
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.
After an offer is made
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer letter will give full details of your offer and any academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will 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 Tier 4 visa. Further information can be found on our Tier 4 (General) Student visa page. 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 in the Manor Road Building. 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 that contains world-class facilities for all aspects of synthesis.
Access is open at all times to the departmental IT network, and extensive software is available. Departmental computers, software licences and the network are supported by departmental IT staff. Network access is available at all times via the VPN.
Internet access to all relevant recent journals is available. Books and older journal issues are available in the University science library, within a five-minute walk.
In the event of the need for pastoral care, support is available in the student’s college, from the project supervisor, the course management team and the director of studies.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2022-23. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2022-23
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
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.
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 2022-23 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,215 and £1,755 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 2022-23, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.
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:
How to apply
You may wish to make contact with the CDT team before you apply in order to work out whether this is the right choice, and the likely availability of funding.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally 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.
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.
Start or continue an application
Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.
Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.
Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.
Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds who meet the eligibility criteria;
- residents in a country on our low-income countries list (refer to the eligibility criteria);
- current Oxford graduate taught students applying for readmission to an eligible course; and
- additional applications to selected research courses that are closely related to your first application.
Step 5: Start your application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.