Synthesis for Biology and Medicine (EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training) | University of Oxford
Research students working in a laboratory
(Image Credit: SBM CDT)

Synthesis for Biology and Medicine (EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training)

About the course

The programme offers joint academic-industrial training in all aspects of synthesis coupled with an in-depth appreciation of its application to biology and medicine.

This EPSRC-led initiative is designed to build on Oxford Chemistry’s strength in synthetic chemistry and the model of inter-disciplinary scientific training within the existing Centres for Doctoral Training in Oxford.

The programme aims to train next-generation doctoral scientists in the practice of chemical synthesis coupled with an in-depth appreciation of its application to biology and medicine.  It also aims to train graduates capable of addressing major challenges across the entire remit of organic chemistry with a focus on skills relevant to the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

The programme was designed in collaboration with eleven international pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies who have offered specific expertise to enhance the CDT's training and research. To ensure free exchange of information and expertise between all academic and industrial partners the CDT will adopt an intellectual property-free model consistent with its focus on basic science. 

Students are admitted to the programme without being assigned to a specific research group and will be trained initially through a series of taught courses in a single cohort in all aspects of organic synthesis. You will subsequently undertake two 16-week research rotations in laboratories of your 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 will be clustered into six broad areas ('project fields'):

  • new synthetic methods
  • 3D templates for ‘lead-like’ compounds
  • functional probes for epigenetics
  • next-generation anti-infectives
  • natural product chemistry
  • tools for neuroscience

During all four years of the programme, you will also receive a tailored programme designed to broaden your research and professional skills.

For the first year, you will be housed in the purpose-built facility located in the Rex Richards Building. This will be the location of the taught courses and contains a large, open plan office designed expressly to facilitate cohort-interaction and interdisciplinary training. 

At an appropriate stage you must pass Transfer of Status. This will normally be at the end of your fifth term, but you will have up to six terms to complete this stage. This assessment will be made on the basis of a report and oral examination.

Graduate destinations

This is a new programme and there are no alumni yet. The department runs a number of activities in close cooperation with the Careers Service, including an annual careers conference, CV workshops and visits from many employers. The programme also has strong engagement with industrial partners.

Related courses

Multiple applications

In applying for this programme, you may submit further applications for up to two of the following associated programmes without paying an additional application fee.

You may only apply to one programme from Group B under this arrangement without paying further application fees.

Group A
Group B
Interdisciplinary Bioscience (BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership)DPhil in Chemical Biology
Synthetic Biology (EPSRC and BBSRC Centre for Doctoral Training)DPhil in Inorganic Chemistry
Systems Approaches to Biomedical Science (EPSRC and MRC Centre for Doctoral Training)DPhil in Organic Chemistry

For instructions, see Applying for more than one course in the Application Guide.

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 2018-19

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 relevant chemical sciences subject.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.6 out of 4.0.

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. Substantial professional experience or a graduate qualification may be a substitute for a lower grade at undergraduate level.     

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.  

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.


Publications demonstrating  previous research success in a relevant field is likely to advantage an application. 

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.

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 Department of Chemistry 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 Chemistry and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff.

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.

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.


The CDT's core teaching programme is based in the Rex Richards building which has its own dedicated teaching space, including offices, seminar and meeting rooms and an independent library.  

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.


There are over 1,100 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college 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.

This programme has a dedicated stream of funding, and the majority of students on the programme are funded. Eligibility restrictions apply. Further details can be found on the CDT webpage.


Annual fees for entry in 2018-19

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(including Islands)

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; 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.

Tuition and college 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 tuition and college fees).

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 tuition fees, college 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 tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2018-19 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between c. £1,015 and £1,555 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.


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 administrator 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:

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:
Up to 1,000 words

Rather than a research proposal, you should 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. 

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.
Your statement should focus on your interest in, and experience of this research field rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations. 

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.

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