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

Synthesis for Biology and Medicine (Centre for Doctoral Training)

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 produce 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.

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. At an appropriate stage students must pass Transfer of Status, which is to ensure they have the potential to gain a doctorate. This will normally be at the end of their fifth term, but students will have up to six terms to complete this stage. This assessment will be made on the basis of a report and oral examination.

By the end of their third year students must pass Confirmation of Status, 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.

Supervision

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.

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.

Graduate destinations

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. 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 sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information, please see our page on 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.

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • 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 requirement

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.

Detailed requirements - higher level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are:

IELTS Academic7.5Minimum 7.0 per component
TOEFL iBT110

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced191Minimum 185 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency191Minimum 185 per component

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. For more information about the English language test requirement, visit the Application Guide

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

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.

Supervision

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. 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. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

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, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

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.

Resources

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 Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory. 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.

Funding

There are over 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,970
Overseas£24,910

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.

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.

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 2020-21 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,135 and £1,650 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 2020-21, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

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:

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.

CV/résumé

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, 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. 

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.

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 plan your time to submit your application well in advance.

Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.

Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).

Application GuideApply

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