How to Apply for a Scientific DPhil at Oxford

By Elizabeth Horton @liz.thescientist


Want to do a DPhil? Find the application process intimidating? Not sure where to start looking? Here at TOG, we’re here to help.


Step 1: Finding a Lab, Department or Course.

There are lots of different types of DPhil. There are rotational courses where you spend a few months in several different labs before settling on your final lab. There are courses in a particular department, with particular specialisations or equipment. There are doctoral training partnerships, or DTPs, which provide extensive training and courses alongside your research. Or there are DPhils with a specific lab group whos’ work you admire and want to contribute to.


Not sure which to pick? Ask yourself: why are you doing a DPhil? To get exposure and experience, choose a rotational option or a DTP. To gain specific knowledge in a subject area, choose a certain department. If you want to work with a specific group, find out which department they’re affiliated with, and apply there.


Finding a programme is relatively simple. Just google “DPhil, Oxford” and your subject area of choosing. The websites are usually very detailed with more information on how to apply, the research groups in the department and how to apply to funding.


Step 2: Deadlines & Requirements

Once you’ve found a few programmes you’re interested in, note the application deadlines in your diary. Make sure your application is ready to go before the deadline and give your referee’s at least a week to write you a good reference. Usually, Oxford DPhil courses require 3 academic references, so think about who you will ask ahead of time.


Make sure you meet the requirements for the course. If not, then your application may not be considered. Not every course will have the same requirements.


Step 3: Gather your Documentation

During the application process, you will have to submit several types of documentation, so have them at the ready. You will need:

· Transcripts and Certificates of past degrees;

· CV/résumé;

· Any awards/prizes/scholarships you have achieved;

· Any VISA/right to work documentation.


Step 4: Write your Personal Statement/Research Proposal

This is, in my view, the most important part of the application, alongside your CV. Your CV will list your previous experience, achievements and skills, while your personal statement uses these as a tool to display ability, passion, drive and motivation. Your personal statement is what will make you stand out as a candidate.


The guidelines on the DPhil website should specifically list the things to consider, and word limit, for your personal statement. Make sure you stick to the word limit! If you don’t, this is an easy way to rule out candidates. In general, you should list your achievements, and why they make you a suitable candidate for a DPhil. You should also state your motivation for applying, and tailor it to the specific programme/course you’re applying to. You should say which qualities you have that make you able to take on such an academic challenge. Keep a focus on your passion and commitment to the subject and show existing evidence of this.


An idea on how to structure this:

· Opening statement: why you are applying/what you love about the subject and how this programme will allow you to reach your goals

· Middle section: your acquired skills, background, achievements and how these have shaped you into an able, motivated and passionate candidate

· Penultimate section: what is it specifically about this course in particular that excites/enthuses you, why do you want to study here?

· Closing statement: Link this all together in a neat sentence, or few phrases. Make this bold, you want to stand out and be remembered.


Step 5: Proof-read!

Read your entire application over. Make sure the correct documents have uploaded properly. Make sure you have attached everything you need to. Re-read the application process section online to make sure you have done everything outlined. And then…hit send!