Graduate Study

The Course

As a doctoral student, your primary focus will be your research, which will usually be conducted within one or more of the existing research groups. You will be expected to develop an original research project under the guidance of your academic supervisors on a topic related to their areas of expertise. In addition, you will be encouraged to make the most of the doctoral training and research methods provision available across the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division. The department also provides training to all DPhil students that focuses on developing both research and professional skills.

Doctoral research projects can be based on fieldwork (sometimes in remote places), laboratory experiments, analysis of existing data sets, or mathematical theory, but in all cases must be original and rigorous, leading to publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The majority of your time will, therefore, be spent in independent self-directed research and will involve a mixture of experimental, computational and observational activities.

As a graduate student you will be embedded in the research groups of two or more members of academic staff who act as your supervisors and provide the bulk of the research guidance and training. You will typically meet with your supervisor weekly or fortnightly to discuss your progress and developments in the field, although this may vary depending on the area of research, the nature of your project, and the stage of your studies. If you are studying part-time, it is likely that you will meet your supervisor less frequently.

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All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of six terms as a full-time PRS student or twelve terms as a part-time PRS student, you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status. This application is normally made by the fourth term for full-time students and by the eighth term for part-time students.

A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require a report that will consist of an introductory part that could become the introduction to the thesis, one rather well-worked analysis of preliminary data representing roughly the equivalent of one thesis chapter, and a plan for the other chapters in the thesis including a detailed timetable. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that your work continues to be on track. This will need to done within nine terms of admission for full-time students and eighteen terms of admission for part-time students.

Both milestones normally involve an interview with two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.

Full-time students will be expected to submit a substantial thesis of up to 50,000 words after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. If you are studying part-time, you be required to submit your thesis after six or, at most, eight years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Biology you will need to defend your thesis in a viva voce examination in front of two appointed examiners.


You can find the application portal for the DPhil in Biology at the University's graduate admissions page.

The first step in applying to do a DPhil at Oxford is to reach out to the principle investigator (PI) who you would like to supervise you. This is usually because they run a group you are interested in joining, whose work closely matches the subject you would like to undertake a project in.

Most Biology faculty members run active research groups and supervise DPhil students (known as PhD students outside of Oxford). Faculty members will often be looking to recruit new PhD students, and this is typically initiated by applicants contacting potential supervisor(s).

We want to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities when starting the DPhil application process, so we have outlined some basic guidance to consider when contacting a potential supervisor below, and the entry requirements for the programme.

Contacting a supervisor

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The first step in the application process is to identify the areas of research that interest you and the named potential supervisor(s) within the department. 

The research in the Department of Biology is split into five main themes. Within these themes, there are a diverse number of lab groups exploring many different subjects.

You will need to research the profiles of the department's academics. If you know what theme your subject of interest falls into, start by checking out the academics who fall within those themes via the links above. If you don’t know what theme your research interest falls into, you can also see a full list of staff here: Department of Biology - People

Most lab groups will also have a dedicated website about their work which can be found on the profile of the PI.

Supervisors want to know why you chose their group in the first place. It’s good idea to research the group in depth before making contact. One way to do this is to read through recent publications from prospective supervisors and see if their work is the kind of research that interests you.

Once you have identified a potential supervisor(s), you should contact them to discuss potential projects and funding routes.

Emails to the prospective supervisor is an opportunity to introduce yourself in a casual and concise manner. The email should include:
•    A clear description of your research interests
•    How your research interests fit in with the supervisor’s expertise
•    A CV outlining your education, job experience and any other expertise you think will help you as a graduate student

This doesn’t have to be a long email, just enough to demonstrate that your interests fit well with theirs and to initiate a conversation.

We encourage you not to send mass or generic emails – the key is to make a good impression with the supervisor and to build quality relationships, rather than lots of contacts. We encourage you to avoid phrasing that suggest you use a blanket email, for example “Dear Professor”.

Once you have built a relationship with a supervisor they will be able to explain the application process further. You can find all the details of the DPhil in Biology application process at the University's graduate admissions page.

Entry Requirements

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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 subjects appropriate to the DPhil project. Examples include, biology, natural science, and environmental science, but research in the department is very broad so the department is not prescriptive regarding previous degree subjects. Instead, you should make a case for why your  background makes you suitable for the research you plan to undertake.

Admission to the DPhil in Biology does not normally require a master's level qualification.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 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.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Evidence of genuine interest in biology and sometimes other relevant fields of research (eg mathematics, engineering, and statistics) will also be taken into consideration. This might be demonstrated by, for example, having undertaken independent field work or research, relevant vacation employment, or having already made research publications or presentations.
  • Publications are not required.
  • It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.

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.

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.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
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)

110 Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced* 191 185
C2 Proficiency 191 185

*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.

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' on the central university website for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.

Applicants will be selected for interview based on the aforementioned criteria.

Interviews will normally be held within four weeks of the application deadline and will either be in person or by remote video conferencing. 

The interview will be up to 30 minutes and will involve a ten minute presentation by the applicant on a suitable topic. Interviewees will be expected to answer questions based upon their presentation but potentially covering other relevant topics. Answers should demonstrate general knowledge, understanding of and enthusiasm for a particular area of research, competence in presentation skills and the English language, and where appropriate, numeracy in the treatment of biological data.

Other indicators will include suitability in terms of skill base and academic background for the DPhil in question, ability to discuss fundamental aspects of the relevant field in adequate depth and reasoning ability when answering biological questions.

Student Life

You will be part of a vibrant educational research community that includes an active set of doctoral student-led events, seminars and workshops. You will have the opportunity to present and discuss your work in progress with your supervisor, other faculty members and peers, informally day-to-day and by attending a variety of seminars and workshops in the department and at conferences elsewhere.

We have a friendly graduate community which provides a welcoming network to new students. The graduate student community offers a supportive environment, both social and scientific, allowing new graduates to develop into well-rounded and confident scientists. Graduates are a valued part of the departments' research community and their work is showcased annually at the departmental Graduate Symposium.

The department also run a Graduate Mentorship Scheme to help provide support and guidance to graduate students throughout their time in the Department of Biology. Current graduates can access more information on the intranet (SSO login required).


The DPhil in Biology is a new course, replacing the DPhil in Plant Sciences and the DPhil in Zoology.

100% of alumni from the DPhil in Plant Sciences are employed, across a wide range of sectors, with 60% working in academic research positions. The department retains contact with its alumni to find out what they have gone on to do after completing their course. Past students from the Department of Plant Sciences have gone on to careers both in the UK and other countries in teaching and research in schools, universities, policy for government departments, industry, and administration at local and national levels.

Zoology graduates, like DPhil graduates in biological sciences at Oxford as a whole, continue to a wide range of careers after graduating. Between 2012 and 2017, 83% of DPhil graduates continued in bioscience-related posts, of which almost three quarters involved academic research.


The department's research strengths span evolutionary biology, ecology and conservation, behaviour and biomechanics, microbiology and infectious disease, and molecular plant biology. All our laboratories are excellently equipped for modern cell and molecular technologies.

oxford botanic garden in autumn 2004 credit toby ord

You will have access to a range of unique facilities comprising the living collections and arboretum of the University Botanic Gardens and, on site, two herbaria of international standing. Specialist facilities available to you include confocal and electron microscopy, mass spectrometry and extensive transgenic plant growth facilities (glasshouses and controlled-environment rooms).

Artistic rendering of the forthcoming Life and Mind Building

In 2024 the Department of Biology will move into the new Life & Mind Building. The Life and Mind Building will transform the education experience for students, providing new laboratories and meeting spaces for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers, as well as lecture theatres, specialised support laboratories and opportunities for public engagement with our research. It will be the largest building project the University has ever undertaken and will be a catalyst for the advancement of psychological and biological science both at the University of Oxford and on a global platform.

Fees and Funding

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 college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.


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The University website has a Fees, Funding and Scholarships search tool where you can find up-to-date information on course fees for both full- and part-time study.

Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.

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.

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, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

Studentships and funding

Oxford offers a wide range of scholarships that provide funding for DPhil students. Scholarships typically provide funding for fees and living expenses, and some scholarships also include research funding. Although Oxford’s scholarship portfolio is complex, applicants are automatically considered for almost all scholarships for which they are eligible. However, a small number of scholarship programs require applicants to submit a separate application. Details of Biology-specific scholarships available for 2021 entry are given below, and the University website has a Fees, Funding and Scholarships search tool designed to assist graduates looking for funding sources. All applicants should use this search tool to identify potential funding sources, and we encourage applicants to discuss scholarships with their potential supervisor.

Funding opportunities

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Every year, the Department has the opportunity to offer a Clarendon scholarship to at least one outstanding applicant. Clarendon scholarships are Oxford’s most prestigious and competitive graduate scholarships, and applicants of all nationalities are eligible for this award. Clarendon scholarships covers course fees and a provides a generous grant for living costs. All applicants are who apply by the January deadline automatically considered for a Clarendon scholarship.

The Department of Biology is eager to recruit underrepresented students to postgraduate study in all areas of Biology. The University of Oxford will award up to 50 Academic Futures scholarships for postgraduate study.

Eligible applications that are submitted by the January deadline will automatically be considered for these scholarships. Applicants will be considered regardless of their stated college preference; however, successful applicants will be transferred to the relevant partner college in order to take up the scholarship.

The Oxford - Oxitec Graduate Scholarship in Biology was created by funding from the University and Oxitec, a spinout company that works to develop better ways to control insect pests that spread diseases and damage crops. Oxitec Graduate Scholarships fund students who work in any research topic, and all eligible applicants who apply by the January deadline will be automatically considered for this scholarship. 

This scholarship is open to Home/EU applicants only and covers course fees and a stipend the level of the UKRI doctoral stipend per annum. 

The Department of Biology has recently established fully-funded ‘NaturalMotion’ graduate scholarships spanning all areas of the department’s research activity. The awards may be made in partnership with a college. There is no separate application procedure for these scholarships. All applications to the DPhil in Biology programme will automatically be considered.

Each year we are able to offer Oxford NaturalMotion Graduate Scholarships in Biology, this has been made possible by funding from participating colleges, the University and through the success of one of the Department of Biology's previous graduate students, Torsten Reil, who founded NaturalMotion Ltd. NaturalMotion Ltd develops computational methods for animating movement, as used in Hollywood films and computer games. Preference will be given to projects which involve the application of computational methods to biological questions.

NaturalMotion Scholarships cover course fees and a stipend of at least £18,622 per year.

Applications are invited for a Robert and Valerie Appleby Research Scholarship for postgraduate research, tenable at the University from the beginning of Michaelmas Term 2024.

The Robert and Valerie Appleby Research Scholarship was established by the legacy of Valerie Joan Appleby to support the study of vertebrate palaeontology by students in the Department of Biology or, in the event that no suitable candidate can be found within the Department of Biology, by students in other departments or museums of the University as are most appropriate.

All applications should be in this field of research.

The Robert and Valerie Appleby Research Scholarship is awarded for up to 3.5 years and at present, offers:

  • a maintenance grant at the current RCUK stipend rate per annum
  • payment of fees at the rate for “Home” students (Overseas candidates must have secured other funding which will cover the difference)
  • Research Support Grant of £5,000 per annum for the first three years of the scholarship

Candidates must submit their applications for the Robert and Valerie Appleby Research Scholarship to the Director of Graduate Studies in the department in which they are hoping to work by Friday 5 January 2024.

Separate applications for admission to study in the University must be submitted to the University by Friday 5 January 2024.

The details of how to apply are available here

For further information, please contact: Biology Trust Fund Administrator – email:

Information for Applicants to the Departments of Anthropology,  Archaeology, Biology and Earth Sciences

Applications are invited for a Boise Trust Scholarship for postgraduate research, tenable at the University from the beginning of Michaelmas Term 2024.

The Boise Trust Fund was established by Charles Watson Boise to support research on the antiquity and evolutionary origin of modern Homo sapiens and other hominins, with particular emphasis on the continued exploration of appropriate sites in Africa, and on the early migration of Palaeolithic communities.

All applications should be in this field of research.

The Boise Trust Scholarship is awarded for up to 3.5 years and at present, offers:

  • a maintenance grant at the current RCUK stipend rate per annum - payment of fees (Home/Overseas)
  • Research Support Grant of £5,000 per annum for the first three years of the scholarship (with the potential to apply for up to a further £3,000 per annum under the small Boise Trust awards scheme).

Applications are made online using the standard University application form available from 1st September 2023.  All eligible applications received by the relevant department will be automatically considered for this scholarship. 

The closing date is Friday 5 January 2024.

The details of how to apply are available by clicking here.

For further information, please contact: Biology Trust Fund Administrator – email: