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 supervisor(s) and normally 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 vast 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).

The department is home to several research institutes, including the Edward Grey Institute (EGI), the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS).

The EGI, founded in 1938, conducts research into the ecology, conservation, behaviour and evolution of birds, and is well known for its long-term population studies at Wytham Woods. Professor Ben Sheldon is the current EGI Director and is Luc Hoffmann Professor in Field Ornithology.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS) work at the interface of social and ecological systems, using a range of methodologies and interdisciplinary approaches to address key issues in current conservation. The research is focused around better understanding and influencing human behaviour and its impact on nature. Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland is the Group Leader.

The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), directed by Professor Amy Dickman, is based at Tubney House eight miles from Oxford and seeks solutions to conservation problems through scientific research.

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.

Part-time study

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.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our detailed fee status information and the Oxford and the EU webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Full-time study

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.

Part-time study

This information is currently unavailable: please check back again soon

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.

If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.

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.

Previous 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 10 Black Academic Futures scholarships for postgraduate study.

Black Academic Futures scholarships are open to Black or Mixed-Black ethnicity students who are normally resident in the UK. Scholarships cover course fees and provide a grant for living costs at the UK research council rate (at least £15,285 per year).

Eligible applications that are submitted by the January deadline will automatically be considered for this scholarship. 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 Zoology 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 grant for living costs of at least £15,285 per annum. 

The Department of Zoology 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 Zoology programme will automatically be considered.

Each year we are able to offer Oxford NaturalMotion Graduate Scholarships in Zoology, this has been made possible by funding from participating colleges, the University and through the success of one of the Department of Zoology'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.  

One full time scholarship is available to applicants who are applying to do a DPhil in Evolutionary Biology in the department of Zoology starting in 2021-2022 academic year.

The scholarship is jointly funded by the University and by a donation from the estate of Leon and Iris Beghian. Leon Beghian came to Magdalen College in 1938 to study Physics. After scientific research during the war, he graduated with a first-class degree in 1947, and then undertook a DPhil at Oxford before progressing to a distinguished career in Physics in the USA.

The scholarship covers course fees and provides a grant for living costs. Awards are made for the full duration of your fee liability for the agreed course.

The scholarship is only tenable at Magdalen College. All eligible applicants will be considered for this scholarship, regardless of which college (if any) you state as your preference on the graduate application form. However, successful applicants will be transferred to Magdalen College in order to take up the scholarship. Selection is expected to take place in April 2021. 


One full time scholarship is available starting in the academic year beginning October 2021 for applicants wishing to undertake research that will contribute to an increase in crop yields. The Radford Scholarship has been funded through the generosity of Henry and Mandy Marriott, and the recipient will be registered for a DPhil in Plant Sciences. The scholarship covers course fees at the home student rate and living costs at the standard rate for RCUK students for up to four years.

The Radford scholarship is offered in association with Worcester College. All eligible candidates applying for entry to the DPhil in Plant Sciences programme will be considered for this scholarship, regardless of which college (if any) is stated as a preference on the graduate application form. However, the successful applicant will be required to transfer to Worcester College to take up the award.

The application deadline for consideration for the Radford Scholarship is 22 January 2021 and selection of the successful candidate is expected by the end of March 2021. 

Candidates interested in being considered for the Radford Scholarship are strongly encouraged to contact a relevant potential supervisor to discuss the details of a project and other aspects of their application. Representative projects that would be appropriate for this scholarship are listed below, but applicants are urged to look at the full range of research activities in the Department.

Potential projects include:

  • Developing CHLORAD (“chloroplast-associated protein degradation”) as a technology for delivering increased yields in crops (Supervisor: Prof Paul Jarvis)
  • Engineering enhanced photosynthesis for a secure and sustainable future (Supervisor: Prof Steven Kelly)
  • Born from the deluge: optimizing the contribution of oxygen sensing to anaerobic germination in cereals (Supervisor: Prof Francesco Licausi)
  • Building novel disease resistance genes against potato late blight through decoy engineering (Supervisor: Prof Renier van der Hoorn)