Graduate Study

The Department of Zoology maintains a large and interactive group of approximately 160 D.Phil. students at any one time, working in the research areas of the Department. In Oxford, the degree qualification commonly referred to as a Doctor of Philosophy or PhD is known as a DPhil.

If you are interested in joining this Department as a graduate student, then there are three routes:

  1. an enquiry directly to a specific research supervisor;
  2. an application in response to an advertised studentship project; or
  3. via a Doctoral Training Programme.

The main focus of a studentship in Zoology is the research project within a research group or groups. However, students are also expected to take part in activities at the department level. We run a training programme for all graduate students to complement the training that they will obtain in their research group. The Junior Researchers Club (JRC) brings together graduate students and post-docs within the department for academic and social events that range from tea and cake on Thursday afternoons, to statistics workshops. Students are also encouraged to share information about lectures and social events across the collegiate university via the  MPLS Graduate School’s forum of which they are members.

The Department encourages enquiries from students who wish to study for a DPhil (the Oxford equivalent of a PhD*). The first step is to identify the areas of research that interest you, and the name of a potential supervisor or supervisors. Once you have identified a potential supervisor or supervisors, you should contact them to discuss potential projects and funding routes. The director of graduate studies responsible for admissions is Professor Adrian Thomas.

There are a variety of routes to fund a DPhil, and supervisors will help you to identify the best possibilities. Briefly, there are two major routes.

  1. Direct. Start a project, typically lasting three years with a specific supervisor. These can be funded in a number of ways, including: funding already obtained by the supervisor (usually advertised in the 'Studentships' section and on; various scholarship and fellowship schemes that are special to Oxford including the new NaturalMotion graduate scholarships specific to the Zoology Department (see 'Studentships' section); other fellowship and funding schemes that the potential student can apply for (e.g. from charities and agencies); self-funding.
  2. Doctoral-Training Programmes. These are four year courses, the first of which is usually a mixture of training and small projects (potentially in different departments). At the end of (or during) this first year, you join a research group and supervisor for three years of research (hopefully in the Department of Zoology!). These programmes offer a large number of funded scholarships and we encourage you to apply. Zoology takes students from four doctoral training programmes.

Potential supervisors can advise on which would be most appropriate training programme to apply to. Many of these training programmes offer open days when you can come and investigate the possibilities - see their websites for details.

The application process is described in detail here. If you are in any doubt, please contact potential research supervisors, who will be more than happy to help you.

MSc by Research in Zoology

In exceptional cases, the department also takes students who wish to study for a Master of Science by Research (MSc Res) in Zoology, which typically takes two years. Since few students are accepted to this degree, there must be a strong academic case.

The minimum time in which a student can submit for an MSc (Res) is one year, and the maximum fee liability for an MSc (Res) is two years, but the overall programme length is three years.

The first step in applying is to contact a potential supervisor or supervisors to discuss potential projects. For further details and to apply to the MSc by Research, please contact Heather Green.

* In Oxford, the degree qualification commonly referred to as a Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. is known as a D.Phil.

Milestones in the career of a graduate student

1. Applying for change of status

You will remain a PRS for your first year and will apply for your transfer of status to DPhil or MSc at the same time as all the other students who started at the same time as you, 12 months after your start date.In most cases this will be at the start of Michaelmas Term, however students starting in Hilary or Trinity terms will go through their transfer of status in the same term of the following year. The Graduate Office may make an exception on the timing of your Transfer of status if you have been forced to suspend your status or if there are other exceptional circumstances.

2. Confirmation of status

Confirmation of status is intended to provide an important indication that if work on the thesis continues to develop satisfactorily, then consideration of submission of the thesis within your funded period/four years (for DPhil) would appear to be reasonable. It therefore provides a second stage of formal progress review in the four years of the student's overall research programme.

The requirements for confirmation of status:

  • approval sought (via GSO.14 application form) regarding thesis format
  • all applications must be reviewed by two assessors (usually the same as for your transfer);
  • you will be asked to produce a brief written report about your research achievements to date. Your supervisor(s) will arrange a meeting with your assessors. Prior to the meeting you should submit a 2 page document to include (i) thesis chapters; (ii) very short 3-4 line abstract for each chapter; (iii) short statement about the status of each chapter.
  • an interview with your assessors, which should allow you the opportunity to summarise and discuss your research to date.

Following your confirmation assessment you and your supervisor will be provided with feedback, which will include an assessment of your progress and the likelihood that you will be able to submit your thesis within the planned timescale (as set out by you on the GSO.14 application form).

If your first application for confirmation of status is not approved, you may make one further application normally within one term of the original application. An extension of time of one term will be granted if necessary to make the second application.

Full guidelines are available:

3. Thesis preparation

The doctoral thesis is constantly evolving and there are a few ways to make writing up easier: if you can, try to write as you go along, and try to submit papers to peer-reviewed journals. Recently there has been a tendency in the Department for the thesis to be prepared as a series of self-contained papers (Integrated Thesis), rather than as a monograph. This makes it easier for examiners to read what can be a substantial volume and it certainly facilitates conversion of individual chapters into scientific papers for submission after your thesis viva, which is very important for your career progression in science.

Examination by Integrated Thesis:

An integrated thesis may either be a hybrid of conventional chapters and high-quality scientific papers, or be fully paper-based. Regardless of the format, the content of the thesis should reflect the amount, originality and level of work expected for a conventional thesis. It should not be assumed that the act of publication (in whatever form) means the work is of suitable academic quality and content for inclusion in a thesis, and students should discuss all papers in detail with their supervisor before including. It would be anticipated that the candidate would be a lead contributor, rather than a minor author, on at least some of the papers in order to consider this format. There is no minimum, or maximum, number of papers a candidate is expected/allowed to include as part of such a thesis and it will remain a matter for the examiners to conclude whether the contributions are equivalent to that which would be expected of a standard DPhil.

Any papers utilised must concern a common subject, constitute a continuous theme and conform to the following guidelines:

(i) If a candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy wishes to be examined through an integrated thesis, they should apply for permission to be examined in this way when they apply for confirmation of status, as detailed in the relevant departmental handbook. A candidate for the Degree of Master of Science by Research should normally apply for permission to be examined in this way six months before submitting their papers for examination. To revert to being examined by a conventional thesis rather than an integrated thesis, the candidate must inform their department of the change as detailed in the relevant departmental handbook.

(ii) Work can be included regardless of its acceptance status for publication but candidates may be questioned on the publication status of their work by the examiners.

(iii) Any submitted/published papers should relate directly to the candidate’s approved field of study, and should have been written whilst holding the status of PRS or a student for the MSc (by Research), or DPhil.

(iv) The collection of papers must include a separate introduction, a full literature review, discussion and a conclusion, so that the integrated thesis can be read as a single, coherent document.

(v) The candidate must ensure all matters of copyright are addressed before a paper’s inclusion. A pre-print version of any published papers should be included as standard.

(vi) Joint/multi-authored papers are common in science based subjects and thus acceptable if the candidate can both defend the paper in full and provide a written statement of authorship, agreed by all authors, that certifies the extent of the candidate’s own contribution. A standard template is available for this purpose.

The University Offices issue guidelines on thesis preparation and submission and these can be downloaded from Failure to follow these guidelines can result in a waste of an awful lot of time reformatting etc. It is also advisable to discuss as early as possible with your supervisor the appointment of appropriate examiners for your viva. Rely on your supervisor for advice but remember that you should at least discuss your preferences with him/her. To enable the official appointment of examiners you must complete Form GS0.3. To avoid delays in the examination process students are advised to submit this form at least 4 weeks before you intend to submit your thesis. If you need to change the title of your thesis at the time of submitting your thesis you may do this on the "Appointment of Examiners" Form GSO.3 under section 1.

For information on digital copy (in addition to the paper copy) follow the link: The digital copy of your thesis.


4. Viva voce

After your thesis has been submitted, you will have an oral examination that will typically last between 2-4 hours. You will be examined by one internal (who is a member of a faculty or sub-faculty) and one external examiner, though if circumstances make that impossible two externals can be appointed to act .The internal examiner is responsible for organising the viva, except when there are two externals when help is available from the Director of Graduate Studies, or his/her deputy (e.g if the Director of Graduate Studies is also the student’s supervisor).

5. Progress

You will find that most of your on-going queries can be answered by a visit to the Graduate Studies Office or by using the Zoology Graduate Handbook:

Online Graduate Supervision System (GSS)

The Graduate Supervision System will capture information reported by both student and supervisor(s), with details relevant to each student only being available to his or her supervisory team.

The Graduate Supervision System will invite the student via email to logon to the system at the beginning of week 6 of each term to submit a self-assessment report. GSS is open for students to write their reports from Monday of week 6 to Friday of week 7 each term. The student will be prompted to list completed training and training which is still required, as well as provide a comprehensive overview of their progress. They will also be able to set a flag to indicate if they have concerns with their academic progress, and this will be highlighted to their Supervisor, Director of Graduate Studies, and College Adviser.   Whilst it is not mandatory for students to complete a self-assessment report, it is a useful tool for them to reflect on their achievements and provides an opportunity to communicate any concerns to their teaching staff.

Supervisors will receive an email to logon to the system at the beginning of week 8 each term to complete a report on their students' progress, and this will be available for the student to view, as well as their Director of Graduate Studies, College Adviser and the appropriate administrators, when released.

Further details regarding use and access to the system can be found at

Scholarships Available for 2018 Entry

The University website has a Fees, Funding and Scholarships search tool designed to assist graduates looking for funding sources.

Oxford - NaturalMotion Graduate Scholarship in Zoology x 2

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.

This year we are able to offer two Oxford NaturalMotion Graduate Scholarships in Zoology, which 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 of these scholarships will be tenable at Lady Margaret Hall and named the Oxford-Lady Margaret Hall-NaturalMotion Graduate Scholarship. 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 Lady Margaret Hall in order to take up the scholarship. 

These scholarships are open to Home/EU applicants only and cover university fees, college fees and a grant for living costs of at least £14,553.

Applications are made online using the standard University application form available from 1st September 2017. All applications to the DPhil in Zoology will be automatically considered for this scholarship. The closing date is 19th January 2018.

Newton Abraham Studentship 2018-19 Entry

Applications are invited for a studentship for postgraduate research in Biology, tenable at the University from the beginning of Michaelmas Term – October 2018.

Candidates are asked to send their application form for the Studentship to the Zoology Graduate Office ( by Friday 19th January 2018. The potential supervisor is required to complete certain sections of the application form. Only the two selected candidates that we nominate will need the Head of Department section completed. The standard University application form must also be completed by the candidate, and submitted, with all supporting materials, by the same date (i.e. Friday 19th January 2018).


E.P. Abraham Scholarship in Biological/Life Sciences

St Cross is once again advertising the E.P. Abraham Scholarship for biological/medical sciences for entry in October 2018.


We run a training programme for all graduate students, to complement the training that they will obtain in their research group. Graduate training is coordinated by Stuart West.

In addition, the Department also offers the following:

  Foundations Phase
(0-12 months)
Intensive Research Phase
(12-30 months)
Completion Phase
(24+ months)
Transferable Career Skills Intro to R Training for
tutorials and
Research Skills Training
Stats courses
Academic Skills        


1. Training Seminars

We run a series of graduate training seminars during the Michaelmas and Hilary terms. These are to cover a number of basic skills and issues that are of importance to all graduate students. Graduate students are expected to attend all seminars and lunch will be provided (provided you have signed up with the graduate office). Different topics are covered in alternate years, such that attendance for two years will allow you to go to all the seminars.

2. Introduction to Statistics using R

This course aims to take post-graduates through a basic statistics course. While most students have taken an undergraduate course, it is likely that they will have forgotten most of what they have learnt and are not comfortable with statistics. Such students that are not comfortable with statistics at this stage are likely to need a reasonable grasp of statistics in a readily accessible form. We will use R as the basic package, but using menu-based commands as an easier introduction to the R language.

The aim of this course is to take you through basic statistics up to and building on Analysis of Variance and General Linear Models. As part of the course, you will receive the latest version of R with all the relevant libraries as well as an introductory statistics book.

The course will take the form of lectures in the morning, followed by practicals each afternoon. Where possible, we will take the time to discuss the specific problems of students’ own data sets. The course is run by: Tom Hart and Julie Collet, and usually takes place in October or December. To obtain a place on this course, please email the graduate office (

3. R4All Statistics course

This is a more advanced statistics course that follows on from the introductory course, and is based around the stats package R. It will be run by Owen Petchey and Andrew Beckerman ( and usually takes place in March or April. To obtain a place on this course, please email Heather in the graduate office (

We will also be running more advanced statistical workshops on topics specifically requested by students, as part of the training seminar series.

The JRC also runs a number of statistical workshops

4. Advice for female DPhil students

15 things I wish I'd known before my DPhil (restricted access) by two previous female graduate students. For further information on our attempts to tackle gender issues see our Athena Swan web page.

5. Tea and cakes

There is a weekly tea and cake session during term time, to allow graduate students from different research groups to meet and interact. A weekly email gives details, but it is usually held on Thursdays, in Darwins at 3:30pm. This is organized by the JRC.

6. Safety Training

A number of courses are run covering essential safety issues, all of which get very positive feedback from attendees. These include courses aimed at both field (e.g. ‘Safety in overseas fieldwork’ and ‘emergency first aid for fieldworkers’) and laboratory (e.g. ‘COSHH and chemical safety’, ‘Cryogenic liquids’ and ‘Introduction to biological safety’) workers. Students are required to attend the courses relevant to their research. Bookings are made through

7. The Tinbergen Lecture

Each year, the graduates organize the inviting and hosting of the giver of the Tinbergen lecture, as part of the departmental seminar series (Mondays at 4pm). The choosing and inviting of lecturers should take place at the start of Michaelmas term.

8. Graduate Academic Programme (GAP) & MPLS Researcher Training

Students can attend a range of courses across the departments in the Mathematical, Physical & Life Sciences Division (MPLS). These courses are brought together and can be enrolled in, via the Researcher Training Tool. There are around 350 courses available throughout the academic year, including: Academic subjects and skills, Research skills and techniques, and Transferable Career Development training.

9. Possibly Useful Resources

  1. Some modest advice for graduate students, by Stephen Stearns
  2. Some acynical advice for graduate students, by Raymond Huey
  3. Survival Strategies for scientists, by Tim Clutton-Brock
  4. Grantsmanship: What makes proposals work? By Anne Moffat
  5. How do I submit a paper to a scientific journal? By Maxine Clarke
  6. The importance of stupidity in scientific research, by Martin Schwartz
  7. If you would like something on experimental design, the book by Ruxton & Colegrave provides a good introduction
  8. 20 Tips for surviving your PhD
  9. Coping with difficult supervisors
  10. The PhD Troubles Talk

Note that the above resources are not official, and should be read with caution; for example, 1 & 2 especially were written tongue in cheek as a 'skit', as well as being aimed at students in the very different USA graduate system.

The Junior Researchers Club (JRC) aims to bring together postgraduate students and post-docs within the department for academic and social events.It promotes networking and co-operation between members, to help newcomers settle in and to build a community of dynamic young scientists. It also provides a resource for arranging self-help courses and tutorials.

Some of the events we organise include:

  • Tea and cake at 3pm every Thursday
  • Discussion groups
  • Informal graduate talks with pizza and drinks
  • Trips to the pub and group meals

The JRC also organises the annual Tinbergen Lecture, featuring a speaker nominated and voted for by the graduate community. For up to date details visit the Facebook page or look out on the zoology-grad mailing list.

If you would like to chat with one of us about anything that is concerning you please contact us directly using the links below.

List of site pages