Informal notes about graduate study
From: Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology
This sheet has been prepared in response to students who write for further information about doing postgraduate research with me here at Oxford. It is intended to answer the questions that frequently crop up, but is not an ‘approved’ University document. Official information about graduate study at Oxford can be found on the website: http://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/graduate
What options are there for graduate study in the Experimental Psychology Department?
Graduate study in the UK is very different from that in some other countries. Studying for a doctorate at Oxford usually involves three years’ work, culminating in a research-based thesis. The degree is known here as DPhil but equivalent to PhD elsewhere. There is some required course work, especially in the first year, but the main focus is on doing your own empirical research, under the supervision of one or two members of academic staff. Most time is spent engaged in completing an original piece of research that is written up as a quite substantial thesis (typically reporting a series of studies, and around 250 double-sided pages or so). The academic year starts in October.
If you do not feel ready to embark on a D.Phil., a good alternative is to take a one-year taught Master’s course. This will give you experience in research methods and time to decide on which area of research you want to pursue. Details of the M.Sc. in Neuroscience can be found on http://www.medsci.ox.ac.uk/neuroscience/detailsnew.
In addition, there is a Master’s degree in Psychological Research run jointly between Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University, see: http://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/graduate/
Finding a supervisor
If you intend to apply to study for a D.Phil. at Oxford, you need to submit a formal application to the University (see http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/postgraduate_courses/apply/index.html), but it is also important to identify a suitable supervisor at an early stage, as the Department of Experimental Psychology is unlikely to accept a student unless it is clear that a supervisor is willing and able to oversee their studies. The website above gives some indication of the research areas of potential supervisors. Most supervisors take on only a few students each year. I usually take on no more than one or two new graduate students each year. Typically there are at least 5 to 6 applicants for each place. The principal factors that I take into account when considering graduate applicants are:
- Does the student have evidence of outstanding academic aptitude, as evidenced by past degree(s), ability to think and write, and academic references?
- Does the student want to work on a topic that fits in with my research programme?
- Does the student have sufficient experience with psychological methods to be able to identify a research question that could realistically be tackled within 3 years?
- Does the student have a scholarship or other form of external funding?
You can find out more about my research programme from my website. It is not necessary that you have a fully worked-out research proposal at the point of applying, but you should be able to put forward ideas for an initial study that you might want to undertake, and give a rationale for it. If you think you would like to discuss further the possibility of being supervised by me, you should write a one-paragraph outline indicating the kind of research question you would like to pursue: you would not be committed to proceeding with this topic, but it provides a useful basis for further discussion.
I am happy to answer emails with informal questions about possibilities for graduate research in my area. If you have questions about procedural aspects of applying for graduate study, these should be directed to the secretary for graduate admissions, whose details can be found on the web. See also: http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/postgraduate_courses/apply/index.html, which gives details of deadlines for applications – ideally applicants should aim for the earliest deadline, in January of the year prior to application, although applications can also be considered in a second round, typically in March.
Graduate study at Oxford is pretty intensive and it is not usual for students to undertake any paid employment while studying for a DPhil. DPhil students are expected to work full time on their research, and complete their thesis within 3 years, or 4 years at maximum. Oxford University is unusual among UK universities in that it does not have any option for part-time doctoral study. The issue of funding is therefore central, as, even with private means, it is difficult to pay living expenses and university fees unless you have some kind of scholarship. For students from the US, there is the possibility of Rhodes or Marshall Fellowships. Also, Fulbright, Rotary, National Science Foundation and the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program are worth exploring. These are highly competitive, and you need to apply for them well in advance – typically 13 months or more before the planned start date.
Students from the UK and EC countries are eligible for studentships from UK research councils – see graduate website above for more details. There is also a small number of University Scholarships for which UK, EC and overseas students are eligible. If you apply to the Department for DPhil study, you can ask to be considered for one of these scholarships. One research council, the ESRC, funds on a 1+3 model, that is they expect you to take a Master’s degree before embarking on a D.Phil. To apply for this funding, you need to write a research proposal together with your potential supervisor. If ESRC continues to adopt the same policy as in previous years, it is possible to submit an application to ESRC around 5 months before start of the course. I therefore recommend that you do not consider this option unless you have already been accepted in principle for graduate study by Oxford University, and have a supervisor willing to assist you with a proposal. For further information see: http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/opportunities/postgraduate
Oxford University is college-based. When you apply to Oxford University you need also to apply to a college. There is tremendous variation from one college to another in the facilities they provide for their students, and it is recommended that you study the graduate prospectus carefully when deciding on a college. For instance, some colleges are able to provide excellent, affordable accommodation for graduate students – others do not.
For students with English as a second language
You cannot be admitted as a student unless you meet the University’s English language requirements: minimum score of 7.0 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or 250 on the computer-based Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).