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Starting your Successful DPhil

Congratulations on gaining your DPhil place at the University of Oxford.

Starting a DPhil in the University of Oxford, particularly if you have come from another University, is exciting - and can be rather daunting. Even if you did your undergraduate / master’s degrees here, doing a DPhil is quite different and as your work progresses you will need to develop increasing independence. These pages and resources are designed to help you make an excellent start, take control and take the lead in your DPhil.

To help you think about this, consider these questions. You could think about them individually and make notes, or perhaps discuss them with colleagues / friends:

  • What are your reasons for doing a DPhil?
  • What do you want to have achieved by the end?
  • Besides your formal DPhil degree, what else do you want to have achieved by the time you complete?  (Some examples might be: publishing; skills and wider development; teaching experience; public engagement or outreach activities.)

The Formal Bits

If you have studied at Oxford before, you will have a good understanding of how the University works. If not it will help to understand how the University is organised and where you can go for different kinds of information and support. Even if you have studied here before, you may find useful information in the following sections. 

For most DPhil students, most of your time and connections will be with your research group and department, and college – although it may be different for some of you. Whichever your department, it sits within the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division, one of four academic divisions in the University.  If you are interested in knowing more about the overall structure of the University, follow these links:

How the University is organised

Staff Gateway - Organisational structure of the University

You will find it useful to be aware of University Policies and Guidance, and in particular the University page about Research Degrees

The formal milestones for your DPhil are Transfer of Status, Confirmation of Status, Submission and the Viva examination. Specific information about each of these is available on the MPLS webpages:

Transfer and Confirmation of Status

Submitting your Thesis

The Viva Examination

In the same section on the Divisional website you will find a great deal more information about the formal aspects of your DPhil.

Your department will also have both formal and informal processes and expectations for your progression. These will be set out in your graduate handbook; you should ask your graduate secretary, supervisor or Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) about this if you are not sure where to find it. (A list of current DGSs is available here.)

Rights and Responsibilities

As a DPhil student you have both rights and responsibilities and it will help your success if you are aware of them – they are set out in section five of the Research Degrees PolicyYour overriding responsibility is: 

‘The University expects the student to accept his or her obligation to act as a responsible member of the University’s academic community. The student is also expected to take ultimate responsibility for his or her research programme and to develop an appropriate working relationship with his or her supervisor(s).’

Your department and supervisor also have formal responsibilities toward you – they are set out in section four of the Research Degrees Policy. Your supervisor’s overriding responsibility is:

‘In agreeing to supervise a research student, the supervisor must recognise and accept the responsibilities both to the student and to the relevant department, faculty and division implicit in the supervisory relationship.’

There is more information about rights and responsibilities here, including the MPLS Working hours and Holiday Policy.


Vitae is a national organisation who supports and promotes the professional development of researchers.

There are some useful resources on the Vitae website to help you make a successful start to your doctorate: Doing a Doctorate and other advice sheets based around the Researcher Development Framework.

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