Brand new ‘Dr’s waiting to graduate | Photograph by Phil Brooks, Graduate Admissions

What is a DPhil?

It’s a PhD, full stop. Read on for more about our PhD and what Oxford’s research students do.

Graduate Study at Oxford
4 min readAug 17, 2020

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What does ‘DPhil’ mean?

‘DPhil’ and ‘PhD’ are both short for exactly the same thing, which is ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. You might see ‘PhD’ used at Oxford as well.

Why does Oxford use a different word for the same thing?

We actually settled on ‘DPhil’ back when it was brand new and first introduced in the UK (at Oxford, 100 years ago) to make it easier to understand.

‘PhD’ comes from the Latin phrase ‘philosophiae doctor’ and ‘DPhil’ from the English phrase ‘Doctor of Philosophy’.

Other English universities used ‘DPhil’ to start with and changed to ‘PhD’ as this became more popular, but we’ve stuck with it.

Will I be a ‘Dr.’ if I get a DPhil?

Yep, absolutely. You can say you have a PhD from Oxford if you’d rather use ‘PhD’ over ‘DPhil’ in a particular context — still completely true.

Graduation day | Photograph by Santhy Balachandran (DPhil Anthropology)

What kind of a course is a DPhil?

A DPhil/PhD is a research qualification where you’d usually take on independent research to write an original thesis. It usually takes about three or four years of full-time study (or six to eight years part-time).

Original research adds to the existing body of published academic research, instead of summarising what’s already been published. This is really the major step between the sort of work you’d do on an undergraduate or taught master’s degree and a PhD.

Are there exams in a DPhil?

Like with a new job, there’s a ‘probationary’ period after you start to make sure you’re on the right track and making good progress on your research plans. (This isn’t unique to Oxford and you’ll find it at other universities too.)

Most DPhil students start as a ‘probationary research student’ (PRS). As your research develops, you’ll go through two key milestones to review your progress, usually in your first and then in your second or third year — a ‘transfer’ to and then a ‘confirmation’ of full DPhil status.

When you’ve finished your thesis and submitted it, you’ll have a viva voce exam. A viva is a small meeting where you discuss and defend your thesis, including your research methods and your conclusions, with examiners — usually two academics, one from the University and one external.

What does a DPhil/PhD student do?

What you get up might be really different depending on your research area — these photos come from our DPhil students across the University | Photographs by, left to right from top, Yunli Song (Systems Biology), Tommaso Mari (Classical Languages and Literature), Favour Mandanji Nyikosa (Machine Learning), Minjie Su (English), Antonio de Capua (Mathematics), Vinesh Maguire-Rajpaul (Astrophysics), Whitney Conti (Anthropology), William Hutchison (Earth Science), Natasha Hui Jin Ng (Medical Sciences), Joseph Caruana (Astrophysics)

Your day-to-day will depend on your subject area and your actual research subject, but the basic idea is that you spend most of your time working on your research — whether that’s actually by yourself or as part of a group who are all looking at the same thing, like a research centre or lab.

You’ll be putting together a long research essay, your thesis, piece by piece — depending on your department and your topic this could be up to 80,000 or even 100,000 words, about as long as a book on your subject (in sciences it’s likely to be shorter, up to 40–50,000 words but more like 150–200 pages, including diagrams, graphs etc).

You’ll meet regularly with a more senior member of academic staff who has expertise in your research area. Your supervisor keeps you on track and gives you feedback on your work, methods and ideas.

Gladys (DPhil Engineering Science) on her research into new jet engine technology

You can also hear from some our DPhil students on what they do at Oxford in our playlist on YouTube, including:

Inspired?

You can explore all our DPhil and other postgrad research courses using the Courses A-Z on the Oxford website.

Iif you’re already thinking about what you might do for your PhD, read our advice on how to write a research proposal to start moving your ideas forward and prepping your application.

DPhil students waiting outside the University’s Sheldonian Theatre to graduate | Photograph by Phil Brooks, Graduate Admissions

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Graduate Study at Oxford

A perspective on masters’, DPhil (PhD) and other graduate courses from Graduate Admissions at the University of Oxford