Doctoral research training programmes in the department, as across the University of Oxford more generally, are set up and structured around the needs of full time (FT) students.

This department admits twenty doctoral students to start a full-time DPhil each year, and it is not possible to offer training courses outside the working day or through distance/online provision.

However the department does have the University’s permission to offer a part-time (PT) DPhil option for students who reside and are employed locally.  In the recent past we have admitted one and occasionally two PT students most years. Our ‘Special Regulations’ stipulate that:

Part-time research students are required to attend for a minimum of thirty days of university-based work each year, to be arranged with the agreement of their supervisor.

Studying part-time for a DPhil is demanding and students should normally expect to devote on average at least 20 hours per week to their research. The research training provided for our first year doctoral students is timetabled on Wednesdays and Thursdays during two eight week terms (Michaelmas and Hilary). Part-time students normally spread this training over two years, allocating every Thursday in their first year, and every Wednesday in their second year.

Progression on and ‘transfer’ to doctoral status is predicated on successful completion of assignments for these courses. We also encourage students to benefit from relevant research training and skills-training opportunities available across the Social Science division.

In subsequent years, students are encouraged to actively participate in, and contribute to, the academic life in the department throughout their doctoral studies. Many attend and present at regular student:run weekly ‘Work in Progress’ sessions, and the annual Student conference held in March.

PT DPhil study is only suited to exceptional candidates. Applicants need to have a strong and coherent research proposal, an outstanding academic track-record, and to ensure their employer understands the importance of full participation in the life of the department. An important part of the doctoral experience comes from being in a cohort, of sharing ideas, and being supported by peers. The department’s research centres and groups also play a vital role. Staying engaged helps students stay motivated, meet ‘milestone’ deadlines and progress to timely completion. Applicants to PT study would need to demonstrate how they would continue to be part of this doctoral community over the course of their studies.

For part-time research applications admission is initially dependent on evidence of the following requirements:

  • the applicant normally has a minimum of three years’ professional experience and is currently employed (and will continue to be employed) in some capacity in the field of education
  • the applicant can meet the attendance requirements relating to part-time study (In practice this means living in or very near Oxford)
  • the applicant has the written support of their present employer for their proposed course of study and its obligations
  • the applicant’s proposed topic of research is related to their present or intended professional work

A student’s perspective

It was very interesting reading through your document and made me realise how much I have learned in the relatively short period since I began the DPhil.

I think the summary you have produced is absolutely fair and balances the responsibilities of part-time students to stay engaged with the Department and University activities (not easy but makes the whole experience much more rewarding), with the flexibility a part-time programme gives you to combine work and study. It is very important potential part-timers realise the extent of their commitment well in advance of registering, and your document tells them what they need to know.

I found it quite hard in the first year to be away from home two days per week (and anyone with a young family would find this even harder) but as a result hardly missed any of the Qualitative Methods and PPRS sessions, and this was essential, especially as I was completely new to social sciences research. I would soon have fallen behind with reading, assignments etc. had I not come to Oxford for two days a week. This year it has been easier (although I found the Quantitative methods course content harder, not having done any formal maths for 30 years or so) only being in Oxford one day a week, although then you do miss out on social stuff in the evenings and at weekends.

Finally, both full- and part-time DPhil students find it difficult to maintain the cohort identity after the first year I think. This is partly because of field work but the inevitably less structured nature of the programme after year 1 means there are fewer reasons to get together. In future am going to try to come in on Wednesdays more often and go to the Department coffee (or perhaps the Social Sciences coffee morning also on a Wed.) which might help me to stay in touch. Also, being a member of the Student Assessment Network is another reason for coming to Oxford. Having said all this, my supervisor is keen to see me quite often so I’m in Oxford almost every week anyway.

Gillian Clarke, part-time DPhil student