DPhil Course Structure

Completion of a doctorate at Oxford is expected to take between two and four years. Whilst every doctoral project will follow a unique path, there are common milestones that every OII DPhil student must pass. The information below gives a broad indication of the general milestones, but all students are advised to discuss the timeline with their supervisor.

During the programme you will move through three different stages:

  • Probationer Research Student (PRS)
  • DPhil Status
  • Confirmed DPhil Status

As an OII DPhil student, you are expected to have completed at least a one or two year Master’s degree (at Oxford or elsewhere). The minimum period in which the DPhil can be completed is therefore two years (if you have completed an Oxford MPhil in a related area) but the norm is three years. Please note that part-time study is not possible, and students are required to be resident in Oxford for at least the first two years of their degree.

DPhil Milestones

Year One Year Two Year Three
Entry as Probationer Research Student (PRS) Transfer to DPhil Status Confirmation of DPhil Status
Social Dynamics of the Internet Thesis: gathering data Thesis: writing up and submission
Digital Social Research: Methods Core
Digital Social Research: Statistics Core
DSR: Methods Option Papers
Thesis: formulating a research question

Oxford University terms are referred to as Michaelmas Term (MT), Hilary Term (HT) and Trinity Term (TT) and normally last eight weeks.

Year One: Formulating a Research Question

The focus in the first year is on formulating research questions, and research skills training. All doctoral students are required to take two courses which give the necessary foundation for undertaking research in this multi-disciplinary field. Both courses must be passed in order to transfer from PRS to DPhil status:

  • Social Dynamics of the Internet (MT) provides an overview of the major findings to date regarding the social implications of the Internet, drawing material from several social science disciplines, including communication studies, sociology, and political science. Note that there is also a separate discussion session of this course just for DPhil students.
  • Digital Social Research (MT and HT) provides students with the core skills, methods, theories and concepts required to undertake the remainder of the degree. It examines issues concerning the application of traditional social research methods to the study of emerging ICTs as well as the use of new methods, enabled by the Internet and ICTs, in the study of an array of social research problems. All students must take DSR Methods Core and DSR Statistics Core in Michaelmas term. In Hilary term doctoral students have the option of choosing up to four of the DSR option papers; a decision made in discussion with their supervisor.

First year doctoral students may also be required to attend additional research methods training classes if deemed necessary for their proposed research. If you come from a background outside the social sciences (eg in computer science), you may be asked to take appropriate courses in theory and methods offered by the OII or one/ more of the University’s Social Science Division departments during your first year of doctoral studies. Likewise, if you are a social scientist without a mastery of ICTs, you may be asked to take appropriate courses in computer science, information engineering or related fields during your first year.

DPhil students are also welcome to take any of the OII MSc Option Papers, with the approval of their supervisor and the course provider.

In addition to these classes, students will be required to work on their thesis (dissertation), and will meet regularly with their supervisor to this end. By the end of the first year, students will be expected to have formulated clear research questions and identified appropriate theoretical and methodological frameworks for addressing these questions.

Transfer of Status

As most students will enter the DPhil programme as Probationer Research Students (PRS), they will be expected to gather materials and draft a research proposal for transfer to DPhil Status between their third and forth term in Oxford. Assuming the normal three year programme, we expect students to complete the transfer interview by the end of their fourth term. Most students successfully transfer in the third term. Details of the Transfer of Status process can be found in the DPhil Graduate Studies Handbook [PDF].

Year Two: Gathering Data

The second year of the DPhil will normally be devoted to data gathering and mapping the outline structure of your thesis. However students will also need to make significant progress in writing their thesis, drafting at least two chapters in preparation for the Confirmation of Status milestone. The second year may include a period of fieldwork away from Oxford. Many students also use this time to start drafting journal articles, often in collaboration with their supervisors.

Confirmation of Status

Confirmation of DPhil Status is an essential stage on the way to the doctorate and confirms that the student is capable of producing a thesis of the necessary standard and within an appropriate timescale. It is not possible to submit a thesis for examination until DPhil status has been confirmed: this applies to students who have transferred to the DPhil from an Oxford MLitt, MSc or MPhil as well as to those who enter as a PRS student.

The OII’s Graduate Studies Committee expects students to complete the confirmation interview by the end of the ninth term of study. Details of the Confirmation of Status process can be found in the DPhil Graduate Studies Handbook [PDF].

Year Three: Writing Up and Submission

The third year will concentrate on any final data gathering, and writing up the final chapters for submission of the thesis. The thesis must be submitted within 12 terms from the date of admission as a graduate student. In special circumstances you may apply for extension of time through the Graduate Studies Committee. The maximum extension permitted is 6 terms, making 18 terms of study in all.

Once the thesis has been submitted, two examiners are appointed and the examination by viva voce (an oral defence of the Thesis) is scheduled.

marcelo_thompsonWhilst working with FLOSS and digital certification in the Brazilian government, I felt deeply challenged by some hard theoretical puzzles that Internet-related technologies pose to law and policy. I then decided it was time to give my academic self another breath. After spending an intellectually enriching year doing a Master in Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa, in Canada, I perceived that I would greatly benefit from working out my knowledge in other related social sciences, so as to grasp the whole societal implications of technology. I was also interested in a place that, besides gathering top-notch researchers to investigate the new, could also question it with a thorough philosophical understanding of the past. Multidisciplinarity, a bustling research environment, and (slightly bizarre?) philosophical tradition have brought me to the OII, and the University of Oxford.

Marcelo Thompson: DPhil student (graduated 2013)