Professional Doctorate in DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development

    About This Professional Doctorate

    Course Description

    The Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Sustainable Urban Development is a part-time programme that provides outstanding students an opportunity to pursue in-depth and rigorous research about the pressing challenges of urban sustainability and the processes of environmental, economic, and social development in urban environments around the world.

    Students admitted to the programme are usually motivated to undertake detailed research in preparation for an academic career and other research-intensive occupations; to have a substantial impact on future policy-making processes; or to pursue and/or advance their professional career at organizations and institutions operating in the field of sustainable urban development. The course provides the student with support and an intellectual environment by leading scholars in the field to pursue independent research.

    The DPhil programme welcomes applications from those with a Master’s in a related subject, as well as applications from those already awarded the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development from this University.

    Supervision is available from a range of specialists across the University of Oxford.


    The DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development is a research doctorate, which culminates in a substantive academic thesis of around 100,000 words. As such, successful applicants will have a very strong academic record, as well as showing great aptitude through their academic proposal, and a display of future potential. Although we are keen to attract individuals for whom there is a strong overlap between academic and career interests, DPhil candidates will be examined solely on the intellectual quality of the final thesis and performance in a viva voce. Intellectual drive, ambition and vision are therefore crucial attributes.

    There is an expectation that candidates will read widely and in depth throughout their time on the programme, and show the ability to think about and critique current theoretical thinking in their chosen area of study. It is hoped that the final thesis might substantially advance theoretical thinking (in addition to broadening the empirical base) within a number of interdisciplinary areas.

    Programme details

    This DPhil programme is taken over a minimum of four years (12 terms) and a maximum of eight years (24 terms). Students are required to attend a minimum of 30 days of university-based work each year for the duration of the studies, to be arranged with the agreement of the supervisor. As part of the minimum 30 days per year requirement, students are expected to take part in three termly Doctoral Weeks (see below).

    Students admitted to this degree conduct their own research under the guidance of a University supervisor, who will advise on all aspects of training, development and academic progress. Students must be prepared to work independently a good deal, and will need considerable personal motivation. Students are required to have a good general knowledge of the field within which research falls and of the methods appropriate to the study of this field. Throughout the period of study, students are part of a thriving international graduate community of peers engaged with sustainable urban development, including students in our MSc in Sustainable Urban Development.

    Students are admitted initially as a Probationary Research Student (PRS), in line with University regulations on doctorates. During the probationary period, students develop and begin work on the thesis topic. They will develop research skills through a range of training and skills development offered during the termly Doctoral Week, as well as via the Department’s Graduate School and other units across the University.

    The termly Doctoral Week brings together students from all cohorts on the programme to discuss relevant topics in sustainable urban development, as well as to develop research skills and engage it additional research training and development.

    Students must apply for a Transfer of Status from PRS to DPhil status between the 6th and the 8th terms after admission (each academic year at Oxford has three terms). This involves the submission of a piece of written work that is examined by two assessors (neither of whom will be supervisors). This process is to ensure that the student’s work is of potential DPhil quality and that the methodology of the research is appropriate and feasible. Upon successful completion of the Transfer of Status, students usually undertake a period of fieldwork over one to two years.

    Students will also be required to apply for a Confirmation of Status as DPhil sometime between the 12th and 18th terms after admission. This will also involve the submission of a piece of written work that is assessed by two assessors (neither of whom are supervisors). The Confirmation assessment is different to the Transfer assessment as the assessors will be focusing on how the research is progressing, the quality of the draft thesis chapters, and on the plan for completion. The assessors will be looking to ensure that the student is making the appropriate amount of progress in the development of the thesis, so that thesis submission will be achieved within the time limit.

    Assessment methods

    Award of the DPhil is dependent upon completion of a 100,000-word doctoral thesis within an area of Sustainable Urban Development to the satisfaction of two examiners (neither of whom are supervisors) and defending that thesis in a more formal viva voce with the two examiners.


    Applications for 2021-22 entry are now open.

    Application deadlines are midday (UK time):

    • Friday 13 November 2020
    • Friday 22 January 2021 (Latest deadline for most Oxford scholarships)
    • Tuesday 2 March 2021

    Applications may remain open after the final deadline if places are still available.

    Visit the DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development page on the University of Oxford website for more details!

    Related VideosVideos
    (Student Profile)

    Sandra Hiari

    'Prior to enrolling in the DPhil programme, I was involved in several positions that involved working in both government-led and government-commissioned urban development programmes. One notable position, as the head of the planning and design department at the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, had me thrown into a plethora of situations where I got to observe and participate in decision-making alongside bureaucrats of all levels of seniority. Hugely intrigued by the need to study and closely scrutinize policymaking in Jordan, I revisited my long-held dream of continuing doctoral education. In my search of a program that could enable me to continue my professional work while studying, I found the DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development to be the right home.

    'While all pieces fell into place, from developing an application proposal to passing through the daunting interview, I soon matriculated into the program and returned to student life. From the onset of the programme, the challenging part was to reconcile and adjust my way of thinking which is attuned to the practical world and tailor it to academic thought, with its completely different research sensibilities.

    'While a DPhil’s best reward is served at the end, there are various milestone-related rewards along the way, such as awards and studentships. I am lucky to have been selected as a recipient of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Foundation studentship for 2019. While the financial value is extremely appreciated, it is also morally uplifting to know that my research is encouraged by the academic community. Especially in the early stages, it can be hard to tell if the research is heading in the right direction when drenched in the knowledge-acquiring process of the literature review!

    'My word of advice for anyone considering applying for this program is being aware that while the programme is administered in a part-time fashion and enables individuals to continue working while they study, such flexibility has another side to it. The professors assume that students are old and responsible enough to manage their own schedules and balance their commitments. The University resources are rich but one needs to navigate through them properly and thus carve out large amounts of time for the doctorate. I personally love the Oxford format and richness of content provided through the program because it is pretty much unique.'

    (Student Profile)

    Deland Chan

    Before I enrolled, I was, and am still, based in the Program on Urban Studies at Stanford University where I direct our experiential learning initiatives for students to engage in real-world urban issues through coursework and fellowships. I also co-founded and lead the Human Cities Initiative. I previously worked as a senior urban planner with a focus on transportation and land use planning.

    'Research and teaching have always gone hand in hand for me. Having worked in underserved communities that historically lacked access to the planning process or a seat at the decision-making table, I started my career in urban planning with a motivation to develop tools and capacities for non-planners to shape their communities. I became interested in contested frameworks of sustainability, which led me to the DPhil to explore these questions within a scholarly context.

    'The Clarendon Scholarship has made it possible for me to pursue the DPhil at Oxford. I am grateful for this opportunity, which not only offers financial support to pursue my research but a chance to be part of a community of scholars and to meet students from across the university in different departments. I love learning from others from different disciplines and how they approach their work, which is endlessly fascinating for me and can lead to exciting ways of thinking about my work.

    My recommendation for someone considering undertaking the DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development is to have a strong desire to do research and a set of intellectual questions that you hope to answer. Before applying, you should have a clear rationale for why you want to pursue the DPhil. After that, you will need to undergo the application process where you provide a detailed research proposal. There is also an interview, where in my situation, I discussed my potential research with three faculty members and was encouraged to think critically and thoughtfully about my proposal. I found this to be worthwhile and fun, but it is essential to consider both what you hope to get out of the process of undertaking the DPhil, as well as the potential outcomes of your research.

    I am most looking forward to engaging with Oxford faculty, challenging myself intellectually, and producing a high-quality thesis. As issues of urbanization and sustainability drive some of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century, I look forward to continuing this research after the DPhil in my career.

    (Student Profile)

    Katherine Maxwell

    I was inspired to apply for the SUD DPhil l as I wanted to build on my MSc thesis research which focused on measuring urban sustainability, an increasingly important area for both governmental and societal action. Making a positive contribution to the resolution of the climate crisis was a significant motivating factor in applying for the DPhil. I wanted to contribute towards the field both theoretically and practically.

    It is challenging to balance work and leisure – especially with a DPhil. At times, I was working part-time, studying part-time and also trying to make the most of the research placement opportunities (most of which were abroad) to further develop my research skills. To balance all of this, I had to manage my time very effectively. I found my hobby, running, helped me ‘switch off’ from work mode.

    'I found many things rewarding and enjoyable about the DPhil. Firstly, I enjoyed being challenged and the opportunity to critically analyse a subject in which I was (and still am) very much interested. I found both the Transfer of Status and Confirmation of Status very challenging, yet rewarding, experiences as they provided an opportunity to learn from world-leading experts who were willing to give advice on my research. Secondly, with a DPhil, all of the work depends on you and your ability to organise yourself effectively, so it was satisfying to reach key formal milestones (e.g., Transfer of Status) as well as informal academic goals that I had set myself to ensure I progressed. Thirdly, the opportunities to do research placements across the world enabled me to strengthen my research skills and apply my knowledge in a real-life context, as well as being fun!

    The SUD DPhil is an exceptionally rewarding experience, both academically and personally. The research will challenge you in a positive way and you will come away with much more than a doctorate. As part of the SUD programme and Kellogg College, you do very much feel like part of a community – despite not living on campus. The advice, support and opportunities from staff are invaluable and you are made to feel part of a much bigger support network during your studies.


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    Value of Scholarship(s)

    worth over £1,000


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    Application Procedure

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    Further Information

    Entry Requirements

    Please see the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website for entry requirements: View Website

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