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Geography PhD program at Oxford / Cambridge


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I am a newbie here.. Just took my GRE today!  Found this site while looking up my score (v166, q161 essay pending).  I am interested in pursuing a PhD in Geography at Oxford or Cambridge, and was wondering if anyone in this cafe had experiences, or had informed opinions on the programs offered at these two schools.  I will be sponsored by a US government scholarship, so funding is no issue.  I know GRE doesn't count for Oxbridge, but I took it in case I end up choosing an American program.  My undergrad major was international politics at Georgetown, and my 1st MA was Security Studies, also at Georgetown.  My second MA was from Army Command and General Staff College, called, Master of Military Arts and Sciences.  So my weakness is that I have no formal education in geography whatsoever..  Any helpful advice would be appreciated!


Dave Park

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Hi Dave,


I applied to several US institutions and Oxford. I was only accepted to the latter, so that's where I'll being going for an MPhil in the fall, and I can only give you input on Oxford, not Cambridge.


As you probably know, geography is an inmensely interdisciplinary field and can accomodate people from pretty much all backgrounds; my geography professors during undergrad (I'm a historian) were economists, engineers and political scientists who then pursued graduate studies in geography. Therefore, your background shouldn't be a problem... if you have a grasp over the major works and theories in geographic thought. As you may have seen, Oxford requires you to have a Master's degree in a similar discipline to get into the PhD, but I think this requirement can be overlooked if your personal statement makes it evident that you're familiar with the most relevant issues in geography. Therefore, you're probably going to have to rely on this for your application to be successful. Additionally, Oxford asks for a writing sample, and you should aim to send something as geographical as possible. I sent in a chapter of my thesis that is intimately related to human-environment geography, even though that wasn't the central topic of my thesis, I also included the full bibliography in order to show that I'm familiarized with geographic literature.


That said, your profile says you're interested in strategic geography. Where in Oxford's research cluster do you think you'd fit? Have you looked into who could potentially advise you? I don't know if it's the norm in the UK to email POIs before applying, but I did, and I think it worked to my advantage. They should also be able to advise you as to what college to apply to.

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Thank you, Paola, for the encouraging note!


Yes, I did contact a professor in Oxford, whose interest includes Geopolitics.  However, it as a longthy email only. sketching out my thesis isead in about a paragraph.  I wanted to see if he thought my idea on a thesis had any traction.  He hasn't replied in about a week.  And then I discovered that for DPhil, being an entirely reasearch program, did not offer basic courses in Geography.  Also, I learned that for UK professors, a thorough and formal thesis proposals are expected.  I am afraid since I only sent an email, detailing my thesis idea, instead of books, he may not reply to my email anymore...    

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You could work on a thesis proposal starting now and until the time to apply rolls around. Luckily, you have plenty of time to do that. US universities will expect you to have something planned out, too, so it's something you will have to do regardless of where you are applying. Once you have something more or less ready (a very very rough draft of your proposal), email the professor again if they haven't replied.


fyi, what I wrote in my email outlined my reearch interests, the theoretical approaches I want to explore, the topics I explored in my undergrad thesis, and expressed my interest in working under the supervision of the prof. I was initially applying for an MSc, but she suggested I apply for the MPhil instead, since it has a substantial research component. 


Since one of your concerns is taking basic geography classes, I'm going to go ahead and suggest that you apply for the MPhil as well. That way, you would take basic geography classes during your first year (from any of the MSc courses offered) and being working on your MPhil thesis as part of your PhD dissertation. If you check the MPhil handbook, the last section deals with transferring to the DPhil programme which would typically entail a transfer procedure but "In some cases, if a candidate’s proposed DPhil research is an extension of their MPhil work, they may be admitted directly as a DPhil candidate and will not be required to undergo the transfer of status procedures."

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