FAQs for Princeton Exchange Students

During your time at Oxford, you will have a choice:

Undergraduate terms in Oxford University normally last for 8 weeks (Full Term). However, Biochemistry students in their 4th year have a 12-week Michaelmas (Fall) term, which is referred to as Extended Term, starting in mid-September.

In the 4th (final) year of their biochemistry degree at Oxford, our students carry out a compulsory 18-week research project (Part II project) starting in the middle of September. It is during this time that Princeton students can come to Oxford. Oxford students who go to Princeton will carry out their Part II research project in a research laboratory there.


Teaching at Oxford University is a combination of formal lectures and tutorials. Tutorials are a face-to-face discussion of a prepared piece of work between the tutor, who is an expert in the specific topic, and students, either singly or in a small (2-4) group. You are responsible for managing your own time to ensure the necessary work gets done. The purpose of the tutorial is to review your answer and to raise any new points that result from the discussion. The success of a tutorial relies on the active exchange of ideas between you, your tutor and other students.

  • How many tutorials should I have?

This depends on how many topics you need cover while in Oxford. Normally four tutorials are given on a specific topic and usually take place at about weekly intervals during term. You can expect to cover two topics during the 8 week term, if you are also doing a research project.

  • How will I get tutorials?

We can arrange tutorials in any topic you need for your syllabus at Princeton. Identify which topics on your syllabus you need tutoring on, bring your syllabus with you to Oxford, and we will arrange the tutorials for you.

  • How do I find and choose a laboratory?

Research projects are available in a wide range of laboratories associated with the Department of Biochemistry. Towards the end of each year a list of projects is published here and this will give details of the proposed project, relevant references and the name of the supervisor. You can then do further research on the internet to find out about the work of the supervisor to help you make a choice. During your project you will be supervised either by the head of the laboratory or a member of the research team.

  • How soon should I choose a laboratory?

Oxford students have to make their choice by the end of the Spring (Hilary) Term, which is usually in the middle of March. In order to increase the chance of getting your preferred project, you should also aim to let us know your choice by that date. If your decision to come to Oxford is made after this date, we will still be able to get you into a laboratory but not necessarily your first choice.

  • How long is my project?

You will have 18 weeks in Oxford in which to carry out your project. You can either devote the whole of that time to the project or else divide the time between the project and tutorial work. What you do will be determined by the needs of your syllabus at Princeton.

  • When should I contact my host laboratory?

You can contact the supervisor of your host laboratory as soon as you have heard from our office that you have been accepted. We will email you as soon as this is decided and give you a contact email address for the supervisor. Do not expect your supervisor to be precise about your project until nearer the time of your visit as often the project will depend on what work is being done in their laboratory at the time. However, you should ask for a list of appropriate references for background reading and determine an exact starting date in the laboratory to fit with your College's offer of accommodation and available flights.

  • When should I arrive?

You must agree your arrival date with your laboratory supervisor and College (see below). Part II students in Oxford normally start work in the laboratories three weeks before the beginning of the full term; normally mid to end September. It is your responsibility to discuss with College by email about when you plan to arrive.

  • What is a college and how will I know which college I am in?

Oxford has 39 Colleges which are responsible for undergraduate teaching (through the tutorial system and faculty) and the welfare of their graduate and undergraduate students; all undergraduate and graduate students at Oxford belong to one of these colleges. The Colleges are independent of the University and self-financing. If your application to come to Oxford is successful you will be paired with one of our students who wants to go to Princeton and you will be assigned to that student's college. We will write to you to let you know to which College you will belong as soon as it has been decided to accept your application.

  • How does the college system work and why are they all different?

Oxford University is made up of two parts - the Faculties which control the academic syllabus and lectures of all taught courses, and the Colleges (39 of them) which provide accommodation, tutorials and a social and sporting life. The Colleges vary in size from ~100 to 400 undergraduates, and 20-200 graduates (some 5 colleges have only graduates). You will have status as both an undergraduate and gratuate and may well get accommodation in a graduate house.

The Colleges were founded from about 1120AD on, the newest being founded in 1966. Historically all colleges have developed individually and all have slightly different procedures. The College buildings range from 12th century to modern 21st century, and accommodation for students is as varied, some of it being in houses in the City. You will be allocated to the college that your exchange student is at, so you have no choice. As soon as you have been informed of your college, check its web site (there are links from the university site (www.ox.ac.uk) to all the colleges).

  • How do I know where I will live?

Your accommodation will provided by your exchange student's College and will be either in College or College controlled housing. Very occasionally it may be in privately rented accommodation with friends of your exchange student; this is because the student has elected to "live out". Wherever you are placed, you will live with other students and have full access to all the College's facilities.

  • When to contact your college?

Once you have been accepted to come to Oxford, and your exchange student is identified, we will write to the appropriate College asking them to get in touch with you to give details about the College and where you will be living. Most colleges will not do this until after the end the academic year in early July. If you haven't heard from the College by the middle of July, you should let the exchange office here in Oxford know (erasmus@bioch.ox.ac.uk).

  • What is matriculation and why do I do it?

The formal ceremony to admit new undergraduates to Oxford University is called "matriculation". All students are matriculated and wear academic dress "subfusc" for this ceremony which takes place at the Sheldonian Theatre on a date determined by your College. Academic dress is used for formal occasions in Oxford and you will be able to borrow the necessary items from other students. Academic dress for men: a dark suit, black shoes and socks, white shirt and collar, white bow tie, cap and gown. For women: white blouse, black ribbon, black skirt or trousers, black stockings or tights, black shoes, dark (black, navy or dark grey) coat (if desired), cap and gown.

Photograph courtesy of Simon Ho

Visiting Princeton students after matriculation
  • Why should I contact my Oxford exchange student?

Your exchange student will have a wealth of valuable information about Oxford, Biochemistry and College to pass on to you to help you make the most of your time here. Similarly, you will can give the student information about Princeton.

  • How do I get from the airports to Oxford?

Oxford is very fortunate in having excellent links from all the main airports in the south of the UK. You will probably land at either London Gatwick or London Heathrow airport both of which are connected to Oxford by a frequent, approximately half-hourly, direct coach service. Journey times are about 70 minutes from Heathrow and 120 minutes from Gatwick. Timetables and fares can be accessed on line at www.theairline.info/ and http://airline.oxfordbus.co.uk/. London Stansted airport is linked to Oxford by the National Express 757 coach, running every two hours.

  • Where do I go when I get to Oxford?

The coach will take you into the Central Bus Station at Gloucester Green in centre of Oxford. Most Colleges are within 15-20 minute walk of the bus station but you may prefer to take a taxi (cab); the journey will cost around £9.00. College will have told you where your accommodation is and where you need to go to get keys etc., if they have omitted this information, please let us know.

  • What fees do I pay?

Exchange students will continue to pay Princeton fees. No fees are due to Oxford University.

  • How much does it cost?

You do need to pay for food and lodging - room rates vary and discussion with your College and/or exchange student will give you the necessary information; typically rooms will cost £150-£170 per week, all found (including electricity, heating, etc. but not meals). You will be expected to do your own laundry. Some Colleges have information about these costs on their web sites. Meals can be bought in College (reservation and payment systems vary) and you can entertain guests; costs are very reasonable (much cheaper than in cafés or restaurants). Oxford (like any tourist city) is not especially cheap but, if you prepare your own food or eat in College, you should be able to live on less than in Princeton, but eating out in the city can be expensive. Formal Hall dinners at College, which are held occassionally throughout term, are also fun and good value for guests and students alike.

  • What do I need to take back with me?

If you are required to write a thesis on your project after you leave, you must be organized with data recording, gel photos, graphs etc. and take everything back home with you, even if you think you will not use it.

  • Will I get an assessment of the topics covered in tutorials and my project?

Yes, you will be assessed by both your tutors and supervisor while in Oxford and these assessments will be passed on to Princeton. We have liaised with Princeton to ensure that the assessments comply with their requirements. You will also be required to take an examination on the topics taught in the Oxford tutorials. Please liaise with Mell Bolen (mbolen@princeton.edu) about this.