Information for host supervisors of Oxford students


In the 4th year of the Oxford University M.Bioch. undergraduate course, biochemistry students undertake an 18 week (starting in mid-September) laboratory-based research project either in Oxford or in one of the contracted European universities under the EU Erasmus student exchange scheme or at Princeton University in the USA.

All biochemistry students from Oxford taking part in these exchange schemes will have successfully completed their undergraduate degree at a "pass" level in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry and are now commencing a one year Masters degree course, the results of which will, in conjunction with their undergraduate marks, determine the class of degree to be awarded to each student. This (Part II) research project forms the major part of their course and it is this work which the student will be undertaking whilst in your laboratory.

At the end of the project, students write a 8,000 word dissertation on their work (see below for details). Therefore, it is important that all necessary experiments are completed while the student is in your lab and that all results and data (copies of original note books, if you prefer) are brought back to Oxford. We will appoint a co-supervisor in Oxford who has knowledge of your field to assist the student when they return home. The students will also have an oral examination of their project work, so it is will be helpful if the student can give a seminar to the rest of your research group during the latter part of their stay with you.

It is important that, while the student is given every encouragement and assistance to carry out their chosen project to the best of their ability, the regulations of the University of Oxford are adhered to. These stipulate that

  • the project is the student's own work;
  • where work of others has been used this must be admitted;
  • supervisors should give advice on the choice and scope of the project, provide a reading list and comment on the first draft of the write-up.

At the end of the project, the project supervisor is requested to write a report on the student. This report will provide a valuable aid to the examiners who will be assessing the project. The appropriate form and details of when and how to submit this report will be sent to all supervisors towards the end of the student's project.

It is expected that the visiting student will be integrated into your research group. The local Student exchange co-ordinator should be informed when the student arrives so that they can be registered with your institution and take part in orientation courses. The student might also like to take part in available language courses about which the local co-ordinator will have information.

Below are some details about Part II projects which have been given to our students.

Extract from Students' Handbook with reference to their Project


  • The laboratory project is concerned with applying elements of experimental design and experimental technique to a research problem. It also employs the skills of handling and assessing the validity of experimental data, and the critical interpretation of such data.
  • Part II projects comprise 18 weeks in a research laboratory, together with writing up this work as a dissertation (mini-thesis). Except in exceptional circumstances, the practical work should be carried out between weeks -2 and week 9 of Michaelmas Term (i.e. mid-September to early December) and between week 1 and week 6 of Hilary Term (i.e. early January to mid-February) of your fourth year.
  • Part II projects may be carried out in Oxford (in one of a variety of Science or Clinical Departments) or at a University in Continental Europe, under the ERASMUS scheme of the European Union, or at Princeton University, USA.

Aims of the project:

  • to develop familiarity with, and competence in, research methods in biochemistry;
  • to promote the principles of good and original experimental design;
  • to develop the selection and use of appropriate methods of data display and manipulation;
  • to develop independent responsibility in the laboratory, coupled with the skills of working as part of a research team.

By the end of this course the student should be:

  • able to adapt published protocols for employment in a current laboratory environment;
  • able to design appropriate calibration methods and control (blank) measurements for quantitative experiments;
  • able to assess potential sources of error, and the validity of results obtained;
  • able to choose and use appropriate graphical or mathematical techniques for processing data;
  • confident in the use of computers (a) to process and display data (e.g. using spreadsheets); (b) to process text and create publication quality combinations of text and figures.

The Dissertation

Experimental work should be written up roughly in the format of a published experimental paper with sections: Abstract; Introduction; Materials and Methods; Results; Discussion; References. It should not be more than 8,000 words long (excluding references and figure legends).

The Introduction should be sufficiently broad to introduce the non-specialist to the general subject area, to explain the past work of your laboratory and other laboratories in your detailed area of research, and to explain why you are carrying out the particular investigations to be described later (to test a particular hypothesis, to resolve a discrepancy in the literature etc.).

The Materials and Methods section should not contain detailed descriptions of standard biochemical techniques (e.g. SDS-PAGE) nor manufacturers' protocols (e.g. DNA purification) - appropriate references are sufficient - although sufficient details (key volumes, temperatures, etc) should be given to allow another investigator to repeat the procedure. Non-standard abbreviations (e.g. TDQ buffer) should be avoided.

The Results section should not contain standard calibration curves (e.g. for the Bradford protein assay) and results should not be repeated in different formats (i.e. tabulated and displayed graphically). Neither should it contain as examples 'typical results' taken from published literature rather than a student's own results.

The Discussion section should explain what you think your results mean, and how they support/contradict your original assertions. It should also place your results in the context of other, past, work in the same area and include some indication of further directions the work might take in the future.

Oral Examination of the Project

  • The oral presentation will be made to an examiner and an assessor, chosen to have knowledge of the project subject area. Neither examiner nor assessor will be the candidate’s project supervisor, or College tutor.
  • Each presentation will be allocated a 20 minute slot, comprising 10 minutes talk by the candidate, 5 minutes questioning by the examiners, and 5 minutes for grading (in the absence of the candidate. Examiners will halt the presentation if it proceeds longer than 10 mins.
  • Material to be used during the presentation must be submitted to as a Powerpoint file on a disc suitable to be read on a PC, and labelled with the candidate’s examination number. Submission must be no later than noon on Tuesday of week 2, Trinity term.
  • The Powerpoint file must contain a title slide, showing only the Project Title and the Candidate Number on a plain ground. There is no limit to the number of additional slides, but candidates are advised to consider carefully the amount of material that can be appropriately presented in the time available. Candidates will be responsible for advancing their presentation using the computer keyboard. A separate pointer will not be provided.
  • The examiners’ questions are expected to be based mainly on the presentation and the previously submitted written project report.
  • Candidates should bring with them a hard copy of the report submitted. Additional notes (no more than 1 side of A4) may be used to act as a prompt during the presentation.