The NIH-OxCam Program

I thought I would give a brief shout-out for the NIH-OxCam program that I’m on, for any people considering graduate programs who are reading this blog. Applications are now open until January 2nd, and the official website and application information can be found here:

NIH OxCam Webpage

Just over a decade ago, as graduate students were first starting to make their way onto the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus, it was decided that the NIH would form what is now known as the Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP). It was decided that the NIH was not going to be degree-granting institution. However, they wished to provide funding for students to do research on campus and to work towards degrees at partnering Universities.  One of the first partnerships was with Oxford and Cambridge.

Each graduate partnership at the NIH works differently, but the OxCam program, as it is known, gives American citizens the opportunity to study a biomedical –related field at either Oxford or Cambridge as well as at the NIH. (There is a similar program called the NIH-Wellcome program for non-US citizens.) While the NIH funds the degree, the university in England is in charge of the academic side of affairs, including examination and degree conferral. The goal is for students to evenly split their time between the two locations, working in collaborating labs and pulling together a cohesive project.

As with any course of graduate study the success of the project is dependent on many variables, the three main ones being mentorship from supervisors, tenacity of the student, and topic choice. The great thing about the program is that it does in many respects offer a middle-ground between British and American attitudes towards PhD projects. One of the main aspects of this is the fact that funding is given for five years, which is longer than the British timeframe, but shorter than the American time-frame. This seems to work out just right for the students in the program who generally seem to graduate after about 4.5 years.

The program is certainly not for everyone in that in addition to the normal criteria for a PhD candidate, you also need to add a good set of communications skills, self-motivation, and extra tenacity. But it can, and does, work out, and I would definitely encourage anyone interested to apply. And please do contact me if you have any questions.


4 comments on “The NIH-OxCam Program

  1. Kim says:

    I am very interested in applying for the OxCam NIH MSTP program, but unfortunately I have spent the past 3 years being a horrible test taker. That being said, I do have a lot of experience in a lab and have designed the exact project I would like to pursue as a Ph.D and supported it with a literature review. What are the minimal grade/test requirements I need to have to even have any hope of getting in?

    • makingbones says:

      The NIH/OxCam website does state that although a high academic standard is desired, what is more important is research experience. From my experience in the program I will definitely agree with this. Successful applicants are those that understand how a lab works, and even more importantly have a good idea of the project that they would like to work on if they were to get into the program. If you know the “exact project” you would like to do, then the next step would be to find potential supervisors at the NIH and Oxbridge – that might help give you a leg up over the competition. Reference letters (from lab supervisors etc.) are particularly important, of course, backed up by good interview performance should you get to that stage.
      Best of luck!

  2. AB says:

    I’m also really interested in applying for this program- Does it require you to find a faculty mentor and the NIH and Cambridge/Oxford in order to apply? Some of the other Cambridge programs that I have looked at do require you do this, but I am still trying to figure out if NIH OxCam asks the same. If so, do you have any advice finding faculty mentors?

    • makingbones says:

      Hi AB,
      Unlike other graduate programs, the OxCam Program doesn’t require you to choose a mentor prior to applying. In fact, many students find mentors in the orientation week in June after they have been accepted. However, it would be worthwhile to look for mentors at both the NIH and Oxford/Cambridge to check that there actually are people doing the research you are interested in before applying to the program. And talking to relevant people at either institution and forming a rough idea of what you might do if you were to get into the program can’t hurt. As for how to go about finding a mentor in this program, the best advice would be to find a mentor you really want to work with on either side of the pond then asking them who they would like to work with on the other side – often, they might have someone in mind that they’ve met at conferences over the years or even already have a collaboration with!
      Hope this helps!

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