PhD Program

Doctoral Degree: Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Ph.D.

For official university admissions information and program degree requirements, please visit the Graduate Division website.


Please go to our “Application - How to Apply” page for step by step instructions to guide you through the application process. In addition to students holding bachelors' degrees in meteorology or atmospheric sciences, graduates with degrees in related disciplines -- Astronomy, Chemistry, Engineering, Geophysics, Oceanography, Mathematics, and Physics -- are encouraged to apply for graduate status in the department. Programs are arranged by consultation between the student and the department’s graduate advisers, and considerable flexibility is maintained so that maximum advantage may be taken of previous education.

Major Fields or Subdisciplines

Course Requirements

Course requirements for the doctoral degree are satisfied by completion of a departmentally approved program of study. Each program of study must consist of at least nine courses (36 units), six (24 units) of which must be entry-level graduate courses drawn from a list maintained by the department and chosen to ensure proper breadth and preparation. The minimum of 12 additional units of coursework is chosen from the 200-series to develop a specialization. The advanced course requirements also may be partially satisfied by: (1) 200-series courses taken for a grade outside of the department; (2) directed studies courses (596) within the department; and (3) research courses (598) within the department. Each student submits their program of study to the department prior to the beginning of the Spring quarter of their first year. Subject to the approval of the student's faculty advising committee, the program of study may be amended at any time based on course offerings and evolving interests. The final program of study will be the basis for the departmental oral comprehensive examination. Satisfactory completion of the program of study requires an S grade for all S/U grades courses and a B average in all letters-graded courses that are part of the program of study. After the written and oral exams (see below), the committee will combine the student’s GPA in the core courses and the letter grades from the written and oral departmental examinations to decide if the student meets the requirements to continue in the program.

Students are required to present a graded departmental seminar based on their original research as part of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences 270. The grade for this seminar is based on the seminar presentation and is given by the faculty as a whole. A grade of B or better is required for the doctoral degree. Prior to the quarter in which the seminar is presented for a letter grade, students in the doctoral program are required to enroll in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences 270 for S/U grading every quarter in which they are registered.

Core Courses

All graduate students are required to take the following 6 courses:

  • Scientific communication course
    And 5 of the 6 following courses*
  • 200A Introduction to Atmospheric and Ocean Fluid
  • 200B Introduction to Dynamics of Earth Systems
  • 202 Introduction to Ocean Science
  • M203A Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry
  • 203B Introduction to Atmospheric Physics
  • C205A Introduction to Solar System Plasmas

*By petition to the Graduate Advising and Curriculum (GAC) committee, one of the five courses can be replaced by another advanced course.

Advanced Courses

12 units of AOS electives courses from the 200-level course and directed studies, or AOS department approved advanced courses taken outside of the department. These should be chosen with the students’ advisor or the graduate advisors so as to develop a specialization. Prior to advancement to candidacy students are required to enroll in at least one 200-level course per year.

Typical Program: Sequence of Classes

Written and Oral Qualifying Examinations

Students are required to complete three examinations before advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree: the departmental written examination; the departmental oral examination; and the University Oral Qualifying Examination

Departmental Oral Examination

All doctoral students are required to pass an oral qualifying examination that demonstrates their ability to present and defend a research proposal and/or preliminary research results, and to demonstrate mastery of the fundamental knowledge required to perform research in that area. The oral exam must be taken by the end of the second year in the program (delays require a petition to the Department’s graduate advising committee with justification signed by student and adviser). The oral exam is conducted by the student’s faculty advising committee, who must communicate to the student the scope of the exam ahead of time. The committee will assign a letter grade to the student’s oral exam performance. After the oral exam, the committee will combine the student’s GPA in the core courses and the letter grades from the written and oral departmental examinations to determine if the student meets the requirements of the Ph.D. or M.S. program. The weight of each component as well as passing criteria are described in a document maintained by the department and available to students upon admission to the graduate program. Students that receive a Ph.D. pass are eligible to continue towards the doctoral degree. Students that receive an M.S. pass will be awarded an M.S. degree upon completion of the requirements for this degree. Students may retake the exam within 6 weeks, depending on the committee’s recommendation. Students may petition to delay repeating the exam for up to 6 months by developing, with their adviser’s input, a plan for retaking the exam.

Departmental Written Examination

All doctoral students are required to pass a written qualifying examination that demonstrates their ability to critically summarize and synthesize literature and propose new science questions on a research topic. This ability is demonstrated by satisfactory performance on an examination that is offered once a year, usually at the beginning of the summer. Students must take this exam at the end of their first year in the program (exceptions may be requested via petition to the Department’s GAC committee. The examination consists of a written research proposal in which students present a critical summary and synthesis of a research topic of their choice and propose scientific questions, the asnweres to which would advance the field.  The proposal is evaluated by the students’ faculty advising committee, who will provide written comments and a letter grade. Students will have the opportunity to respond to written comments and revise the proposal within 3 months. The revised proposal will be evaluated for a final letter grade. After the oral exam (see below), the committee will combine the grade from the written exam with student’s GPA in the core courses and the grade from the oral departmental examinations to decide if the student meets the requirements to continue in the program.

University Oral Qualifying Examination

This examination is conducted by the student's doctoral committee. The committee conducts an in-depth oral examination of the student's written proposal of the dissertation research topic. The proposal is made available to the committee at least one week prior to the examination. The examination is graded based on the student's ability to articulate a coherent and feasible plan of original and creative research. Upon passing this exam the student advances to candidacy. Upon failure the examination may be repeated once on the recommendation of the committee.

A minimum of a 4 member doctoral committee must be nominated and approved by the Graduate Division before the oral qualifying examination can take place. In the quarter you’re ready advance to candidacy, typically at the middle/end of the 3rd year, you should complete the “nomination of doctoral committee” form. Form is located on the Graduate Division website at

Dissertation Final Defense Oral Examination

After successfully completing a dissertation under the guidance of an AOS faculty member, an oral examination defending the dissertation is required. A failed examination may be repeated once on the recommendation of the committee.

When preparing for the final defense and filing of dissertation, please consult the “Policies for Thesis and Dissertation Preparation & Filing” booklet at

Teaching Experience

All students must be a TA, for a minimum of two quarters, before graduating. 

Final Oral Examination

Required of all students and is taken near the completion of the dissertation. Please see “Dissertation Final Defense Oral Examination”.

Candidate in Philosophy Degree

Students are advanced to candidacy upon successful completion of the written and oral qualifying examinations. The Candidate in Philosophy (C.Phil.) degree is awarded for the quarter in which students are advanced to candidacy.


Because of the variability in students’ backgrounds, there is a corresponding variability in the period of study necessary for completion of the degree. Students are expected to:
A. Pass the written component of the departmental comprehensive examination at the conclusion of their first year and to take the oral component of this examination before or during the summer at the end of their second year.
B. Take the University Oral Qualifying Examination at the end of their third year (nine academic quarters and three summer terms) or at the beginning of their fourth year.
To remain in good standing students must meet the course work requirements and pass the departmental oral examination prior to the end of their ninth academic quarter  (end of 3rd year); pass the University Oral Qualifying Examination prior to the end of their thirteenth academic quarter; and the dissertation and final oral defense examination should be completed prior to the end of their eighteenth quarter. Exceptions to these policies may be granted based on extenuating circumstances or based on students being allowed to enroll part-time. In such cases, student progress is judged in relation to a timeline determined by the graduate advisers in consultation with students and their principal advisers.

Disqualification and Appeal of Disqualification

A student who fails to maintain a 3.00 grade point average for two consecutive terms or for a total of three terms, or who fails to pass the University Oral Qualifying Examination after two attempts, or who fails to remain in good standing for two consecutive or three total quarters (see definition of good standing under Time-To-Degree) will be recommended for academic disqualification. A student may appeal a recommendation for academic disqualification to the departmental chair.


Requirements for students that joined before 2021