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 (effective Fall 2011)

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 are 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, in case of thesis plan students, (3) research courses (598) within the department. Each student submits their program of study to the department prior to the beginning of their second year. Subject to the approval of the student's guidance committee, the program of study may be amended, repeatedly and 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, and a grade-point average of 3.5 or great in both the sequence of five preliminary courses that form the core of the program of study, and the overall program of study.

Students are required to present a graded departmental seminar based on their original series 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. Subsequent to receiving a B or better for their seminar presentation, doctoral students are encouraged but not required to continue to enroll in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science 270.

Core Courses

All graduate students are required to take the following 6 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

Students with a background in AOS may petition out of one or more of the required core courses.

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 master's comprehensive examination, which is an oral examination; a written qualifying examination; and the University Oral Qualifying Examination.

Students are required to complete the master's comprehensive examination at the Ph.D. level as described above for the master's degree. This examination is an oral examination based on the student's program of study, especially within the chosen specialization.

Comprehensive Oral Examination

The master's comprehensive examination is an oral examination that is administered by the student's departmental guidance committee after the successful completion of their program of study[link here “Program of Study.doc”]. The examination is graded fail, master's level pass, or Ph.D. level pass. The material within the student's program of study, especially within the chosen specialization, serves as the basis for this examination. Students are permitted two attempts to obtain a grade of pass, either for termination with award of the M.S. degree or for award of the M.S. degree and continuation for the Ph.D. degree. Students must receive a grade of pass (master's or Ph.D. level) to satisfy the master's comprehensive examination requirement. Students must receive a grade of Ph.D. level pass on this examination and have their entire record deemed acceptable for doctoral study by the guidance committee in order to be eligible to continue for the Ph.D. degree.

Written Qualifying Examination

All doctoral students are required to pass a written qualifying examination that demonstrates their ability to critically summarize and synthesize literature on a research topic. Normally this ability is demonstrated by satisfactory performance on an examination that is offered once a year, the summer immediately following the students’ first year. The examination consists of a written paper in which students present a critical summary and synthesis of a research topic chosen for them with their specific research interests in mind. A more specific time line and evaluation criteria for each year's examination are made available to students at least two months prior to the examination. This examination may be taken twice and is administered by a committee of the faculty chosen on a yearly basis for the purpose of administering and grading this examination. The examination grade will be given as PhD pass, MS pass or not pass. Students who do not pass the examination will receive one of three recommendations: (1) retake the examination the following year; (2) write a master's thesis and be reconsidered for eligibility to continue for the Ph.D. degree depending on the grade on the thesis; or (3) complete any outstanding requirements for the master's degree and leave the program.

For students who complete the master's thesis plan, a Ph.D. level pass on the master's thesis is considered sufficient to satisfy the written qualifying examination for the Ph.D. degree. On the recommendation of their principal adviser, a student may petition to substitute a first authored paper submitted for publication in a refereed journal for the written qualifying examination. The student's departmental guidance committee makes the decision on the petition.

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

A student advances to candidacy for the Ph.D. after passing the University Oral Qualifying Examination and is therefore, eligible for the C. Phil degree. 


Because of the variability in students backgrounds, there is a corresponding variability in the period of study necessary for completion of the degree. After completion of the requirements for the M.S. degree, you will normally be expected to advance to candidacy by passing the University Oral Qualifying Examination within three quarters, and complete the Ph.D. dissertation defense within six quarters.

Disqualification and Appeal of Disqualification

You are normally terminated if you fail to maintain a 3.0 grade point average for two consecutive quarters or if you fail to pass the comprehensive examination after two attempts. Appeals may be made, but you will be allowed to continue only in very special circumstances.