Ph. D. Atmospheric Sciences

Most students pursue additional coursework, chosen in consultation with the advisor. Ph.D. candidates must also pass three exams: a qualifying exam, a research-based preliminary exam, and the final dissertation defense.

Students in the Ph.D. program need not complete an M.S. degree. The decision on whether to bypass the M.S. is made by the student's advisor and the associated advisory committee. Most students complete the Ph.D. degree within five to seven years after entering the department.

Course Requirements for Ph.D.

Core courses 12 hours
Other ATMO courses 12 hours
Out-of-department courses 6 hours
ATMO seminar 2 hours
Research hours




Steps to the Doctor of Philosophy

Refer to the Office of Graduate Studies (OGS) calendar for specific deadlines each semester. Failure to meet deadlines may result in the postponement of receipt of the degree.

  • Before first semester registration - Meet with departmental graduate advisor to plan course of study for the first semester.
  • Before registering for your fourth semester, and no later than 90 days before thesis defense (whichever is earlier) - Establish your committee and submit a degree plan online.
  • At the end of your second semester of study (typically), upon completion of core coursework - Take the Qualifying Exam.
  • Several weeks before the proposed date of the exam - Review eligibility for the Preliminary Exam with committee chair using the Preliminary Exam Checklist.
  • At least 15 working days prior to requesting your defense date, at the latest - Submit your dissertation proposal. Students are encouraged to submit the proposal once a research project has been defined.
  • No later than the end of the first semester after you complete the course work (non-691) on your degree plan - Schedule and take your preliminary exam. OGS must receive your request to schedule the exam at least 10 business days before the proposed date.
  • Before or during your final semester - Verify you have fulfilled the residence requirement.
  • At the beginning of your final semester - Apply for the degree and pay the diploma fee.
  • Well before your defense - Prepare a draft of your dissertation.
  • Before your defense - Visit the Thesis Office for a Rough Draft Conference.
  • Submit copies of your dissertation to each member of your committee for review before scheduling your defense. Allow two weeks for their comments before scheduling your defense.
  • OGS must receive your request to schedule the defense no less than 10 days before the proposed defense date - Schedule your defense.
  • Submit your dissertation to the Thesis Office. Check deadlines!
  • Within one year of your defense - Complete dissertation corrections. Note that you will not officially graduate until your dissertation has cleared.

Advisory Committee & Degree Plan

Students should consult with their advisor to develop an advisory committee. Committees must consist of no fewer than four members of the graduate faculty, including one or more from outside the department. The committee is reported to the Office of Graduate Studies by way of filing the degree plan. Committee membership can be changed later, to add, remove or replace members, using the Petition for Change of Committee.

Ph.D. students must file a degree plan before the end of the third major semester of study, and no later than 90 days prior to the preliminary exam. Initial degree plans are filed electronically, using the Online Degree Plan Submission System. Students who do not file their plan by the deadline will have a registration block placed on their record by the Office of Graduate Studies. Degree plans can be changed later, using the Petition for Course Change, so coursework can be removed or added as deemed necessary. All degree plans and petitions require approval of the student's advisor, committee, and the department head.

A minimum of 64 hours is required on the doctoral degree plan for students who have completed a master's degree at a U.S. institution. A minimum of 96 hours is required on the degree plan for students who have completed only a bachelor's degree.

Qualifying Exam


The qualifying exam is a departmental requirement, for which the objectives are: (1) to provide information to help faculty predict which students will be successful in our Ph.D. program, (2) to establish a minimum foundational knowledge and integrative analysis requirement for our Ph.D. students that distributes responsibility broadly among the faculty, and (4) to require students to demonstrate an adequate knowledge of literature and an ability to carry out bibliographical research.

Evaluating the quality of our students is one of the department's most important academic obligations. A successful Ph.D. student can carry out independent and original research and communicate the results of that research both in writing and orally. Ph.D.-level research should be publishable in the refereed scientific literature.

The qualifying exam results, along with grades in courses, are used to decide who should be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy.

The qualifying exam consists of two parts: A written comprehensive exam to test breadth and technical knowledge and an oral exam in the form of a research seminar to test research potential.

Written Exam

The written portion of the exam is typically taken at the end of their second semester, once core coursework is completed, followed by the seminar. For students who enroll in Fall, both the written and oral parts of the qualifying exam must be completed within 36 months, that is, by the end of the second August after graduate study begins. Students who begin their study during the summer are considered to have enrolled in Fall. For students who enroll in Spring semester, both the written and oral must be completed within 32 months.

The written exam covers three fields: Dynamical meteorology, physical meteorology and atmospheric chemistry. The departmental core curriculum has two courses in each field. Ph.D. students are required to take both courses in their field of interest and at least one course in each of the other two fields. Students should identify the primary field in consultation with their advisor. The written exam has both a short-answer and long-answer section, composed of questions from each three fields.

The departmental exam committee examines each student's performance in the core courses and written exams and makes a recommendation to the full faculty. The full faculty then votes on each student on the written exams. Students who do not pass the exam may take it again the following year, but may not exceed two attempts.

Research Presentation

The second part of the qualifying examination is a research presentation that is open to the whole department. Students present their research ideas in the context of the background and recent developments in their field of research, including the project's relevance to the atmospheric sciences.

Presentations should include the research project's objectives and may include preliminary data and/or model calculations from ongoing activities that show potential or actual progress towards those objectives. Students may be questioned as part of their research presentation. Presentations are evaluated based on several criteria, including:

  • Was the presentation clear and easy to follow?
  • Did the student demonstrate the ability to conduct independent research?
  • Did the student demonstrate adequate knowledge of the literature?
  • Does the student understand how his or her research fits into the general body of scientific knowledge?
  • Does the student understand the principles of scientific inquiry?

Each research presentation is evaluated by an ad hoc committee consisting of the student's advisory committee plus two other faculty members selected by the department head in consultation with the student's advisor. The student's advisor collects written evaluations from the ad hoc committee and makes a recommendation to the full faculty. The full faculty votes on each student on the oral exams.

Research Proposal

As soon as a research project has been identified, students are encouraged to complete the research proposal, which must be submitted before taking the preliminary exam. The proposal should be approved by the committee and then be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies, along with the Proposal Title Page for Thesis. The latest the proposal may be submitted is 15 days prior to scheduling the thesis defense.

Preliminary Exam

The preliminary exam is a university requirement for all doctoral students, composed of both a written and oral, and is the final step towards admission to candidacy. While the qualifying exam tests a student's knowledge from core coursework, the preliminary exam determines whether the student is on track with their planned research project. To that end, students are encouraged to take the preliminary exam as soon as they both have a research project defined and meet eligibility requirements.

Eligibility can be determined by review and completion of the Preliminary Exam Checklist. Students must be registered, have an approved degree plan, have a cumulative and degree plan GPR of at least 3.000, committee members have scheduled or waived the written portion, and no more than 6 hours of course work remain on the degree plan (not including 681 or 691). International students must also be verified English proficient.

The typical procedure in this department is for committee members to waive the written examination, however, students must still approach each member regarding the written portion. The oral examination takes the form similar to that of a research presentation, wherein questions may be asked. Students present the initial results of their project and an overview of the planned research. Students can gain valuable input to help direct their research project, and thus, it is recommended the preliminary exam be taken care of earlier rather than later.

Preliminary exam results are reported to the Office of Graduate Studies by the department.

Admission to Candidacy

To be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree, students must have:

  • Completed all formal coursework (non-691)
  • Passed the preliminary examination
  • Submitted an approved dissertation proposal
  • Met the residence requirement


The dissertation is the final basis for granting the doctoral degree, and demonstrates the candidate's grasp of the subject matter, ability to do independent research, and ability to express the information clearly in both written and oral form.

Acceptance of a dissertation is based primarily on its scholarly merit, but it must also exhibit creditable literary workmanship. The format of the dissertation must be acceptable to the Office of Graduate Studies, as overseen by their entity, the Thesis Office. Guidelines for preparation of the thesis are available in the Thesis Manual, which is available on the Thesis Office website, along with other valuable information you should familiarize yourself with.

Students are encouraged to arrange for rough draft and pre-submittal conferences with the Thesis Office. These meetings will help produce a better manuscript with fewer errors and will familiarize students with the Thesis Office staff and procedures. Call the Thesis Office at 979-845-2225 for an appointment.

Final Examination / Dissertation Defense

Eligibility to defend:

  • The GPR must be at least 3.000.
  • There may be no unabsolved grades of D, F, or U for any course listed on the degree plan.
  • The student must be admitted to candidacy.
  • All course work on the degree plan must be complete, with the exception of 691. (Research)
  • The student must be enrolled for all remaining hours.
  • In advance of defending, submit your dissertation manuscript to committee members for review.

The defense can be scheduled using the Request for Final Examination, which must be submitted no fewer than 10 working days in advance of the requested date of defense. When selecting a date, you may check room availability and reserve a room with the front desk staff in the main office, 1204. Inform the front desk of your defense information and they will also prepare a flier to advertise the event. A refreshment cart will be prepared for your defense, with coffee, tea and water, but students are responsible for providing any food items. Drop off the treats earlier in the day and the office staff will prepare and deliver your refreshment cart.

Be aware that there is a deadline each semester by which this form must be submitted in order to graduate in that term. Missing this deadline means graduating in the following semester. Extensions are not granted for these deadlines. Check the graduate deadlines calendar available online to be certain of the deadlines that apply to you.

A positive vote by all committee members, with at most one dissention, is required for a student to pass. When the exam is scheduled, OGS will provide the Report of the Final Examination form by mail to the committee chair, who is responsible for returning the completed form to OGS.

Upon successful defense, each of the committee members and the department head must approve the written dissertation. The committee indicates approval by signing the Approval Form, which must be returned to the Thesis Office before they will begin review of the manuscript, and within 10 days of the defense.

If a signature is needed from a committee member who is outside the country, the Thesis Office will accept a faxed signature from this absent member. Since this signature will be the only signature that may be faxed, this member's signature needs to be the first signature obtained on the form. After the absent member faxes back the approval form, the remainder of the committee can then place their original signatures on the faxed approval form. The completed approval form should be submitted to the Thesis Office within 10 days of the defense. Students may deliver the form themselves or drop it off with the Academic Advisor in the main office

Submitting & Clearing

After approval by the committee and department head, the dissertation may be submitted electronically to the Thesis Office as a single PDF file. The PDF file must be uploaded to the Thesis Office web site. Again, be aware of the graduate deadline for submitting the signed Approval Form and PDF file of the thesis for the semester in which you want to graduate.

There are also additional forms that Ph.D. students must sign and submit to the Thesis Office at this time. Before a student can be "cleared" to graduate, any necessary corrections must be made and the thesis resubmitted.

Time Limit

All requirements for doctoral degrees must be completed within a period of ten consecutive years. Coursework and credit more than ten years old may not be used toward degree requirements.

Doctoral Hour Cap

A doctoral student who, after seven years of study (in G8 classification), has accumulated 100 or more semester credit hours of doctoral course work will be charged tuition at the nonresident rate. This includes students who hold assistantships (GAR, GAT, GANT), fellowships, or scholarships that would otherwise qualify them for the in-state rate.

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