Ph.D. Degree

GPAS offers a program leading to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Atmospheric Science. This program is designed to furnish the student with the education and research background necessary to carry out independent and original scientific research. To earn the Ph.D., the student must complete a course work requirement, pass the Candidacy Examination, and prepare and defend a dissertation. The Candidacy Examination is divided into two parts: the Qualifying Examination and the Proposal Evaluation. The Qualifying Examination for Ph.D. candidates tests the breadth and understanding of the student in the core courses. The Proposal Evaluation tests the preparation of the student for writing a dissertation. Students who have a Master's Degree must also pass the Candidacy Examination to achieve Ph.D. candidacy.

For course requirements, please see:  Course Requirements

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination consists of a written and an oral section. The written section is a comprehensive examination to test basic knowledge of atmospheric science conducted near the end of each semester. The written portion of the Qualifying Examination will be the same for all students each semester and will cover topics taught in GPAS core courses. Questions for the written examination are solicited from core-course instructors by the Curriculum Committee, which reviews and selects five questions for the examination. Students are required to answer four of the five questions, which are graded by the appropriate core-course instructors. The Curriculum Committee evaluates the combined results for all questions and determines if the student has demonstrated sufficient mastery of the material to continue toward Ph.D. candidacy. Upon passing the Qualifying Examination at the Ph.D. level, students are eligible to receive an M.S. degree, assuming they have satisfied the course requirements and have completed a satisfactory expository essay. If a student fails the written portion of the Qualifying Exam, the Curriculum Committee may elect to: (a) allow the student to repeat the written portion the next time it is offered (once only); (b) issue a pass conditional on satisfactory completion of additional courses; or (c) terminate the student's enrollment in GPAS.

The oral portion of the Qualifying Examination, administered by the student's Qualifying Examination Committee approximately one week after passing the written portion, may include questions related to the written portion and/or to the student's intended area of study. The oral portion is designed to evaluate the student's ability to integrate knowledge and concepts and to explore the limits of the student's understanding. The Qualifying Examination Committee consists of four GPAS faculty members, namely the student's dissertation advisor, who may not chair the committee and three other faculty members, one of whom must come from sub-disciplines other than the student's own but from whom the student has taken a core course. Members of the student's Qualifying Examination Committee are proposed by the student and the student's advisor, and then approved by the Program Director, who also selects the committee chair. A student is deemed to pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination upon approval of at least three members of the student's Qualifying Examination Committee. Upon passing the Qualifying Examination, the student will be considered a candidate for a Ph.D.

Graduate students with exceptional, documented scientific achievements may, through written petition, replace the Qualifying Examination with a seminar followed by an oral examination. To qualify for this option, the student must meet the following requirements: (1) The student must have an earned M.S. degree in atmospheric science or a related field. This will ordinarily be from an accredited American university and requires approval from the Curriculum Committee and the Program Director; (2) The student must have published at least five peer-reviewed, Science Citation Index (SCI) journal articles in atmospheric, oceanic, or a closely related science. The student must be the lead or corresponding author of at least three of those papers; (3) The student must present an open seminar on the student's past research followed by a closed oral exam by a Qualifying Examination Committee, as constituted above. This committee determines whether the performance in the combined seminar and oral exam is equivalent to passing the Qualifying Examination. The student is deemed to pass on approval of at least three members of the student's Qualifying Examination Committee. If the student does not pass the oral examination, the written petition to replace the Qualifying Examination will be revoked, and the student may only repeat the Qualifying Examination through the normal procedure.

Proposal Evaluation

Within one year of passing the Qualifying Examination, the student will present a dissertation proposal to the student's Dissertation Committee. The Dissertation Committee is selected by the student and the student's advisor and consists of at least four faculty members who have expertise in the student's dissertation topic, with at least one committee member from outside of GPAS. The student must prepare a written research proposal and distribute copies of the proposal to members of the Dissertation Committee at least two weeks before the Proposal Evaluation. During the Proposal Evaluation, the student is asked to describe and defend the proposed dissertation project in an oral presentation (~30 minutes) and then answer questions from the Committee. Questions may cover topics related to the student's dissertation project but may also include fundamental principles and concepts in Atmospheric Science. The student's Dissertation Committee evaluates the feasibility of the student's proposed dissertation project as well as the student's demonstration of knowledge and apparent aptitude for research. The student is deemed to pass the Proposal Evaluation if no more than one member of the student's Dissertation Committee disapproves. The Dissertation Committee must be kept informed of the student's progress and agrees to follow the candidate's work and to assist in its development. The Dissertation Committee is also expected to give ample and early warning of any reservations concerning the student's progress.

Dissertation and Final Examination


Ability to perform independent research must be demonstrated through a written dissertation based on the proposal presented at the Proposal Evaluation. The dissertation should be an original contribution to knowledge, and the subject matter must be presented in a scholarly style. Upon completion of the dissertation, the candidate is required to defend the material to the satisfaction of a Final Examining Committee appointed by the GPAS Director. Normally, the composition of the Final Examining Committee will be identical to the student's Dissertation Committee.

Time Limits


Full-time students are expected to take the Qualifying Examination by the end of the second year of graduate study and be admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year. Students must be admitted to candidacy within five years after admission to the doctoral program and at least one academic year before the date on which the degree will be conferred. The student must complete the entire program for the degree, including the dissertation and final examination, during a four-year period after admission to candidacy.