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Degree Program

Atmospheric Science





Philosophy

The Department of Atmospheric Science offers programs leading to the Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees. The degree programs incorporate both coursework and research activity components. Students take core courses and elective courses chosen from those offered in our graduate curriculum and through other departments. A student's coursework program may be tailored to his/her specific needs and interests.

Students earning degrees in Atmospheric Science must show proficiency in the core courses through adequate progress in the classroom. Students pursuing Ph.D. degrees must additionally pass a Qualifying Exam. This exam assesses fundamental understanding of processes covered in the core courses and provides an opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in topics covered in the core curriculum

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Road Map to a Degree

Students are admitted into the Atmospheric Science Program either as Master’s Degree Students (M.S. Students), dual-degree students (M.S. plus Ph.D.), or Ph.D. Degree Students (Ph.D. Students). The majority of incoming students are M.S. students, although some of these may be ‘Ph.D. bound’. Ph.D. bound students are M.S. students on track to pursue a Ph.D. in the Department. They should be registered as dual-degree (M.S. plus Ph.D.). This registration may occur upon admission, or it may have to wait until the student has demonstrated proficiency in coursework and research, e.g. upon completion of the first semester. The transition to Dual-Degree status requires approval of the student’s advisor and the Department Head (see: UW Graduate School > forms > Change of Degree).

Those students who already have earned M.S. Degrees (w/ thesis) in Atmospheric Science or a related discipline typically are admitted as Ph.D. students. In rare cases, exceptionally strong students without a M.S. degree may be admitted as Ph.D. students at the discretion of the student’s advisor and the Department Head, but in general, even such candidates are encouraged to complete a M.S. degree along the way.

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degree flow chart

M.S. Degree

Requirements for a Master’s Degree are set by the University and include a total of 30 hours; 26 hours of coursework and a minimum of 4 thesis research hours.

All M.S. students are required to complete the ATSC core courses (see M.S. Program of Study) that include 9/8 hours in the first/second semester and 3 hours in the third semester, for a total of 20 hours. The remaining 6 hours of coursework should be divided amongst electives directed toward courses relevant to the student’s research. Choice of appropriate electives should be made with consultation of the student’s advisor.

Research for M.S. students should begin during the first semester. Students are encouraged to meet with their advisors on a regular basis throughout the first semester to identify the primary objectives of their thesis research. Students will be expected to present their research objectives at the end of the first semester in the ATSC5018: Research Methods and Ethics.

Research should continue through the ensuing semesters (and breaks) and will become a larger portion of the student’s overall workload as course-load decreases. By the end of the second semester, students should have a M.S. Committee assigned (see: UW Graduate School > forms > M.S. Committee Assignment form).

Completion of the Program of Study (see: UW Graduate School > forms > Program of Study) should be completed prior to the beginning of the third semester of coursework.

Prior to (or during) the third semester, students should prepare a Research Plan. The Research Plan will be presented to the student’s committee who will vote to approve or disapprove the plan. Approval typically includes suggestions to improve the research outcome. The Research Plan will outline the student’s proposed research project and should include relevant background information (literature review), preliminary results from work already accomplished, a list of work to be completed, and a reasonable timeline. Details of the Research Plan are provided below.

Submission and approval of the Program of Study and approval of the Research Plan elevates the status of a M.S. Student to M.S. Candidate, along with a commensurate increase in stipend.

During the third and fourth semesters, M.S. Candidates will be completing the work outlined in the Research Plan. Compilation of the student’s thesis is often occurring at the same time. It is expected that the student completes all requirements of the M.S. degree by the end of the 4th semester, implying a final defense no less than a few weeks before the UW thesis submission deadline. Inability to make this deadline may result in a loss of the graduate assistantship. The defense will consist of a public presentation of the student’s research followed by a question and answer session with the student’s committee.

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Dual (M.S. plus Ph.D.) Degree

Requirements for Dual Degree students are the same as those for (terminal) M.S. students, except that Ph.D. bound students should plan on taking the Qualifying Exam shortly after the end of their second semester of coursework (typically in late May or early June). Ph.D. bound M.S. Students that successfully pass the Qualifying Exam and who demonstrate advanced research and writing skills through the preparation of their M.S. Research Plan (see above) are expected to become Ph.D. students upon successful completion of the M.S. requirements. At that point, all UW course credits completed for the M.S. degree count towards the Ph.D. degree.

Typically, Dual-Degree students, upon completion of their M.S. degree, continue along the same research, under the same advisor. The student only needs to broaden the M.S. Committee membership, to satisfy the requirements of a Ph.D. Committee (see: UW Graduate School > forms > Ph.D. Committee Assignment form). The student then should aim to prepare a Ph.D. Research Plan and defend this in the Preliminary Exam, ideally to be scheduled no later than the end of the fifth semester at UW (that is, the end of the first semester as Ph.D. student). Upon passage of the Preliminary Exam, the student officially is recognized as a Ph.D. Candidate. Details follow under the Ph.D. degree, below. We realize this timetable is ambitious, especially for students that switch research project and/or advisor upon completion of the M.S. degree. The intent is that the completion of a M.S. degree “along the way” should not delay the aspirant Ph.D. student in the completion of his/her doctoral studies.   

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Ph.D. Degree

Requirements for a Doctorate of Philosophy Degree are set by the University of Wyoming and include a total of 72 hours with a minimum of 42 hours of coursework. A maximum of 48 hours (including 4 thesis research hours) may be transferred from another institution.

All Ph.D. Students are required to demonstrate proficiency in the ATSC core courses. Depending on the student’s background, this may include taking some or all of the courses as part of the student’s curriculum. All Ph.D. students are ultimately required to demonstrate their proficiency through passing the Qualifying Exam. The Qualifying Exam will be administered at the end of each spring semester and Ph.D. students should plan on taking the exam at the end of their second semester of coursework.

Shortly after passing the Qualifying Exam, Ph.D. students should form a Ph.D. Committee (see: UW Graduate School > forms > Ph.D. Committee Assignment form). Ph.D. students will continue with their coursework through ensuing semesters. There is no set requirement for number of courses to be taken each semester. It is expected that students will continue with 3 to 6 credits of coursework per semester in areas most relevant to their research. Electives should be chosen in consultation with student’s advisor.

The timetable of the steps towards a Ph.D. degree is less rule-driven, and more driven by the student’s own aspirations and dedication. During the third semester, students should begin preparing a Research Plan. The Research Plan will outline the student’s proposed research project and should include relevant background information (literature review), preliminary results from work already accomplished, a list of work to be completed, and a reasonable timeline. Details of the Research Plan are provided below. The Research Plan should provide sufficient detail to demonstrate the student’s capability to conduct the intended research and should also demonstrate the uniqueness and relevance of the work to be accomplished. The formal presentation of the Research Plan to the committee should take place in Academic Year 2 or early in Year 3, and no later than the fifth semester. Presentation and defense of the Research Plan to the Ph.D. Committee will fulfill the UW requirement for a Preliminary Examination. Sufficient research should already be completed to allow the committee to assess the student’s capability. Concurrent with the Preliminary Exam, students will complete a Ph.D. Program of Study (see: UW Graduate School > forms > Program of Study). If the committee approves the Research Plan and follow-up oral examination, this is a ‘pass’ of the Preliminary Exam and results in elevating the student’s status to Ph.D. Candidate, with a commensurate increase in stipend. Failure of the Preliminary Exam may place the student back on the M.S. track or the student may be asked to complete additional work and re-take the Preliminary Exam.

During the ensuing years, Ph.D. Candidates will complete the work outlined in the Research Plan. Compilation of the student’s dissertation and submission of manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals often occurs at the same time. The dissertation defense ideally occurs no later than the end of the fifth year at UW, even for students that completed a M.S. degree at UW, although in some cases more time is needed. The defense will consist of a public presentation of the candidate’s research followed by a question and answer session with the student’s committee.

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Core Courses

see UW Catalog for details
ATSC   First Semester # credits
5010 Physical Meteorology I 4 includes lab
5014 Dynamic Meteorology I 4 includes lab
5018 Ethics and Research Methods 1
Second Semester
5011 Physical Meteorology II 4 includes lab
5016 Synoptic and Mesoscale Meteorology 4 includes lab
Third Semester
5040 Climate Science and Climate Change 3

Required Courses for Ph.D.

Third semester
5210 Cloud and Precipitation Systems 3 M.S. students may take this course as elective

Elective Courses

5008 Mesoscale Meteorology 2
5320 Ocean Environment 3
5330 Boundary Layer Meteorology 3
5340 Radar Meteorology 3
5350 Atmospheric Chemistry 3
5370 Satellite Remote Sensing 3 formerly Meteorological Instrumentation
5500 Atmospheric Radiation 3
5600 Advanced Cloud Microphysics 3
5700 Numerical Modeling 3
5880 Problems in Atmospheric Science 3 special foci have included Aircraft Instrumentation and Aerosol Physics

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The Research Plan will document, in a concise format, the research that the student will conduct as part of his or her M.S. Thesis or Ph. D. Dissertation. Elements that should be included are: background information illustrating the utility and/or relevance of the research that is being proposed, overall scope of the project that includes both work to be accomplished and work already completed, preliminary findings resulting from work that has been completed (this may include reference to conference presentations or manuscripts that have been submitted for publication), and details of the work to be accomplished with a timeline for completing that work.

The Research Plan should be no longer than 8 pages for a MS degree, and 15 pages for a PhD degree. The format should following NSF style guidelines for research proposals: figures are included, but references fall outside the page limit. Either plan should convey to the Committee the uniqueness and importance of the project being proposed.

The PhD-level Research Plan presentation is part of the Preliminary Exam. The Research Plan should be made available to Committee members no later than a week before the oral presentation to the Committee.

JLQualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam is designed such that students will take the assessment following the completion of their second semester of coursework. Topics in the exam are drawn primarily from Physical Meteorology I & II, and Dynamic and Synoptic/Mesoscale Meteorology. Students taking the exam are expected to be able to apply what they have learned in these classes to real‐world problems in Atmospheric Science that span topical areas. Students may be asked to apply concepts from these classes to topics that were discussed in colloquiums throughout the previous two semesters.

The Qualifying Exam is administered in the spring of every year, shortly after the end of the semester. The exam will typically be administered in two parts, given over two days. The ATSC faculty will grade the exams and determine pass/fail for each student taking the exam. For students that fail, the student’s Advisor in consultation with the Department Head and the ATSC faculty, will decide how best to proceed for that student. This may include terminating the assistantship, moving the student into the M.S. Program, administering another exam (written or oral, comprehensive or focusing on a particular area), possibly after the taking or re-taking of courses in the core curriculum.


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