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Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science
Last updated January 2003

Prepared by:
Owen B. Toon, Director
Lisa Burnham, Graduate & Undergraduate Program Administrator

The Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science at the University of Colorado has operated an autonomous graduate program since 1997. It also administers a campus wide interdisciplinary Certificate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. PAOS is constantly improving all aspects of its graduate program and is continually assessing its progress in a number of areas. The areas which are assessed, and which are discussed below, include: quality of graduate students admitted; diversity of graduate student population; quality of graduate student course offerings; accomplishments of graduate students; graduation rates of students at both the Masters and Ph. D. levels; and post-graduate student placement.

1. Assessment of quality of admitted students and recruitment success:

PAOS assesses both our success in recruiting students and their quality. The graduate student population in PAOS is currently 40, although a number of students in other departments are supported and advised by PAOS faculty.

The graduate students we attract to our program typically have multiple offers from our highest competition: MIT, Harvard, University of Washington, Scripps, Colorado State University, UCLA, etc. In 2001-2002, we accepted 34 students, of which 12 enrolled (31%). So far in 2002-2003, we’ve accepted 30 students, of which 11 have enrolled (37%); we are currently reviewing applications for Spring 2003 admission, and we expect to admit several more students before the end of the current academic school year.

New graduate students from a broad range of backgrounds are recruited into PAOS, from all areas of science, engineering and mathematics. In exceptional cases, we have admitted students from the humanities and social sciences. The students we attract to our program typically have attended undergraduate universities of high rating. Sixteen of our thirty offers to students this Fall were to individuals with chemistry, math or engineering backgrounds, and the remaining fourteen were to students with meteorological, environmental or other science backgrounds. We find that the best multidisciplinary scientists are those who have the strongest basic science and mathematical backgrounds.

Another measure of incoming student quality is standardized tests and undergraduate GPA. These statistics are given in Tables 1, 2, and 3 for the last three years.


Total # Students: 40
  Female: 15
  Male: 25
  International: 9
Average undergraduate GPA of incoming students: 3.5
Average GRE Scores of incoming students, including foreign students:
  Verbal: 585 (top 20%)
  Quantitative: 744 (top 15%)
  Analytical: 705 (top 17%)


Total # Students: 38
  Female: 18
  Male: 20
  International: 9
Average undergraduate GPA of incoming students: 3.6
Average GRE Scores of incoming students, including foreign students:
  Verbal: 588 (top 33%)
  Quantitative: 782 (top 13%)
  Analytical: 699 (top 25%)


Total # Students: 35
  Female: 16
  Male: 19
  International: 6
Average undergraduate GPA of incoming students: 3.5
Average GRE Scores of incoming students, including foreign students:
  Verbal: 512 (top 41%)
  Quantitative: 694 (top 23%)
  Analytical: 617 (top 35%)

2. Assessment of graduate student diversity:

In some areas PAOS has been very successful in meeting diversity goals. Thirty eight percent of our graduate students, in 2002-2003, are females, which is exceptionally high for a science program. The average graduate atmospheric science program is only 24% female based on American Meteorological Society statistics. We attribute this success with female graduate students to the large number of female PAOS faculty (40%) who provide excellent role models for women in science and to our careful mentoring of graduate students. The University of Colorado has been very forward looking in attracting female faculty and supported hires that were special opportunities. PAOS has two minority faculty members (one American Indian, and one Asian). PAOS actively attempts to recruit minority U.S. graduate students. There are few minority students at the undergraduate level in atmospheric science (only about 6% are African American, Native American, Hispanic or Asian). Within PAOS there are 20% minorities in 2002-2003. PAOS does not collect data on religion, or sexual orientation.

3. Assessment of graduate program:

Atmospheric and oceanic sciences are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. In response PAOS has produced a broad-based interdisciplinary curriculum that can meet these challenges. The PAOS graduate curriculum is under continual development and examination, in response to student interest, needs in the community, and overall opportunity. The present graduate curriculum is divided into 5 specialty tracks:

  • Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans. Current curriculum development is focused on coordinating and enhancing course offerings. We are also working to provide differing course sequences for students with an interest focused on dynamics, and those whose main interests are in other areas such as atmospheric chemistry.
  • Radiation and Remote Sensing. This track has been integrated with the campus wide interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing (which PAOS faculty took the lead in developing). Hence PAOS faculty collaborate in this area with faculty in Aerospace Engineering.
  • Atmospheric Chemistry, Aerosol and Clouds. This track is under active development. PAOS, Engineering, and Chemistry faculty members are coordinating to enhance course offerings.
  • Atmospheric Technology. This track has been implemented within the past year. New course offerings are being developed. Coordination is underway with Departments of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
  • Climate. The Climate track includes electives from biology, geography, and geology. Recently, the track has been modified to include an option to accommodate students wishing to earn a graduate Certificate in Environmental Policy. This Certificate is coordinate with the Environmental Studies Program.

Assessment of the value of particular courses is done through faculty course questionnaires that are filled out by graduate students, the results of which are distributed by the University. Faculty members also assess each other’s teaching on a regular basis with written evaluations.

Most importantly all PAOS committees, except those involving personnel matters, have graduate student members and there is an independent graduate student advisory committee. Through the involvement of students in the program, PAOS receives continuous feedback from the students on their coursework, as well as all other aspects of the program. In addition graduate students have a small fund for the graduate affairs committee, and participate on the course fees committee. These course fees provide significant funds that the students may allocate to enhance their courses, and the general learning environment.

4. Assessment of student recognition:

PAOS graduate students have been very successful in obtaining national fellowships. Twenty-five percent of our graduate students receive national fellowships from NSF, NASA, DOD, and EPA. PAOS graduate students actively participate in professional societies and present papers. In the past five years, seven of our graduate students have received "best paper" awards at conferences sponsored by the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union.

5. Time to Degree:

The number of PhDs granted per year within the PAOS autonomous program averages about 4 per year. An additional 1-2 students who are advised by PAOS faculty but receive degrees in other departments graduate each year. The MS rate is about 6 per year, including MS degrees awarded to Ph.D track students. Since 1992, 59 M.S. and 37 Ph.D. degrees have been awarded. Additionally, 51 graduate Certificates have been awarded to students receiving graduate degrees in Aerospace Engineering Sciences, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Geography, and Physics. PAOS graduate students have been uniformly successful in completing their graduate degrees (all MS Track students have earned an MS, and only 13 PhD Track students have left prior to earning their PhD, although all but two of these students did manage to earn an MS). The average time to complete a M.S. degree is just over 2 years. Of the students who choose to go on for a Ph.D., approximately 90% pass their Ph.D. candidacy exams. The average time taken for a student to complete a Ph.D. degree is just over five years (from time of completion of the B.S. degree), which compares favorably with the lengthening times to complete Ph.D. programs generally in the natural and social sciences.

6. Assessment of post-graduation placement:

Each of our graduates has been placed in a responsible position in industry, at a government laboratory, or at another university. Half of our Ph.D. graduates have remained in the state of Colorado, with positions in high-tech industry, national labs, and the University. Five of our Ph.D. graduates have obtained faculty positions. Seven of our Ph.D. graduates have received the prestigious Advanced Study Program Postdoctoral Fellowships from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (out of 10 awarded nationally on an annual basis). One of our graduates was the first American Meteorological Society Congressional Fellow.

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Last revision 01/28/03

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