A student is required to maintain a 3.00 (B) average in all work attempted while enrolled in the Graduate School. For the Ph.D., a course grade of C+ or below is unsatisfactory and will not be counted toward fulfilling requirements for the degree.


The requirements for a Ph.D. degree include the following:

  1. 36 semester hours of regular coursework, of which 30 hours must be numbered 5000 or above, and at least 18 semester hours must be from ATOC graduate lecture courses, including core ATOC course requirements.
  2. 30 semester hours of dissertation credit with no more than 10 having been accrued prior to the semester the comprehensive examination was passed. Up to 10 hours of dissertation credit may also be taken during the semester the comprehensive examination is passed. Note: students can take a maximum of 10 dissertation credit hours per semester, and a total of 15 credit hours of combined dissertation and general class hours per semester.
  3. Successfully passing the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations (COMPS I and COMPS II).
  4. Completing a Ph.D. dissertation, with successful defense of the dissertation in a Final Examination.
  5. The minimum residence requirement for a Ph.D. is six semesters beyond the attainment of an acceptable bachelor's degree. During this time a student must be full-time. (Two semesters enrolled in a Master's degree program from another institution may be counted towards this requirement).
  6. A student is required to register continuously, fall and spring semesters of each year, beginning with the semester following the passing of the Comprehensive Examinations and extending through the semester in which the dissertation is defended (final examination). Students should complete all requirements for the degree within six years of commencing work in the doctoral program, but may petition the Graduate School for extension(s).


  • All courses taken for the Master's degree at the 5000 level or above at the University of Colorado may be applied toward the Doctoral degree at the University.
  • Up to 6 semester hours of approved 3000- and 4000-level coursework from engineering, math, physics, chemistry, or biology may be applied toward the Ph.D. degree. No credit will be given toward the Ph.D. degree for ATOC coursework below the 5000 level.
  • A minimum of 18 semester hours must be taken from ATOC lecture courses.  Note:  independent study courses and/or seminar courses are not considered lecture courses.
  • All of Ph.D. students are required to take the following four ATOC core courses or their equivalent:
    ATOC 5050: Atmospheric Thermodynamics and Dynamics
    ATOC 5051: Introduction to Physical Oceanography
    ATOC 5060: Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Oceans
    ATOC 5235: Introduction to Atmospheric Radiative Transfer and Remote Sensing
  • All of Ph.D. students are required to take two courses from the following list of core courses or their equivalent:
    ATOC 5151: Atmospheric Chemistry
    ATOC 5200: Biogeochemical Oceanography
    ATOC 5600: Physics and Chemistry of Clouds and Aerosols
    ATOC/ASTR 5400: Introduction to Fluid Dynamics
    GEOL 5270: Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry
    GEOL 5430: Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
    MCEN 5021: Introduction to Fluid Dynamics
  • One graduate-level mathematics course must be taken from the following approved list:

ASTR 5540: Mathematical Methods
APPM xxxx: Any course with number at the 4000 level or above
ASEN 5227: Mathematics for Aerospace Engineering Sciences 1
ASEN 5417: Numerical Computations
ASEN 5327: Computational Fluid Dynamics
ATOC 5860: Objective Data Analysis
CVEN 5454: Statistical Methods for Natural and Engineering Systems
CVEN 6833: Advanced Data Analysis
PHYS 5030: Intermediate Mathematical Physics 1
PHYS 5040: Intermediate Mathematical Physics 2

In exceptional cases, the math requirement can be fulfilled through demonstrated, prolonged application of advanced mathematics. This option must be approved by the student's committee and is intended primarily for professionals with ten+ years of experience in advanced applications of mathematics outside of graduate school

  • Up to 6 semester hours of independent study (ATOC 5900), and/or seminar (ATOC 6020) may be used toward the 36 hours of regular coursework in the degree requirements.
  • Up to 21 semester hours may be transferred from another accredited institution and applied toward a Ph.D. degree.  9 of the remaining 15 semester hours must be ATOC courses.  However, students must still satisfy the ATOC core course requirement either by taking ATOC core courses or transferring like courses contingent upon approval by the grad advisor.


A student must pass the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination before admission into Ph.D. candidacy. The Comprehensive Examination is given in two parts, which are referred to as "Comps I" and "Comps II".

Comps I consists of a written, closed book examination. Students who fail to pass the exam after the second attempt will be dismissed from the Ph.D. program.

After completing the requisite course work and passing Comps I, a student is eligible to apply for candidacy for the Ph.D. degree by submitting the form "Application for Admission to Candidacy for an Advanced Degree" to the Graduate School. Before admission into candidacy, the student must pass Comps II, which is an oral exam based primarily upon a written document that represents original research by the student.  An "Exam Request Form" must be submitted to the Graduate School at least two weeks in advance of the Comps II exam.  A successful candidate must receive the affirmative votes of a majority of the members of the examining board.  The student is suspended automatically by the Graduate School after a second failure.


A dissertation based on original investigation and showing mature scholarship and critical judgment, as well as familiarity with tools and methods of research, must be written on a subject approved by the student's Ph.D. committee. Each dissertation presented in partial fulfillment of the doctoral degree must:

  1. Comply with the "University of Colorado Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Specifications."
  2. Be filed with the Graduate School by the posted deadline for the semester in which the degree is to be conferred.


After a preliminary copy of the dissertation has been accepted for defense by the student’s committee, a final examination on the dissertation and related topics is conducted. The following rules must be observed:

  1. A student must be registered as a regular degree student on the Boulder Campus for a minimum of 5 dissertation hours during the semester in which the final examination is scheduled.
  2. The examination consists of an oral presentation given by the candidate on the dissertation subject, followed by a period of questions for the candidate by the committee.  The oral presentation is open to anyone who wishes to attend.  The full examination typically does not exceed two hours.
  3. The examination will be conducted by the Ph.D. Committee.
  4. More than one dissenting vote will result in failure. In case of failure, the examination may be attempted once more. A second failure will result in automatic suspension by the Graduate School. Signatures from 5 committee members are required.
  5. Students must notify the Graduate School at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled date of the final examination.