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Atmospheric Sciences PhD

The PhD program at the University of Utah is designed to provide students with the advanced scientific and technical expertise necessary to allow our graduates to pursue a wide variety of challenging and rewarding career tracks. Motivated students should expect to complete the Ph.D. degree in 3 to 4 years after completing the M.S. degree. This page is intended to provide our current Ph.D. students with all of the Academic and Financial information required to successfully complete the Ph.D. degree in Atmospheric Sciences.



Academic Information

New Graduate Student Orientation PowerPoint

Program of Study:

A detailed Ph.D. Thesis Completion Calendar is available to students. This one-page calendar contains a timeline of all the events that must take place for students to graduate with a Ph.D. degree. Students on a different timeline can request a calendar from the Academic Advisor for their particular timeline to graduation.

Ph.D. candidates must meet University requirements for the Ph.D. including:

  1. A minimum of three full years (six semesters) of approved graduate work (i.e., courses numbered 5000 or above). Coursework completed as part of an approved M.S. program of study may not be used to fulfill the University requirements for the Ph.D.;
  2. A minimum of 14 semester credit hours of Thesis Research (ATMOS 7970);
  3. At least one year (two consecutive semesters) of the Ph.D. program must be spent in full-time academic work (i.e., at least 9 semester credit hours if taking courses or 3 semester credit hours if only taking Thesis Research) at the University of Utah to fulfill the full-time registration requirement; and
  4. Maintain an cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Time Constraints:

All work for the Ph.D. degree must be completed within seven consecutive calendar years from the date of matriculation into the program regardless of whether candidates enter with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. On recommendation of the student’s supervisory committee, the Dean of the Graduate School can modify or waive this requirement in meritorious cases. However, students whose studies have been interrupted for long periods and who have been granted an extension to complete their degrees may be required to complete additional courses, pass examinations, or otherwise demonstrate that they are current in their field. 

Supervisory Committee:

A Ph.D. supervisory committee should be selected as soon as possible after admission to the program. The committee consists of a committee chair and four additional faculty members, at least one of which must be from outside the Department. A majority of the committee must be regular (i.e., tenure or tenure track) faculty and a majority of the committee must also be from the Department. Selection of the supervisory committee members should be made in consultation with the student’s faculty advisor. Selection of the supervisory committee membership is very important as the committee is responsible for approving the student’s academic program, preparing and judging the general examination, approving the dissertation subject and final dissertation, and administering and judging the final dissertation defense. 

Doctoral Qualifying Examination:

No later than two years after admission to the Ph.D. program, students must pass a doctoral qualifying examination that is designed to test the student's specific knowledge and ability in the focused area of their Ph.D. research. In general, the student will prepare a written dissertation research proposal that will be delivered to the Ph.D. supervisory committee for review a minimum of two weeks before the exam date. During the exam, which is closed to the public, a 30-45 minute presentation will be given by the candidate to the supervisory committee members. This presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer period. In some cases, a supplemental written component of the doctoral qualifying examination may also be administered. This is at the discretion of the supervisory committee members. This written component should be administered after the candidate has submitted the written formal proposal and before the oral portion of the doctoral qualifying exam. Results of the written exam will be available for review by all the committee members. The outcome of the doctoral qualifying examination is gauged by the majority vote of the supervisory committee members. In the event that a student does not pass the doctoral qualifying examination, a written summary of the rationale for the majority decision must be provided to the Departmental Chair. Failure to successfully complete a doctoral qualifying examination within the specified time-frame may result in dismissal from the Ph.D. program.

Continuous Registration Requirement:

Students must be continuously enrolled as a full-time student during each fall and spring semester from the date of formal admission through the semester of the thesis defense in order to maintain an active student status. In order to be considered a full-time student, graduate students must be registered for 9 credit hours of coursework, or 3 credit hours of thesis research (ATMOS 7970). Official Graduate School policies on continuous registration can be found here.

Officially-admitted, domestic graduate students who have registered for, and completed, at least one semester of their designated program may apply for a leave of absence to postpone their studies for up to one year. Circumstances requiring students to take a leave of absence must be of a serious nature (e.g., serious health condition, parental leave, or call to military service etc). Applications for a leave of absence must be processed and approved prior to the date the student wishes to begin his or her leave. Postdated leave of absence applications will not be approved. The request must be approved by the student’s faculty advisor or Supervisory Committee Chair (if the committee has been established), the Department Chair, and the Dean of the Graduate School. A complete list of details and requirements for a leave of absence can be found here.

Failure to register for a fall or spring semester or to request a leave of absence will result in a student being dropped from the program. Students wishing to continue their graduate studies after being dropped from the program will need to reapply to the University. 

International students on a F1 or J1 visa must contact the International Student and Scholar Services Office to obtain approval for a vacation semester before leaving the University. Failure to register for a fall or spring semester or to receive approval for a vacation semester will result in an international student being dropped from the program with the subsequent loss of his/her visa status. Students wishing to continue their graduate studies after being dropped from the program will need to reapply to the University. 

A student defending his/her thesis must register for a minimum of 3 credit hours of Thesis Research (ATMOS 7970) during the semester in which they defend (i.e., fall, spring, or summer).

Summer Semester Registration:

Students who intend to register for summer credit hours may be eligible for a summer tuition waiver (3 credit hours of Thesis Research only). In order to receive a summer tuition waiver, a student must:

  1. Have received a tuition waiver during the previous fall and/or spring semesters;
  2. Have graduate research assistant (GRA) status; and 
  3. Meet minimum financial support requirements paid through the University of Utah(check with the Department Office).

Students who intend to register for the summer semester should discuss this with the Department Office during April to make sure they qualify for the summer tuition waiver. It is in the best interest of the Department for eligible students to enroll for summer credit hours because a portion of the tuition is returned to the Department. 

Resident and nonresident students, not receiving tuition waivers, that wish to register for summer semester are encouraged to do so only if credit hours are needed for their program of study. If credit hours are needed, students are encouraged to register for 3 Thesis Research (ATMOS 7970) credit hours, which are always billed at the resident rate. Students are advised that summer credit hours count toward the 84 hour rule described in the “Residency Requirements” section.

Dissertation Defense: 

Students are also required to complete and orally defend a Ph.D. dissertation. The dissertation must provide evidence of originality, an ability to do independent investigation, and contribution of new knowledge. The dissertation must also show a mastery of the relevant literature and be presented in an acceptable style. After the oral presentation, which is open to the public, a question-and-answer period must be allowed. At the conclusion of the public participation, the supervisory committee will excuse the public and conduct further questioning on the thesis and related topics. Successful defense of the Ph.D. dissertation is obtained when a majority of the supervisory committee members sign the “Supervisory Approval” form.

A draft of the Ph.D. dissertation must be submitted to the supervisory committee chair at least three weeks prior to the defense, and to the remainder of the committee no later than two weeks prior (see also: The draft must adhere to standard publication practices in terms of content, language, and style. The final dissertation must adhere to University guidelines published by the University Thesis Office ( A student may wish to submit all, or a portion, of his/her dissertation to the University Writing Center for assistance. In addition, a student may also submit a copy of his/her dissertation to the Thesis Office prior to the defense to check for potential formatting problems.

Once a student has completed the necessary steps required by the Thesis Office and the “Thesis Release” has been signed, a letter grade will be assigned by the supervisory committee chairman for all Thesis Research credits. Until the Thesis Release is signed, courses labeled ATMOS 6970 or ATMOS 7970 will be given a “T” grade. If as student does not complete the necessary requirements provided by the Thesis Office the “T” grade will remain indefinitely. Students should refer to the “Handbook for Thesis and Dissertations” at the following link:

The Graduate School maintains a detailed checklist of the steps necessary to complete the Ph.D. degree. All Ph.D. students are encouraged to become familiar with these requirements and the deadlines for completing them.

Student Access to Academic Information:

Once The Graduate School has approved the supervisory committee, the student can view their Electronic Graduate Record File online. Students can access their graduate student record by logging into Campus Information Services and clicking on Graduate Student Summary under the Graduate Student section.


Financial Information

Tuition Benefit Program:

Most graduate students are eligible to receive a tuition waiver from the University (check with Department Office for your status). Details on the Tuition Benefit Program (TBP) which covers tuition and mandatory student fees can be found here. Ph.D. candidates are generally limited to three years (6 semesters) of tuition benefit support post M.S. degree. Once the TBP eligibility has been exhausted, the student will be responsible for paying tuition and health insurance on his/her own, unless an alternative arrangement can be negotiated with his/her faculty advisor. Any alternative arrangements (e.g., a monthly pay increase to compensate for the extra costs of tuition and health insurance) are at the discretion of the faculty advisor and should be discussed by February of the 2nd year for M.S. students. It is important for students to set any monthly pay increases aside in order to pay for health insurance (due in August) and tuition and fees (due in September/January). 

Subsidized Graduate Student Health Insurance Program:

Most graduate students are eligible to receive subsidized health insurance from the University (check with Department Office for your status). Details on the Subsidized Graduate Student Health Insurance can be found here.

Residency Requirements:

Out-of-state, non-international graduate students receiving a tuition benefit must apply for Utah residency upon fulfilling 40 semester credit hours at the University. Non-international (i.e., domestic) students are advised that they must take steps to establish intent to become a resident of Utah and submit an application for resident reclassification by the term deadline to the Admissions Office. A complete set of guidelines for residency reclassification can be found here. Specific steps that must be taken to be reclassified as a resident include obtaining a Utah driver’s license, Utah voter registration, and Utah car registration if operating a vehicle in Utah. In addition, these ties must be established at least three (3) months (90 days) prior to the first day of class for the academic term for which resident student status is requested (See Board of Regents Policy R512 for more detail). Domestic students who do not obtain residency status with the University of Utah before they reach 84 cumulative enrolled credit hours will be billed for tuition at the non-resident rate if registered for credit hours other than Thesis Research hours.

Travel Reimbursement Policies:

Please consult the Departmental Office before making any University-related travel plans or reservations. University regulations regarding travel reimbursements are complex and failure to strictly adhere to them may result in non-reimbursable expenses. 

In addition to the research funds from a student’s advisor, there are several other funding opportunities available to support a student’s travel to attend conferences and to present research.

  1. The graduate school provides partial funding for students to attend conferences if submitting an abstract.
  2. The Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) also provides travel support for students. ASUU is divided into two branches, the Assembly and the Senate, and they both provide independent funding. Note that a student cannot get funding from both the Assembly and the Senate for the same conference.
    • The AMS student chapter falls under the Assembly, and students should contact the current president of the student AMS and/or the current Assembly representative ( for available funding opportunities.
    • The Department SAC (student advisory committee) falls under the Senate, and students should contact the current SAC chair and/or the Senator ( for available funding opportunities.

The odds for receiving funding are higher if funds are applied for early in the academic year rather than late.

Purchasing Policies:

As a general rule, graduate students should not be responsible for making any type of purchase on behalf of the the University. Please consult the Departmental Office if such a need arises before making any type of purchase. Failure to do so may result in non-reimbursable expenses.

Last Updated: 12/5/23