DPhil in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics
About the course
The sub-department’s research focuses on the study of physical processes in the atmospheres, surfaces and oceans of the Earth and other planets, using experimental, computational and theoretical techniques. Admission is highly competitive and is either directly to this course or via the physical climate system stream of the Environmental Research NERC Doctoral Training Partnership.
How does the Earth’s climate evolve? How do we connect measurements made from space and the ground to the future direction of the Earth’s climate? What can we learn from observations of other planets to tell us more about the Earth and the evolution of the Solar System? These are the types of research problems members of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics (AOPP) sub-department of the Department of Physics are engaged in.
The structure of the taught course components and initial (first year) assessment for a DPhil in AOPP is determined by the method of entry onto the course:
- if you wish to enter via the Oxford Environmental Research NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, your initial training will be within the DTP, before transferring to AOPP usually at the beginning of the second term of your first year; or
- if you applying directly to AOPP, typically for projects in the area of planetary physics or a specifically-funded research project, courses will be provided either in collaboration with the DTP in Environmental Research or via lectures given as part of fourth year major option in the University's undergraduate degree in physics, Physics of atmospheres and oceans.
For this course, the allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Physics and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Physics.
You are allocated at least one supervisor who should be your primary contact for guidance throughout your research degree. Research students join an existing research group that typically comprises at least one lead academic plus postdoctoral research assistants or fellows and other research students. Research projects in AOPP can be highly interdisciplinary and students often have additional co-supervisors either within AOPP or another University department.
The frequency of student supervisor meetings varies depending on the nature of the project. You are welcome to contact potential supervisors for further information.
If admitted directly to AOPP, you will be assessed via the successful completion of classes and a first year transfer report, submitted during the summer of your first year. For the DTP, please see Environmental Research (NERC Doctoral Training Partnership).
You are admitted as a probationary DPhil student, and transfer from a probationary status is dependent on successful completion of the taught component of the course and assessment of your first year report by at least two academics that are not directly connected to your project. A further second year report, also assessed, is required before status as a DPhil candidate is confirmed and your thesis can be submitted. The written DPhil thesis is assessed by appointed examiners that are not directly connected to the project, with the process including a DPhil viva exam.
Graduates from the programme have gone on to positions within academia, industry and government. Examples of organisations where recent graduates have found employment have included NASA, the European Space Agency, Airbus Space and Defence and university departments across the world.
Support for career development is provided via the University’s Careers Service, events organised by the Department of Physics for graduate students and locally within AOPP.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Physics
Other courses suggested by the department
Environmental Research NERC DTP
For requirements for entry via the Environmental Research NERC DTP, please see the DTP course page.
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in physics, mathematics or related subjects. The equivalent of a UK four-year integrated MPhys or MSci degree is typically required. Bachelor's degrees with a minimum four years' standard duration may satisfy the entry requirements.
In exceptional cases, the requirement for a first-class or strong upper-second class undergraduate degree with honours can be alternatively demonstrated by a graduate master’s degree or substantial directly-related professional or research experience.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the typical minimum GPA sought is 3.3 out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
It is helpful to include details of any of the following applicable attributes, which may strengthen your application:
- Details of any publications. Many candidates with no peer-reviewed publications receive offers each year.
- Research or professional experience in areas aligned with the proposed supervisors' research interests.
- Depending on the project, evidence of training in scientific computer programming or related numerical techniques.
- Previous experience in a scientific or technical research environment.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's standard level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.0||6.5|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.
For candidates applying directly to AOPP, interviews are usually held in February and/or March. Candidates are shortlisted on the basis of their transcripts and referee reports. Interviews are held between the candidates and potential supervisors, as well as the AOPP's Director of Graduate Studies.
Overseas candidates are interviewed via video call; all other candidates are interviewed either in person or via video call. You should expect to be asked about your undergraduate course and any previous training. You will be asked about the research area you have chosen and why you want to work in it. You should be familiar with potential supervisors' publications relevant to the research area of interest.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)
Some postgraduate research students in science, engineering and technology subjects will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate prior to applying for a Student visa (under the Student Route). For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.
Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics has access to world-class laboratory and computational facilities. IT support is provided by the Department of Physics and includes provision of computers running MS Windows, Linux and Apple Mac OS. The University has extensive library support through the Bodleian and Radcliffe Science Libraries.
You will usually be allocated a desk within an office with other research students from similar research areas and have access to the department's meeting and lecture facilities.
Academics within AOPP are members of numerous international teams, giving early access to new datasets and opportunities to interact within larger communities of scientists and engineers.
Experimental facilities include a full suite of clean rooms and test equipment for the design, construction and qualification of space flight instrumentation and access to laboratory UV/Visible/infrared spectroscopy facilities and planetary environment simulation chambers.
In addition to research group meetings and a weekly topical seminar series, members of the sub-department meet when able for coffee/tea in AOPP's Common Room. This provides a useful opportunity to talk informally to people in other research groups as well as your own. A canteen is available in the Clarendon Laboratory for breakfast/lunch, or you may use AOPP's kitchen facilities.
Research groups often organise trips to the pub or, for example, punting on the river in the summer. You are encouraged to engage with invited seminar speakers over lunch. A dedicated email list is maintained to advise all of upcoming social events.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
All DPhil projects are provided with a research training support grant to cover travel, equipment and consumables. Expenditure is dependent on the project and always requires the supervisor's agreement.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Readmission for current Oxford graduate taught students
If you're currently studying for an Oxford graduate taught course and apply to this course with no break in your studies, you may be eligible to apply to this course as a readmission applicant. The application fee will be waived for an eligible application of this type. Check whether you're eligible to apply for readmission.
Applying to more than one physics DPhil course
You can indicate whether your application should be considered for other physics DPhil courses by following the instructions for stating the ‘Proposed field and title of research project'. If you decide to do this, you will only need to submit a single application and pay the application fee once.
Application fee waivers for eligible associated courses
If you apply to this course and up to two eligible associated courses from our predefined list during the same cycle, you can request an application fee waiver so that you only need to pay one application fee.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
If you have questions about a particular research area or any advertised research project, you are welcome to contact the lead academic or supervisor directly using the contact details on the department's website. Any queries of an administrative nature should be addressed to the departmental representative using the contact details provided on this page.
Research areas may overlap across the different physics DPhil courses. If you are in any doubt about which course(s) to apply to, you are advised to read each of the physics course pages carefully before starting an application. If you have any course-related questions, please refer to the 'Further information and enquiries' section on each page for the relevant contact details.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Proposed field and title of research project
You should use this field of the application form to indicate whether you would like your application to be considered for other physics DPhil courses. To do this, insert the relevant acronym from the list below for each additional course that you would like your application to be considered for:
- DPhil in Astrophysics: ASTRO
- DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics: ALP
- DPhil in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics: AOPP
- DPhil in Condensed Matter Physics: CMP
- DPhil in Particle Physics: PP
- DPhil in Theoretical Physics: TP
Your application will be considered for each additional course that you indicate - you should not apply for these courses separately or pay an additional application fee. Please ensure that your research proposal (which you will be asked to upload in a later section of the application form) meets the assessment criteria described on each relevant course page.
If would like your application to be considered for only this course, you do not need to enter an acronym from the list above.
If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
Your references should generally be academic, although one may be a professional reference. Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and your ability to work in a group.
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
A maximum of 500 words
Your proposal should describe any research project you have been involved in, eg an undergraduate research project, and give any other evidence of your motivation and commitment to studying these topics. If you have any specific interest in an area, please describe why. It is not necessary to provide copies of any papers or research articles in your application.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for evidence of your motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study.
To help AOPP match your application to advertised projects, please include a list of potential supervisors in order of preference as part of your research proposal as well as listing the supervisor names where requested in your application form.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.