DPhil in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics | University of Oxford
The south of the UK and north France from orbit
Research image of Earth's atmosphere
(Image Credit: Gregory McGarragh)

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.

Supervision

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.

Assessment

If admitted directly to AOPP, you will be assessed via the successful completion of classes and a first year transfer report of around 10,000 words, 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.

Graduate destinations

Graduates from the programme have gone on to positions within academia, industry and government. Examples of organisations 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. A regularly-maintained internal website lists upcoming opportunities and possible future destinations.

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.

Other courses suggested by the department

Environmental Research NERC DTP
Mathematics DPhil

For requirements for entry via the Environmental Research NERC DTP, please see the DTP course page.

Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • 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.

Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.  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. However, selection of candidates also depends on other factors in your application and most successful applicants have achieved higher GPA scores.

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.

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.

English language requirement

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.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.06.5

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

100Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*185176
C2 Proficiency185176

*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.

Supporting documents 

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need 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 Skype (video); all other candidates are interviewed in person. 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.

Supervision

Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

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.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

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 Tier 4 visa. Further information can be found on our Tier 4 (General) Student visa page. For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.

Resources

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 each day 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.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. 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 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 college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2021-22

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£8,290
Overseas (including EU)£27,460

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 likely increases 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.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our detailed fee status information and the Oxford and the EU webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Additional information

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.

Living costs

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 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 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 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

College preference

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:

How to apply

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. However, any queries of an administrative nature should be addressed to the AOPP Graduate Studies Office.

If you are in any doubt about which sub-department to apply for then you are advised to contact the sub-department(s) concerned before applying.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

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.

CV/résumé

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.

Research proposal:
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.

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.  

References/letters of recommendation:
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. 

It is not necessary to provide copies of any papers or research articles in your application.

Applying to multiple Physics DPhil courses

If your application is related to more than one Physics DPhil course, there is no need to complete a separate application for each or pay more than one application fee. Please refer to the instructions for applying to related courses.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.

Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:

Step 5: Start your application using the relevant button below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.

Application GuideApply

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