DPhil in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics | University of Oxford
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 and theoretical techniques. Admission is highly competitive and is either directly to AOPP or via the physical climate science stream of Oxford's Doctoral Training Partnership in Environmental Research.

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.

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 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 Doctoral Training Partnership in Environmental Research, 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.

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.

Student insights

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.

Other courses in this area

Changes to the course

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. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

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

Entry requirements for entry in 2019-20

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in physics, mathematics or related subjects. UK-based students should normally have taken/be taking the MPhys, MChem, MMath or an equivalent course, rather than the BSc or equivalent. Where appropriate, further details on the preferred academic background for individual research projects will be available via the AOPP website.

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. Entry is competitive and most successful applicants have achieved higher GPA scores.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

A graduate-level master's degree is not required. The requirement for a first-class or strong upper-second class degree with honours can be alternatively demonstrated by a graduate master’s degree or substantial relevant professional experience.

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

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(s)

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.


Publications are not expected but would be advantageous to an application.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Research or work experience in areas aligned with AOPP supervisors' research interests may be an advantage. 
  • Depending on the project, evidence of training in scientific computer programming or related numerical techniques may be an advantage. 
  • Previous experience in a scientific or technical research environment, if applicable, can also be included in the assessment of your application.
  • Examples include, but are not exclusive to, previous work in government or industrial research laboratories of scientific/technical consultancies. 

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the standard level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Department of Physics to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • 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.

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 sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

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.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.


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 X. 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.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

For students applying to programmes within the MPLS Division at Oxford, Research Council and other funding opportunities available, subject to eligibility. These opportunities are included in the Fees, funding and scholarship search.

You may also be interested in departmental funding opportunities. Further details can be found on the department's website.


Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,665

The fees shown above are the annual course fees for this course, for entry in the stated academic year.

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. You may have seen separate figures in the past for tuition fees and college fees. We have now combined these into a single figure.

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.

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 dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

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 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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 2019-20, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

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.


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:
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.

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: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

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