PhD in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences


Students with a Master's degree or equivalent in Atmospheric Science (Meteorology) or Physical Oceanography normally register at the Ph.D. 2 level when entering the program. The minimum course requirements are given below.

Required Courses (1 credit)

ATOC 700 Ph.D. Proposal Seminar 1 Credits
    Offered in the:
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Summer

ATOC 701 Ph.D. Comprehensive (General)
    Offered in the:
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Summer

Additional requirements

  • Ph.D. students are required to give one seminar in the registered seminar series of his/her choice, ATOC 751 - Seminar:Physical Meteorology or ATOC 752 .
  • Thesis proposal may be presented at one of the registered seminar series in order to satisfy the requirements of ATOC 700 - Ph.D. Proposal Seminar .
  • Students without a Master's degree in Atmospheric Science (Meteorology) or Physical Oceanography register at the Ph.D. 1 level when entering the program. The first year is then devoted mainly to course work and is usually similar to the M.Sc. 1 year. The selection of courses is made in consultation with the Ph.D. research supervisor, and is subject to the approval of the graduate program director.

Complementary Courses (7 credits)

Select one of the following

ATOC 751 Seminar:Physical Meteorology 1 Credits
    Offered in the:
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Summer

ATOC 752 Course not available

The remaining 6 credits are chosen from the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, at the 500 or 600 level, as approved by the research supervisor and the Graduate Program Director (GPD). This requirement may be waived by the GPD for students whose prior experience or achievements give clear evidence that the additional courses are unnecessary.

Comprehensive and Thesis Proposal Examination

Refer to Section 10.4, Ph.D. Comprehensives Policy, of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies General Information, Regulations, and Research Guidelines Calendar. Both ATOC 701 and ATOC 700 fall under this comprehensive policy.

Ph.D. candidates are required to take two examinations, ATOC 701 - Ph.D. Comprehensive (General) and ATOC 700 - Ph.D. Proposal Seminar , usually during their Ph.D. 2 year.

ATOC 701 Ph.D. Comprehensive (General)

ATOC 701 is an oral examination conducted by a committee ordinarily consisting of three examiners, one of which is the student’s supervisor. This examination is intended to determine whether the candidate has a sufficiently broad understanding of topics in atmospheric sciences, climate dynamics and/or physical oceanography to proceed in the Ph.D. program. The level of knowledge should be sufficient, for example, to allow the candidate to teach at the undergraduate level. The candidate will be examined on three topics of atmospheric and oceanic sciences:

Topics Associated Courses
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics ATOC 512 and ATOC 513
Synoptic or Mesoscale Meteorology ATOC 540 or ATOC 646
Atmospheric Chemistry ATOC/CHEM 619
Turbulence or Numerical Methods or Data Analysis ATOC 515 or ATOC 558
Climate Dynamics and/or Physical Oceanography ATOC 531 and, ATOC 530 or ATOC 568
Physical Meteorology ATOC 521 and, ATOC 525 or ATOC 626
Other: In special cases and with the approval of the Graduate Program Director or Chair, another topic of direct relevance to atmospheric and oceanic sciences may be substituted for one of the above.  

The selection of the three topics is made by the student, subject to the approval of his/her Ph.D. supervisor. Within five days of being informed by the departmental Chair of the approximate date of the examination, the student must inform the departmental Chair of the three selected topics so that an appropriate examining committee can be appointed. The student is encouraged to then consult the committee members for advice as to how best to prepare for the examination. The examination will normally take place within the first nine months of the Ph.D. 2 year. Questions will not only test knowledge of the material in a particular book or books but will also test the candidate's ability to reason and to synthesize ideas from different areas. Prior to the commencement of the exam, the candidate will be invited to introduce himself/herself and say a few words about his/her academic background and research interests. If the candidate fails the examination, a grade of HH (continuing) is assigned and s/he may take the Comprehensive (General) examination a second time, normally after a period of two to three months. In the case of either a pass or a failure of this examination, a completed ATOC 701 Feedback Form will be given to the candidate by his or her supervisor. A second failure, however, requires withdrawal from the Ph.D. program.

ATOC 700 – Ph.D. Proposal Seminar

ATOC 700 consists of a written proposal and an oral presentation followed by an examination before a committee made up of the three members of the student’s supervisory committee, plus a fourth examiner designated by the Department’s Chair. This examination is intended to assess the candidate's preparedness for undertaking original research in a particular subject area and it should be taken 6 to 12 months after passing ATOC 701.

The student is required to make a presentation (approximately 30 minutes in length) detailing his/her thesis proposal in order to meet part of the requirements for ATOC 700. This presentation may be part of the ATOC 751 or 752 seminar series, or it may be given at a specially scheduled seminar open to the students and faculty of AOS. Prior to the presentation, the student is required to prepare a written thesis proposal of about 20 pages (type-written, double spaced) and to submit it to the ATOC 700 examination committee at least one week before the date of the oral presentation. The proposal should define the problem to be discussed, demonstrate that the candidate is familiar with the literature, describe the methodology to be used, present some preliminary results, and outline future work.

After this presentation, the candidate will address questions from the audience (students and faculty). The audience will then be asked to leave and the candidate will be questioned further by the examination committee (the Supervisory Committee, plus a fourth faculty member), which will explore the depth of knowledge and understanding of the candidate in the area of the proposed research and in related areas. If the committee is satisfied that the candidate is adequately prepared to undertake the proposed research, a grade of Passed is reported to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies office. Otherwise, the candidate fails and a grade of HH (continuing) is assigned. In this case, after receiving appropriate feedback from the examination committee, the candidate is allowed to take the thesis proposal examination a second time in the presence of the same committee, normally after a period of two to three months. A second failure of ATOC 700, however, requires the candidate to withdraw from the Ph.D. program.

Supervisory Committee


  • The role of the Supervisory Committee is to assist the Ph.D. student in the advancement of his/her research and thesis, and to evaluate and report on progress.
  • The primary responsibility for carrying out the research project rests with the student.
  • The responsibility for day-to-day evaluation of work, providing suggestions and constructive criticism, and the overall guidance of the research belongs to the supervisor. Additional perspective provided by other members of the committee can be helpful to both student and supervisor. The committee may consider issues such as the validity of the approach, technical problems, the significance of results, directions to be taken in the future, and complementary course work. The Supervisory Committee participates actively in the setting of research goals and evaluating progress as detailed below.

Appointment of Members

  • A Supervisory Committee will be selected after the Ph.D. Comprehensive (General) examination, usually on the basis of consultations between the student, the supervisor, prospective members of the committee and the Department Chair.
  • This Committee should consist of a minimum of three faculty members (including the supervisor, typically professors in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. However, professors in other McGill departments may also be appropriate in some cases), two of which are full-time at McGill.
  • Normally, this Committee and one additional professor will comprise the examination committee for the Ph.D. Thesis Proposal examination. The additional professor is normally selected by the Chair. In case of conflict, however, the GPD will make this selection.

Tracking Progress

  • Shortly after the student first registers in the program, the supervisor will discuss the degree requirements, including which courses are to be taken
  • Once the student has passed the ATOC 701 - Ph.D. Comprehensive (General) examination within the first nine months of the Ph.D. 2 year, the Department requires that each Ph.D. student meet formally with his/her Supervisory Committee on a 12-month basis up until the completion of the thesis in which the responsibility for scheduling meetings belongs to the supervisor(s). Note that informal meetings in addition to these formal ones are also encouraged.
  • In the 1st meeting, the Supervisory Committee and student will jointly complete pages 1 and 3 the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Report detailing his/her objectives for the next 12 months.
  • In the 2nd meeting (12 months after the previous one), the student must bring to the meeting the previously-completed copy of the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Report. The objective of this meeting is to allow the Committee to discuss the student's progress and future plans. While doing so, page 1 of a new Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Report will be completed jointly by the student and supervisor(s). At the end of the meeting, the supervisor(s) is expected to complete page 2 of the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Report, after which the student, supervisor, and other Committee members will sign page 3 of the form.
  • The next meeting will be scheduled once the student has passed ATOC 700. After this examination, it is appropriate for the examining committee to provide feedback to the student. In this regard, the student may wish to make a list of special issues that s/he would like to have addressed.
  • In the 3rd meeting (12 months after the previous one), a new copy of the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Report must be completed and submitted, following the procedure indicated for the previous meeting.
  • If a student is deemed to have made unsatisfactory progress, the Supervisory Committee will meet with the student on a 6-month basis to review progress and if appropriate, set new objectives. On the occasion of a second unsatisfactory progress report, the student may be asked to withdraw from the Ph.D. program.
  • It is the graduate student’s responsibility to properly complete the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Report throughout the duration of his/her Ph.D. degree. Every time a form is completed, submit it to the Administrative and Student Affairs Coordinator in the departmental office (Burnside Hall, room 945). Original copies of all the tracking forms are kept in the student’s file in the departmental office. Ideally, copies of these forms should also be retained by the student and her/his supervisor.
  • Additional information is available online at: