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Degree Programs


Criteria for Admission to the M.S. Program

Criteria for Admission to the Ph.D. Program

Application Deadlines

Financial Support


Major Professors

Responsibilities of Major Professors

Requirements for Degrees

Evaluations and Examinations

Field Expectations of Graduate Students

Responsibilities of Graduate Students

Specific Guidelines for Graduate Studies


The Graduate School at Cornell is organized into over 90 disciplinary Fields, which, unlike most universities, may or may not have close affiliations to a particular department. Fields are voluntary groupings of faculty members and scientists with similar areas of interest. The Field of Atmospheric Science has 12 faculty members, drawn from the departments of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Astronomy, and Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at Cornell's Ithaca, New York, campus. The Field of Atmospheric Science is closely linked with the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which is itself part of both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Engineering, at Cornell. Many members of the Field are also faculty members in the department. As recognized fiscal units of the colleges, departments administer teaching programs, research funds, and graduate student financial support. The Field of Atmospheric Science is responsible for determining admissions of new graduate students to the Field, maintaining records of graduate student progress, nominating students for awards and fellowships, and setting guidelines for requirements within the Field. The Field does not have separate funds available for the financial support of graduate students. The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) is the representative of the Field to the Graduate School. This faculty member organizes the review and evaluation of application materials, recommends the admission of students, coordinates financial assistance, organizes the annual review of graduate students, and serves as a liaison between students and faculty members. The DGS is assisted by the Graduate Field Assistant (GFA) in matters of Field administration.

Faculty in the Field of Atmospheric Science

Faculty members in the Field of Atmospheric Science conduct basic and applied research on a variety of topics related to the atmospheres of the Earth and other planets. Particular emphasis is focused on the dynamics of climate and weather, the application of climate and weather information to decision-making problems, the structure and remote sensing of the ionosphere, boundary-layer meteorology, hydrology, atmospheric turbulence, and planetary atmospheric dynamics.

The Field of Atmospheric Science has 12 faculty members. Individual professors welcome inquiries, and prospective students are urged to correspond with faculty members whose interests are nearest their own. All of the faculty members in the Field of Atmospheric Science are prepared to direct advanced studies in their areas of expertise.

Degree Programs

The Field of Atmospheric Science offers Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees. Students may apply for admission to the M.S., M.S./ Ph.D., or Ph.D. programs. Students at the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) level may apply for direct admission to the Ph.D. program only if they have had exceptional preparation or professional experience in their areas of interest. The Atmospheric Science degree program offers students the opportunity to supplement coursework in the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences with coursework in related disciplines. A list of graduate and undergraduate courses the department offers is available. All graduate degree programs in the Field of Atmospheric Science are individualized to suit students' interests, backgrounds, and goals. Students must, however, satisfy certain university and Field requirements, either through prior work at another institution or through work at Cornell. Each student works closely with a Major Professor and a graduate Special Committee. This group of faculty members determines the Field requirements consistent with each student's training and academic goals. Students must earn two units of residence credit for an M.S. degree and six units for a Ph.D. degree (2+4 for M.S./Ph.D.). One unit can be granted for each semester of full-time study, as explained in the section entitled "Evaluations and Examinations". Oral or oral/written examinations are also required for all graduate degrees, according to schedules organized by the student's Special Committee.

Admission to Degree Programs

Applications for admission can be obtained by submitting an online request or by mailing a request to Pam Vitale, Field of Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, 1123 Bradfield Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. Prospective students must meet the Graduate School's general admission requirements and must also be acceptable to the Field of Atmospheric Science. An applicant for admission to the Graduate School should hold a baccalaureate degree granted by a faculty or university of recognized standing or have completed a degree or diploma program equivalent to the baccalaureate degree program at Cornell, have adequate preparation for graduate study in the chosen Field, present evidence of promise in advanced study and research; and have a minimum combined score of 1,200 in the verbal and quantitative aptitude tests of the Graduate Record Examinations (G.R.E.). Students from United States colleges and universities who meet these criteria are usually in the top third of their graduating classes. Foreign students must also meet English competency requirements, which are described under "Criteria for Admission to the M.S. Program."

Applications for admission will not be acted upon unless prospective students supply the following:

Applicants may indicate a second-choice Field in the space provided on the application form. The form will be processed by the first-choice Field and will be forwarded to the second-choice Field only if the initial decision is negative. All applications and credentials should be sent the Graduate School.

Criteria for Admission to the M.S. Program

Applicants who request admission to the Field of Atmospheric Science for study leading to an M.S. degree will be evaluated on several broad criteria:

  1. Subject areas studied at the undergraduate level. Students with prior preparation in Atmospheric Science will normally be well prepared for graduate work in this Field. Applicants with undergraduate majors in disciplines such as physics, mathematics, astronomy or engineering will usually also be well prepared, but in general will need remedial Atmospheric Science coursework.

  2. Grade point average (G.P.A.). Applicants should have maintained at least a B average (3.0 grade point on a 4.0 scale) at the baccalaureate level. Students with a lower G.P.A. are seldom admitted unless their test scores, more recent grades, letters of recommendation, or experience indicate that the G.P.A. does not adequately reflect their ability or potential.

  3. Graduate Record Examinations (G.R.E.). All United States applicants must take the G.R.E. Students from other countries where English is the native language are encouraged to take the examination if they wish to be considered for Graduate School fellowships.

  4. English competency. Applicants whose native language is not English must provide proof of competency in the English language. Acceptable proof could be a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score of 550 or higher; a degree from a college or university in a country where the native language or the language of instruction is English; or at least two years of study in an undergraduate or graduate program in a country where the native language is English. Successful applicants whose TOEFL scores are between 550 and 600 must take the English placement examination given at Cornell during registration week. If the examination score indicates that a student needs additional formal training in English, a three- or six-credit course will be required during the fall semester.

    Students who receive TOEFL scores between 500 and 550 may be accepted for the fall semester on the condition that they attend an intensive English course in the summer session at Cornell and continue English instruction in the fall if necessary. Similarly, students whose TOEFL scores are between 500 and 550 may be accepted for the spring semester on the condition that they enroll in the Intensive English Program during the preceding fall semester. Students whose TOEFL scores are less than 500 may enroll in the intensive English course, but they must demonstrate competency by achieving the required TOEFL score before they can be accepted into a graduate program.

    Applicants whose native language is not English should be aware that meeting Graduate School entrance language requirements does not necessarily guarantee that they will initially be able to perform comfortably. Continued instruction in English may be helpful.

  5. Letters of recommendation. Federal legislation mandates that enrolled students must be given access to their letters of recommendation. Applicants who wish to waive this right of access should check the appropriate statement on the recommendation forms. If forms are not available, applicants may indicate that they wish to waive the right of access by submitting the following written statement to the recommender: "I hereby waive my right of access, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, 20 U.S.C.A. Par. 123g(a)(1), to this letter of recommendation in regard to my application for admission to the Cornell University Graduate School. I understand that this letter will be used by the Graduate School in its procedures relative to admission and fellowships." The statement must be dated and signed by the applicant, and it should be attached to the letter of recommendation.

  6. Statement of goals. Students supply short essays on their application forms stating their program goals and their purposes for pursuing a graduate degree. Applicants' backgrounds and goals should be compatible with Field goals and resources, and their statements should describe how their interests relate to the programs offered by the Field of Atmospheric Science.

  7. Faculty supervisor. For an applicant to be approved by the Field admissions committee, at least one faculty member must be willing to serve as chair of the student's Special Committee or as a temporary adviser, pending selection of a Major Professor. This faculty member usually becomes the Major Professor, particularly if he or she is supplying financial aid to the student through a research grant. Students should not delay the selection of a Major Professor beyond one semester of graduate work.

Criteria for Admission to the Ph.D. Program

Students who apply for entrance to department Ph.D. programs will be judged essentially upon the same criteria as students who apply for M.S. programs, but special attention will be paid to the prospective Ph.D. student's area of training at the M.S. level. Prospective Ph.D. students who have M.S. degrees in areas other than atmospheric science and who wish to be accepted into the Ph.D. program should contact a faculty member in the Field of Atmospheric Science to discuss programs of interest.

Application Deadlines

Applications for admission to the Field of Atmospheric Science may be submitted at any time. It is strongly recommended, however, that applications and supporting documents be sent as early as possible to ensure ample time for processing and consideration. Applicants who also apply for Graduate School fellowships must submit completed application forms and provide supporting credentials by January 15. They will be notified of successful fellowship decisions by mid-April (for Fall semester). Applicants must submit completed application forms by February 1 (for fall term admission) or August 1 (for spring term admission), to be considered for assistantships and fellowships administered separately by the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Financial Support

Admission to the Graduate School is an academic decision and does not include the award of financial support. However, faculty members cannot agree to supervise a prospective graduate student until a financial support plan is approved by the relevant department chair. Students may obtain support in several ways. The Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences or (if different) the department of the Major Professor may provide teaching assistantships and graduate research assistantships. Faculty members with external sources of funding (usually research grants) may also have the resources to support a graduate research assistant. A few outstanding students may receive fellowship awards through the Graduate School.

Following each semester, students should be advised of their performance evaluation and of the outlook for continued financial support. Normally, financial support will be given for one-year periods and, unless otherwise stated, will be renewed as long as progress is deemed satisfactory and funds are available.

There are three kinds of assistantships: teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and graduate research assistantships. Assistantships include remission of tuition and fees, but generally do not include summer support. The Graduate School has very limited summer support funding available. Most summer support, if provided, is available through faculty research projects. Applicants requesting financial aid from the Graduate School are automatically considered for assistantship support. Various international, national, and philanthropic agencies also support graduate students.

Prospective students from abroad should seek information about similar opportunities from the appropriate offices within their own countries before they apply to Cornell. Visa regulations now require students from outside the United States to identify sources and amounts of financial support sufficient to cover necessary expenses. Under no conditions should the long and costly process of graduate study be undertaken on the assumption that either the department of the Major Professor or Cornell University will somehow furnish the necessary funds after the student arrives.

To be considered for Graduate School fellowships, candidates who plan to begin their programs in the fall must submit completed application materials - including transcripts and letters of recommendation - by the preceding January 15. Applications for department assistantships should be filed by February 1. Although admission to graduate school can be in either the fall or spring semester, most students begin in the fall, as more financial aid is available then. Most foreign students are expected to provide or obtain funds for travel to and from the United States.


Students accepted into the graduate program should let the Director of Graduate Studies know when they plan to arrive in Ithaca. They should also keep the DGS apprised of any changes in their plans. Arriving students should get in touch with the Director of Graduate Studies or the Graduate Field Assistant for a general orientation to the program, and for information about keys, mailboxes, and department procedures. New students will have opportunities to meet the faculty member who will be their graduate advisor.

During the first semester, students should visit all staff members in their general areas of interest. This interaction allows students to become acquainted with the staff, familiarizes them with research options, and assists them in choosing a Major Professor if they have not already done so.

Students who will receive stipends - including students with assistantships - should get in touch with the Graduate Field Assistant to fill out necessary forms. Students with graduate research assistantships who wish to be exempted from income tax and Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) withholding must fill out tax exemption forms. New students should also follow all appropriate procedures given in the general and graduate catalogs.

Major Professors

Major Professors are responsible for graduate students' academic programs. Most students will know which faculty member will serve as their Major Professor before they begin their graduate work. Normally the Major Professor will also be the thesis director, although there are circumstances when that may not be the case. Both the Major Professor and the thesis director, however, will be members of the student's Special Committee, and the Major Professor will serve as its chair.

Selecting a major advisor represents a commitment on the part of the graduate student and the faculty member to working together intensively for a number of years. The faculty member should share with the new graduate student their perspectives on and expectations regarding this process. Graduate students are encouraged to meet with current members of the faculty member's program and discuss the realities of working with the faculty member. Do not ignore the role of personalities in the working relationship between faculty and student. Working with someone with whom you get along can have major benefits, and trying to work with someone with whom you do not get along can produce major problems.

Responsibilities of Major Professors

Major Professors (or supervisors) have the following obligations to graduate students:

Requirements for Degrees, and the Special Committee

The Cornell University board of trustees awards degrees, acting on the recommendations of the graduate faculty, which, in turn, acts on the recommendations it receives from the Special Committees. These Special Committees are unique in composition for each graduate student, determine appropriate requirements for each student, and supervise and evaluate the performance of students during the graduate program. Each Special Committee is chaired by a Major Professor who is a member of the Field of Atmospheric Science.

Each committee has at least one additional (minor) member if it is supervising a student accepted for an M.S. program. Special Committees supervising students accepted for a Ph.D. program have at least two additional (minor) members. Minor members must be members of graduate fields other than Atmospheric Science. The committee may also contain an additional member or members from within the Atmospheric Science field. Students are free to select members of their Special Committees, consistent with their academic goals.

The Graduate Faculty has delegated to the Fields the authority to establish general coursework requirements and criteria for evaluating performance in courses. The Field of Atmospheric Science, which does not have fixed coursework requirements, usually defers to the judgment of students' Special Committees regarding this matter. In addition to determining coursework programs for students, the Special Committee also evaluates progress by recommending a suitable number of residence credits at the end of each semester, and conduct examinations required by the Graduate Faculty. Evaluation of overall performance and progress of students is reviewed annually by the Field.

It is seldom appropriate to change the chair of the Special Committee. Sometimes a change may be necessary, for example if the chair takes sabbatical leave at a crucial time, or leaves the university entirely. Occasionally, the student's evolving interests converge with those of another professor, and everyone concerned may agree that a change is appropriate. Approval of the change will depend on availability of funds to provide support for the student after the change is made. This decision necessarily involves the Director of Graduate Studies, the present Special Committee chair, the proposed committee chair, and the department chair(s) if a change in funding source is involved. Students should not seek a change simply because they believe another professor would have different expectations with respect to coursework or research requirements.

Evaluations and Examinations

At the end of each semester, chairs of Special Committees evaluate academic performance and/or progress on thesis research and report to the graduate faculty. Each student's performance is reported either as satisfactory, with the recommendation that the maximum appropriate residence credit be awarded; as partially satisfactory, with recommendation that less than the maximum residence credit be awarded; or as unsatisfactory, with the recommendation that no residence credit be awarded. These recommendations take into account reports that other members of the Special Committees forward to the chairs.

The graduate faculty requires students to pass certain examinations conducted by the Special Committee. Ph.D. students are required to take an admission to candidacy exam ("A" exam) and a defense of dissertation exam ("B" exam). The "A" exam is open to all Field faculty who desire to participate. M.S. students take a defense of thesis exam. At the discretion of the Special Committee, a qualifying examination may also be required, relatively early in the course of study. The Field of Atmospheric Science may establish its own policies with respect to examinations or defer to the judgment of the Special Committee, whose members may require that at least part of the examination be written. (Most examinations are entirely oral.)

Field Expectations of Graduate Students

  1. Performance Guidelines

    1. Course Performance: Any course grade of C+ or lower, grades of "incomplete"or "U", or an overall GPA below 3.0, do not constitute satisfactory course performance. Students whose overall GPA drops below 3.0 are considered to be on probation and will receive a notice from the DGS. Research credits are assigned S/U grades only, and are excluded from the overall GPA. A student on probation has one semester to improve his or her course performance, or the Field may elect to discontinue the student's Field membership. Extenuating circumstances will be discussed in the annual review meeting (see below). The above are minimum performance criteria, and Special Committees may set more stringent criteria for individual students.

    2. Research Performance: Research performance is evaluated by the Special Committee. The Field expects the research to be original and substantive, and meet the requirements of the Special Committee. Students are required to develop research proposals that are presented to the Special Committee and are filed with the Graduate Field Assistant (GFA).

    3. Teaching Experience: For the Ph.D. degree, the Field requires that all students gain experience in teaching. This requirement can be satisfied by assisting in the teaching of an entire course (as a TA), or by assisting a faculty member in other projects associated with teaching that meet the approval of the Special Committee chair and the DGS. Examples of such teaching experience are the development of one lab exercise, or a module of three lectures to improve a course.

    4. Seminar: The Field requires that each student present a publicly advertised seminar prior to the awarding of the M.S. or Ph.D. degree. Effort should be made to present the seminar in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS), but other seminar series (on campus) also would be appropriate, if advertised within EAS. For M.S. students, this seminar may be the first part of their final exam, with the seminar portion of their exam open for anyone to attend.

  2. Progress Toward the Degree

    1. New Students:

      1. Special Committee selection should be completed before the beginning of the second semester of graduate study.

      2. New students must meet with their Special Committee, develop a course work plan, and file it with the GFA by the beginning of the second semester of residence. The course plan is due by 1 February for students who begin their programs in a Fall semester, and by 1 August for students who begin their programs in a Spring semester.

      3. New students must file an approved thesis research proposal with the GFA by the beginning of the third semester of residence. The thesis research proposal is due by 1 August for students who begin their programs in a Fall semester, and by 1 February for students who begin their programs in a Spring semester. The thesis research proposal is developed in consultation with, and must meet the approval of, the student's Special Committee.

    2. Other Students:

      1. Students must file an annual progress report with the GFA . The annual report is due by August 1 for students who started graduate studies in a Fall semester and 1 February for students who began in a Spring semester. Progress reports and grades on file with the GFA are available for review by all Field members. The annual progress report should include the title of the research project, names of the Special Committee, planned future coursework, and a short description of the student's progress in completing the degree requirements. A single page is usually sufficient.

      2. Each student's progress will be evaluated at meetings of faculty representing the Field, held in August for students who started graduate studies in a fall semester, and in February for students who started graduate studies in a spring semester. Upon request of the DGS, the Chair of the Special Committee (or another member of the Special Committee, in the absence of the Chair) will present a brief evaluation of the student, to precede discussion of students who have indications of unsatisfactory progress.

Responsibilities of Graduate Students

All graduate students are provided with office space, and computing and other resources, as appropriate, to accomplish the research required for their degrees. Depending on their funding source, students may be expected to participate in other projects their Major Professor considers appropriate, even though such projects may not be directly related to their own degree program or research. Participation in such projects should enhance each student's graduate training, but it will not be so extensive and demanding that it prolongs the graduate program beyond the time normally required for completion of M.S. and Ph.D. degrees.

Students are responsible for initiating discussions with Major Professors concerning thesis research, coursework, and Special Committee appointments and meetings. They should also let their Major Professor know about any financial or personal problems that threaten their progress toward the completion of degree requirements. This kind of communication enables the Major Professor and the Field, through the Director of Graduate Studies, to be of maximum assistance in ensuring that each student's experience at Cornell is intellectually rewarding and personally satisfying.

Specific Guidelines for Graduate Students