Program handbook


1. Introduction

This student guide for the Graduate Program in Atmospheric Sciences (GP-ATMS) at the University of Nevada, Reno, is intended to be a resource to help guide students in their graduate study. It provides details on program requirements, including courses, graduate committees, theses and dissertations. It also provides guidance on whom to contact with questions regarding meeting the academic program requirements. The guide gives a listing of ATMS courses currently in the University catalog and a list of ATMS graduate faculty and their research areas.


2. Program overview

The Graduate Program in Atmospheric Sciences offers graduate coursework and research training that lead to M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Atmospheric Sciences. Originally founded in 1967 as a graduate program of Atmospheric Physics within the Department of Physics, the curriculum was expanded in 1990 and the program name was changed to Atmospheric Sciences. Faculty of the DRI Division of Atmospheric Sciences (DAS) perform teaching of most ATMS courses, and they serve as primary thesis/dissertation advisors for graduate students from Atmospheric Sciences as well as other interdisciplinary programs. Tenure track faculty in the Physics and Geography Departments also teach classes and advise students in the program. View contact information on our faculty page. Atmospheric Sciences program students enroll in courses offered through the University, and most perform their research at DRI. The M.S. degree has a thesis and non-thesis route, and the Ph.D. degree requires a dissertation.


3. Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Student learning outcomes are listed in the Course Catalog (and are common to the M.S. and Ph.D. programs).

Course catalog


4. Contact information

View all ATMS faculty


5. Degree requirements

The University has minimum requirements to be met for all M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. In addition, the Graduate Program in Atmospheric Sciences (GP-ATMS) has more specific requirements. The director of the Graduate Program in Atmospheric Science may approve minor deviations from the program’s defined requirements as long as all University requirements are met.

The University requirements are listed first:

Program of study requirements

M.S. degree requirements

Plan A: Thesis, 30 credits

  • Required core courses – 14 credits
  • Seminar – 1 credit
  • Thesis – 6 credits
  • ATMS 700-level elective – 6 credits
  • 700-level elective – 3 credits

Plan B: Non-thesis, 30 credits

  • Required core courses – 14 credits
  • Seminar – 1 credit
  • Comprehensive exam – 1 credit
  • ATMS 700-level electives – 12 credits
  • 700-level elective 2 credits

Catalog listing for M.S. program

Ph.D. degree requirements

Minimum of 60 credits

  • Required core courses – 14 credits
  • Seminar – 2 credits
  • Comprehensive exam – 1 credit
  • Electives – 23 – 31 credits
  • Dissertation – 12 – 20 credits

Catalog listing for Ph.D. program

Graduate School Academic Standing and Dismissal Policy

Transfer credits

These are credits transferred from another institution. Credits completed at the University in another program or as a graduate special do not need to be transferred. Transfer credit is requested on the Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request Form available on the Graduate School website and must be signed by the student, major advisor, and graduate director. Transfer credits applied to a master’s program must comply with the time limitation on master’s work (6 years). Thus, if a student took a course five years prior to admission, they would have to complete the degree within one year for the course to apply to the degree. Credits from a completed master’s degree will be exempt from the 8-year time limitation for those students earning a doctoral degree.

Program of study

Students must complete an approved Program of Study Form. It is available at also available on the university’s Graduate Forms and Deadlines website.

The program of study form lists the courses that will be used to satisfy the degree requirements and is signed by the student, all committee members, and the ATMS Graduate Program Director, and then turned in to the graduate school for approval. It is strongly recommended that the program of study form be approved by the graduate program director before obtaining signatures from the committee members. The program of study form must be submitted to the graduate school by the third semester for Master’s students and the fourth semester for Ph.D. students. This will help to avoid any possible problems later regarding whether all requirements were met. Students may change their program of study by using the Program of Study Change Form. 

Advisor/examining committee

Each student shall form an advisory/examining committee that will guide the student’s academic studies and research. The committee will approve the student’s program of study and thesis/dissertation research and preparation. The committee must also approve the student’s thesis or dissertation and administer the comprehensive exam for Ph.D. candidacy. All committee members must be members of the University graduate faculty unless otherwise approved by the Graduate School. Most students that are funded with research assistantships upon entering the program will have a major advisor from the beginning. The graduate school requires that the committee must be formed no later than the third semester for M.S. students and the fourth semester for Ph.D. students. The committee is officially selected by completion of the Program of Study Form. The committee for both the Master’s and Ph.D. degrees must include a graduate school representative. The Graduate School Representative cannot have a primary appointment in the same department (or other appropriate major unit) as the student's committee chair. Formal approval of all student advisory committees is made by the Graduate Dean.

The Declaration of Advisor/Major Advisor/Committee Chair Form must be received by the Graduate School no later than the end of the second semester for master's students and by the end of the third semester for MFA and doctoral students.

M.S. committees

The M.S. committee consists of 3 or more members, one of which is designated the graduate school representative.

Ph.D. committees

Consist of a minimum of five graduate faculty members; the chair, at least two faculty members from the student’s major department/program, at least one faculty member from a department in a field related to the student’s major, and at least one Graduate School representative. 

Ph.D. advancement to candidacy

The University of Nevada, Reno, requires a written and oral qualifying exam (comprehensive exam) that must be passed before a student is advanced to “candidacy” for the Ph.D. degree. Ph.D. students must sign up for and receive a satisfactory grade (S) for ATMS 795 (Comprehensive exam) before being advanced to candidacy. The program of study form must be completed and approved by the graduate school before taking the comprehensive exam. In December 2013, the GP-ATMS adopted the research prospectus approach for the comprehensive exam.

The research prospectus

The student's committee will need to serve as a major advisory committee for the student. All faculty members in the program will potentially impact the outcome of the comprehensive exam by volunteering to participate in the public portion of the exam. The comprehensive exam is a detailed research prospectus to be presented by the student to his/her committee and to the public for a portion of it. In the following, 'Discussion' is to be read as both oral and written communication. The research prospectus outcome is a document that contains a strong outline for the Ph.D. dissertation. The comprehensive exam is passed by completing the research prospectus and associated oral exam to the satisfaction of the student's graduate committee.

The research prospectus includes:

  1. Discussion of the research area and how it globally fits into atmospheric sciences.
  2. Discussion of all the areas of atmospheric sciences that are impacted by the proposed research, with details of impacts.
  3. Historical development of the research area.
  4. Survey of the current state of the art in the research area.
  5. Discussion of other approaches to the problem that are being pursued elsewhere.
  6. Outline for the proposed research topic with milestones to be achieved.
  7. Discussion of branches necessary should the research go in unexpected directions.
  8. Projection of the importance of the research to the future of atmospheric science.
  9. Discussion of the career goals of the student.
  10. Discussion of the nature of the proposed research from the evolving NSF perspective: Example: Is the research evolutionary and/or transformative? What are the impacts of the research on the general public? In what ways, if any, could the research be brought to the attention of the general public?
  11. Discuss who funds the research, why they are interested in funding this research, and what they expect as an outcome of this research as a tangible product (dissertation, papers, data? new code development? instrument development? patents? products?)

There will be public and committee and student-only portions of the oral exam. The public portion of the oral exam will be a seminar where the students present items c, d, e, f, and g. For the committee and student-only portion of the exam, the committee will ask questions both directly related to the prospectus and more fundamental questions regarding the general subject area addressed in the prospectus. For example, these questions may test the student’s knowledge of the underlying atmospheric science, physics, and chemistry of the research area.

The written prospectus must be completed to the satisfaction of the student’s graduate committee before taking the associated oral exam. At the discretion of the graduate committee, the student may retake the oral examination once if the oral exam is failed. If the committee declines to offer the student a second attempt at the oral exam, a notice of proposed dismissal from the program will be sent to the student. A second attempt at the oral exam must be within one year of the initial attempt. For any student failing the oral portion of the comprehensive exam twice, a notice of proposed dismissal will be sent to the student.

Graduate School dismissal policy

Failing the comprehensive exam (an unsatisfactory (S) grade) is considered a failure to maintain required grades and will result in the dismissal of the student from GP-ATMS.

Timing for completion of the comprehensive exam: Students shall complete the written exam (prospectus) and a successful (passed) oral exam by the end of their third semester or be subject to possible dismissal from the program due to lack of progress. Dismissal due to lack of progress shall be based upon an evaluation by the committee members and the director of the ATMS graduate program of the potential for the student to complete a Ph.D. dissertation in a reasonable time period (in any case not longer than the eight-year maximum set by the graduate school). Any dismissal is subject to Title 2, Chapter 11 of the NSHE code, as discussed above.

The 3-semester time limit to complete the comprehensive exam applies to all students entering the Ph.D. program in fall 2019 or later. Students entering before fall 2019 are encouraged to make similarly steady progress and are reminded of the eight-year limit to complete the degree set by the graduate school.

Final oral examination

Ph.D. students must pass a final oral examination (dissertation defense) administered by their advisory committee.

Timeline for degree completion

Students are expected to make sustained progress toward completing degree requirements. Most Master’s students should finish within 2-3 years, and Ph.D. students within 4-6 years. The Graduate School has set time limits for the degrees as listed below:

Master’s degrees time limit

All coursework (including thesis credits) must be completed within six years preceding the awarding of the degree.

Doctoral degrees time limit

All coursework (including dissertation credits) must be completed within eight years preceding the awarding of the degree. Credits transferred into a doctoral degree from a completed master’s degree are exempt from this eight-year limit. As noted earlier, Ph.D. students must complete their comprehensive exam by the end of their 3rd semester or be subject to dismissal due to lack of progress.


6. Graduate Assistantships

All graduate students holding an assistantship (teaching GTA or GRA) are considered Nevada residents for tuition purposes. Non-resident tuition is only waived for the duration of the assistantship. To be eligible for an assistantship, students must be admitted to a degree-granting program and be in good academic standing. The student must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 and must be continuously enrolled in at least 6 graduate-level credits (600-700) throughout the duration of the assistantship.

State-funded assistantships (GTA/GRA) may be held for a maximum of three (3) years for master’s degree students and five (5) years for doctoral degree students.



7. Health insurance

All domestic degree-seeking graduate students, who are enrolled in six or more credits (regardless of the course level) in a semester, will be automatically enrolled and billed for the University sponsored health insurance for each term they are eligible (fall & spring/summer). If a student has other comparable coverage and would like to waive the student health insurance, it is the student’s responsibility to complete the University online waiver form prior to the deadline. If approved, a health insurance waiver is good for the current academic year only. A new waiver must be submitted each academic year.

All international graduate students are required to carry student health insurance, and the cost will be automatically added to your student account. Any international graduate students with insurance questions must contact the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) directly.



8. Leave of Absence

Continuous enrollment

To maintain “good standing,” all graduate students are required to enroll in a minimum of three (3) graduate credits each fall and spring semester until they graduate. International students may be required to enroll in nine graduate credits each fall and spring semester, depending on the requirements of their visa. All students holding assistantships (whether teaching or research assistantships) are required to enroll in a minimum of six (6) graduate credits each semester they hold the assistantship.

Leave of absence

Students in good standing may request a leave of absence by completing a Leave of Absence Form available on the Graduate School website during which time they are not required to maintain continuous registration. Usually, a leave of absence is approved for one or two semesters. The leave of absence request may be extended by the student filing an additional leave of absence form. Students applying for a leave of absence should not have any “incomplete” grades, which could be changed to “F” and have a detrimental impact on their cumulative GPA. Requests for leave of absence must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the leave is to begin.


When a student has been absent for one semester or more without an approved leave of absence, he or she may request reinstatement via the Notice of Reinstatement to Graduate Standing Form. This form allows the program the option to recommend the student be re-admitted to their graduate program based on their previous admission OR require the student to re-apply for admission, which would require students to submit a new application for admission and pay the application fee. The Notice of Reinstatement to Graduate Standing must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the reinstatement is to begin.


9. Graduate Student Association

The Graduate Student Association (GSA) represents all graduate students and promotes the welfare and interests of graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno. The GSA works closely with appropriate university administrative offices, including the Graduate School and Student Services. The GSA government functions through the Council of Representatives, Executive Council and established committees. The GSA offers several events, awards and need-based services to current graduate students.


10. Graduate School forms

Please refer to the Graduate School Forms and Deadlines website for all forms available at the Graduate School.