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Aspects of atmospheric research that attract students into graduate studies in these fields are:

  • Application of science to important social concerns (climate change, draughts, floods, hurricanes, severe storm warnings, hail damage prevention, economic impacts of weather, legal issues of air quality, conservation of natural resources, specialized weather forecasts for agriculture, transportation, defense, etc.
  • Combination of knowledge from many disciplines.
  • Use of supercomputers to run models spanning all scales of space and time and representing a true multitude of processes.
  • Field projects in far away places (from the stratosphere to the bottom of the oceans, from tropical rain forests to arctic ice fields)
  • The beauty and fascination with weather (clouds, rainbows, special winds, waves, satellite images)
  • Large scale manifestations and huge impacts of simple physical laws.

Graduate studies in the atmospheric sciences (including oceanic and other related fields as well) are not restricted to those taking undergraduate degrees in the same field. Many universities indeed prefer graduates with good basic science (physics, chemistry, biology), mathematics (applied math, computer utilization, …) or engineering degrees. Social science, economics and political science graduates can also find futures in the atmospheric sciences.

Much of the atmospheric and related sciences are based on observation (There is always a tug of war between observation versus theory based science. Both approaches are crucial to any scientific field. In a relatively new discipline like the atmospheric sciences, better observations are held by many to be the key to progress. But this view is not universally accepted, of course.) Knowledge and skills in dealing with observations are great assets, as is the ability to design and built new observational tools. (Examples range from sensitive gas and particle probes, to radiation sensors to ground based, aircraft mounted or satellite based remote sensors.) Data assimilation and analysis are large parts of the overall effort.

Students often participate in large field experiments and base their thesis and dissertation on that work. Numerical models (these models incorporate basic theory, empirical relationships and are initiated by observational data.) of the atmosphere are the main tools of integration and prediction. Computer skills and analyses of numerical procedures are much needed to improve the models and to make them fit to the capacities of even the largest computers in the world. Models represent phenomena from the molecular scale to the global and beyond.

Atmospheric science centers use some of the largest computers in the world, and are leaders in the development of ever more powerful computing techniques.

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) maintain a web-based publication of institutions offering Masters of Science and Ph.D degrees in the atmospheric and related sciences, the AMS/UCAR Curricula Guide for the Atmospheric, Hydrologic and Oceanic Sciences.

In choosing a school for graduate studies, consider at least the following:

  • What specific fields of research are being addressed at the school?
  • How do the activities match your interests and background?
  • What is the balance at that school between breadth and specialization?
  • What is your professional goal after graduation?

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