PhD Qualification Exam
When Must the Qualifying Examination Be Taken?
The Qualifying Examination will be offered each May in the week following the Final Exam period. An e-mail notification will be sent in mid-March to all students announcing the dates of the qualifying exam. An M.S. student wishing to take the qualifying exam, or a Ph.D. student required to take the qualifying exam must notify the Exam Chairperson and Department Secretary by e-mail of his/her intent to take the exam by April 1. An M.S. student who does not provide a notification by April 1 will not be permitted to take the exam. Ph.D. students must take the exam. (More information about how to continue into the Ph.D. after completion of the M.S. degree can be found here: http://www.atmos.illinois.edu/academics/grad_phd_eligib.html)
Once a student provides a notification, the student is committed to take the exam. Failure to take the exam constitutes a failing grade. Exceptions to this policy will be granted by the Department Head only in the event of illness or emergency circumstances.
Composition and Evaluation of the Qualifying Examination
The Qualifying Examination will consist of a two-part, 100 point, closed-book examination for each student. Students may bring with them only writing implements, a ruler, and a basic scientific calculator (without graphing or non-numeric storage capability). The Exam Chairperson has a right to refuse use of calculators with advanced memory capabilities (such as graphing calculators or other devices); students are strongly encouraged to get their calculators approved in advance by the Exam Chairperson if they are concerned about their calculator’s abilities in order to avoid having to use an unfamiliar calculator during the exam.
Part I will consist of eight questions (each worth 10 points) drawn from material closely related to that covered in the following courses: atmospheric dynamics (ATMS 500), physical meteorology (ATMS 504), weather systems (ATMS 505) and climate processes (ATMS 507). Four Part I questions, one from each topic area, will be given on the first morning of the exam (8:30 am – 12:00 pm), and four Part I questions, one from each topic area, on the second morning (8:30 – 12:00 pm). Note that all constants required for solution of equations will be provided for the exam.
The list of topics is:
Questions will be drawn from topics such as the basic conservation laws; elementary applications of the basic equations; circulation and vorticity; the planetary boundary layer; atmospheric oscillations: linear perturbation theory; barotropic and baroclinic instability
Questions will be drawn from topics such as:
Atmospheric Thermodynamics: atmospheric composition and structure; thermodynamics of gases; the first and second laws and their implications; heterogeneous systems and the thermodynamics of moist air
Radiation: radiative equilibrium; global energy budget; radiative transfer; absorption, emission, and scattering; thermal equilibrium; the greenhouse effect
Cloud and Precipitation Physics: atmospheric aerosol; microphysics of clouds; macrophysics of clouds; radiative transfer of clouds and aerosols; role of clouds and aerosols in climate
Questions will be drawn from topics such as scalar fields and their kinematics; kinematics of the wind field; equations of momentum, continuity, thermodynamics, state, and vorticity; quasigeostrophic theory and its applications; isentropic potential vorticity and its applications; instability, cyclogenesis, and anticyclogenesis; the structure and dynamics of synoptic-scale extratropical systems; fronts; jets; forecasting
Questions will be drawn from topics such as the global climate system, global energy balance, vertical energy balance, surface energy balance, hydrologic cycle, atmospheric general circulation and energy transport, patterns of climate, oceanic circulation and climate, paleo- and recent climate, natural climate variations, climate sensitivity, climate and earth system models, natural and human forcing on climate, potential impacts from climate change in the 21st century, climate change policy, adaptation and mitigation.
Part II will consist of ten questions. Questions in Part II test the student’s knowledge of atmospheric science at the basic, introductory level. The questions are typically answered concisely in no more than a short paragraph, with possibly a simple diagram. Part II questions will be drawn from introductory meteorological texts such as Severe and Hazardous Weather (Rauber, Charlevoix, and Walsh, Kendall Hunt Publishing), Meteorology Today (Ahrens, West Publishing), Meteorology (Moran and Morgan, MacMillan Publishing), and The Atmosphere (Lutgens and Tarbuck, Prentice Hall). The questions are graded out of 10 points, but overall Part II contributes 20% toward the exam score.
Potential topics include: 1) atmospheric composition and structure; 2) energy, energy transfer, and atmospheric optics; 3) the upper atmosphere; 4) temperature, humidity, and stability; 5) cloud physics, 6) local, storm scale, and global wind systems; 7) synoptic-scale weather systems; 8) forecasting; 9) convection and severe storms; 10) tropical meteorology; 11) climate variability; 12) climate change; and 13) regional to global environmental issues. All questions in Part II must be answered. Part II will be given in the afternoon between 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm on the first day of the exam.
Each question in Parts I and II of the exam will be graded by two faculty members. The score for each question will be the average of the two grades. In cases where the difference between the grades is greater than 3 points, a third faculty member will also grade the question. The average of these three grades will be used as the grade for such questions. The final score is calculated as follows: The maximum score in Part I is 80 points, Part II is scaled to a maximum score of 20 points adding to the final score for a total of 100 points.
Students earning at least 70% on the examination will be judged to have passed the Qualifying Examination. Students earning less than 70% on the examination will be judged to have failed the Qualifying Examination if they have taken the exam for the first time. When taking the exam for the second time, students earning between 60 and 70% on the examination will be required to take an oral examination within one week of the examination.
The purpose of the oral examination is to evaluate further the student’s knowledge of the topics covered on the written examination. The oral examination will consist of 6 questions, two from each of three examiners chosen from the faculty. The student is not told in advance which faculty will be on the committee. Questions will be scored from 0 to 10 by each faculty member. The combined score will be divided by the maximum-possible score of 180 (6 questions times 3 scores of 10 each) and multiplied by 100. The resulting percentage will be added to the percentage in excess of 60% on the written examination. For example, a student receiving a score of 65% on the written examination and 65% on the oral examination will have a combined score of 65% + (65% – 60%) = 70%.
A passing score for the combined oral and written examination is 70% or higher. If a student earns a combined score between 60% and 70% on their second attempt, the faculty will consider factors such as course and research performance before reaching a pass/fail decision. If the student’s score is below 60%, the student will be considered to have failed. Students who fail their second Qualifying Examination will not be permitted to continue pursuing the Ph.D. Degree.
Final grades for each of the written and oral qualifier questions will be provided to the student after the examination. The students will be permitted to view their examination answers after the examination in the Department Head’s office upon request.
1) Exceptions to the requirements stated above will be granted only by the written permission of the Department Head and the student’s advisor.
2) In rare cases, the Department will offer a special oral qualifying exam for students entering our Ph.D. program with an exceptional record of research. An “exceptional” student is one that has a strong publication record, as evidenced by publications (including first author publications) in well-recognized journals over several years of activity in the field.
If a student wishes to be considered for a special oral qualifying exam, the student must submit to the Department Head within one year of admission to the Ph.D. program: (1) an e-mail or letter requesting to take the oral qualifying exam, and (2) his/her Curriculum Vitae. The request will be considered by the Department Advisory Committee within 2 weeks of submission, and will either be approved or denied.
If the petition is approved, an oral qualifying exam will be scheduled no earlier than 6 weeks, and no later than 8 weeks following the approval of the petition. Once a student is approved, the student is committed to take the exam. Failure to take the exam constitutes a failing grade. Exceptions to this policy will be granted by the Department Head only in the event of illness or emergency circumstances.
The oral examination will be conducted by four faculty members, chosen by the Department Head to cover the four major areas in Part I of the qualifier. The examination will be developed by the four faculty members and approved by the Department Head before the examination. All examiners will provide grades to each question and all four grades for each question will be averaged to produce a single grade for the question.
The oral exam will consist of two parts:
Part 1 will consist of eight questions covering the general areas of physical meteorology, synoptic-dynamic meteorology, weather systems and climate. Questions will be graded on a scale of 0-10. Part 1 will be worth 80 points total.
Part 2 will consist of ten questions in basic areas of the Atmospheric Sciences. Each question will be worth 2 points. Part 2 will be worth 20 points total. A passing grade on the oral qualifier is 70% or greater.
Students may only take the special oral examination once. If a student fails the special oral qualifying exam, the student will have one chance to take and pass the traditional qualifying exam at a future date. All timing rules for the traditional qualifying exam will apply to the student.