Graduate handbook

Information for AOPP graduate students

The Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division provides important information concerning University regulations that apply to Research Students, and other useful advice.

Further requirements applying specifically to students in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics are as follows:

Formal Teaching

AOPP organises the Fourth-Year undergraduate option Physics of Atmospheres and Oceans. The lectures are given in the Dobson Room.

These lectures provide a good general introduction to our field, and should be attended by all first-year D.Phil. students who did not take the course as an undergraduate. These students should also do the problem sets and attend problem classes with other first-year D.Phil. students to go through material. For these students their knowledge and understanding of the course material will be assessed as part of their Transfer of Status Viva.

Transfer of Status

All new students in AOPP are registered as 'Probationer Research Students'. The University requires that by the end of your fourth term you must transfer from this probationary status to Research Degree status; in AOPP this will normally take place after about three terms and will normally involve transfer to D.Phil. status. Your application to transfer status must contain 'a statement of the subject of the proposed thesis and details of the manner in which the candidate proposes to treat it'. This statement should be discussed in advance with your supervisor.

As part of this transfer exercise, you are also required to submit written work and be examined orally on it. In AOPP, this written work will comprise the following:

  • A 'First Year Report' of 5 to 10 thousand words, to be submitted by the end of August. Approximately half of the report should be devoted to a literature review, the rest being a discussion of the research that you have performed so far and your plans for future work.
  • All your written work for the Problems Classes on the 'Physics of the Atmosphere and Oceans' course, which should be kept in a folder and retained in case it is required for assessment with the First Year Report. There is no specific pass mark on scores obtained in problem classes although your work is assessed for any evidence of serious weaknesses.

The oral examination will take the form of a discussion with two members of staff other than your supervisor, and will generally be held in September. Afterwards, the staff reviewers write a brief report: this, together with your other written work, will be discussed by the AOPP Graduate Studies Committee. The Committee must consider whether you have demonstrated that you have

  • a well-defined and historically-researched project, as evidenced primarily by the write-up in the report, which should indicate clear goals, methodology for reaching goals, and references to and discussion of previous work, and
  • an aptitude for original research in general and your project in particular, as evidenced primarily by the work done in the first year and the oral review.

If the Committee is satisfied that you have met the above requirements, you will be allowed to apply for transfer to D.Phil. status early in your second year.

Confirmation of D.Phil. status

Students who have transferred to D.Phil. status must have this status confirmed within a maximum of six further terms. In AOPP this will normally be done after three further terms, i.e. around the beginning of your third year. Your progress will be monitored mainly by means of a written 'Second Year Report', to be submitted by the end of August in your second year. This will be about 5-10 thousand words in length and should not normally exceed 12,000 words. The report will describe your project, apparatus and theoretical work as appropriate, plus any results or particular difficulties experienced. It should focus on work completed during the second year. It should not repeat text from your 1st year report (this can be referenced) unless it is required to (briefly) explain the methodology of the second year work or has been substantially reworked. If you have published, or had accepted, a paper in a refereed journal you may make use of all or part of this within your report. The report must also include a short outline, of between two and four pages, summarising what you anticipate will be in your D.Phil. thesis. This should be in the form of chapter and section headings, with a brief summary of the work done so far on each; it must also give a timetable for the expected completion of each part of the work that is yet to be done, including writing-up.

The Second Year Report will be read by two staff members, who will discuss it with you in September/October, and give a brief report to the AOPP Graduate Studies Committee. Using this report, and comments from your supervisor and others familiar with your work, the Committee will then decide whether to recommend confirmation of your D.Phil. status.

If the Committee feels that your progress up to this point shows that your project is unlikely to be completed to D.Phil. standard in one, or at most two, more years, it may advise you to transfer to M.Sc. status.

At the end of your third year

You should aim to complete your project, including writing up your thesis, by the end of your third year, so that the thesis can be submitted by 30 September or shortly afterwards. If this deadline is not met, you must submit a detailed thesis outline to the AOPP Director of Graduate Studies by the end of September. This will contain chapter and section headings, and a paragraph or two giving details of the work done so far, and that remaining to be done, on each chapter. It must also contain a timetable for completion of the remaining work on each chapter, including writing-up. The thesis outline will be discussed by the Graduate Studies Committee at its October meeting and, if they decide there is cause for concern about your progress towards completion, they may take action. Usually this action will, in the first instance, consist of organizing a progress review to assess further the situation.

Whilst small overruns beyond the three year limit are not uncommon, the research councils and the University regard longer delays as a serious matter. If the possibility of a delay as long as 12 months is detected by the progress reviewers, the Graduate Studies Committee (or the Head of AOPP and Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with your supervisor) may set up a group (to include your supervisor(s), advisors, and one or two other staff members, as appropriate) to monitor your further progress and offer advice, in order to ensure that your project is completed (barring unforeseen catastrophe), and your thesis submitted, before the end of your fourth year.

At the end of your fourth year

Fourth year students (and above) who have not completed their thesis must prepare a thesis outline by the end of September, detailing the titles, content and state of completion of each of their chapters. This will be discussed by the Graduate Studies Committee in October.

After four years as a research student your D.Phil. status will lapse. The University allows extensions of status only under exceptional circumstances. You should therefore not expect to get permission to continue beyond this point except in very unusual circumstances, as determined by your supervisor in consultation with the Graduate Studies Committee.

Miscellaneous Advice for Research Students

The MPLS website describes the formal position of graduate students in the University and the various procedures you will need to follow to get the post-graduate degree. The following points are also worth thinking about.


You will know in general terms what your topic of research is to be before you start, or soon thereafter, but it is mainly up to you - in consultation with your supervisor - to flesh this out into a programme of work. Think about what you would like to do, how well you expect to be able to make use of the expertise and facilities available in the sub-department, and how much work you can realistically expect to accomplish in three years. The sooner you have a clear plan for the contents of your thesis, the better. It will have a beginning (the problem, and a review of previous work), a middle (apparatus constructed and measurements performed, or theory/model developed and applied) and an end (new and original results or conclusions of some kind). These correspond roughly to the first year report, the second year report, and the rest of the thesis. You should aim to be able to write down the chapter titles for your thesis, and outline the expected contents of each one, by the time of your first year review.

Recommended Hours

It is also up to you to decide where and when you will do your work. Some people find it difficult to adapt to this kind of freedom after the organised structure of an undergraduate course. As a rough guide, you will need to put in at least the equivalent of the standard working day in the sub-department (8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.) to have any hope of completing in three years.


You should agree any days off in the working week (Monday-Friday) with your supervisor. As a minimum you should expect to be able to take 3 weeks leave in addition to bank holidays (8 days) and periods of fixed closure for the Department (at Christmas and Easter, 6 days in total). Keep a record of the days you have taken as holiday.

If you receive industrial sponsorship, please bear in mind your obligation to your sponsor in planning holidays.

Sick leave

If you feel unwell and need to stay at home for a day or two, you should inform your supervisor and let him/her know when you expect to be back in the department. Do tell a friend or colleague as well in case you need help, and so that someone can check that you are better. If you are unwell for a longer period of time, you should try to maintain regular email contact with your supervisor to keep him/her informed of your health, and inform your college office. In a few cases it may be advisable to apply for suspension of status for the term in which you are ill.


Most students expect too little or too much (and sometimes both) from their supervisor. You should not expect him or her to tell you what to do (except perhaps right at the beginning) or to give you systematic instruction. You should expect him/her to discuss your work, provide encouragement and constructive criticism, and help with any problems -large or small - on which you are stuck.

The University expects supervisors and students to agree a formal schedule of meetings. Some people find it useful to fix a regular time (perhaps once a week) for such meetings, which may last for an hour one week and only five minutes the next, depending on how the student is getting on. This enables the supervisor to keep track of the student's progress; it also gives the student the chance to bring up the kind of points which he or she might hesitate to ask for a special meeting to discuss. It is often difficult for newcomers to research (and even old hands) to decide whether something they don't understand is trivial or profound!

Do not hesitate to ask for a meeting with your supervisor if you feel that you need one, but remember that your supervisor is a busy person and probably won't be able to drop everything to talk to you immediately (in which case, ask for an appointment).

Depending on the nature of your project, you may have more than one supervisor (for example, if you are a CASE student, or working with facilities outside Oxford). Even if you spend more time with your external supervisor, your 'official' supervisor (who is a member of the academic staff in AOPP) remains responsible for your progress and must be kept informed of any problems. In addition to your supervisor(s), you will usually be assigned an 'academic advisor'. He/she will usually be working in your research area and will be available for consultation on technical matters; one of them may be a post-doc or senior engineer. In addition, you will soon learn who in the sub-department knows about computer graphics, op. amps. or partial differential equations, for example. Don't hesitate to approach anyone at any time for a discussion: coffee and tea times are good for this. You will also get useful advice (often unsolicited) on all aspects of research student life from second and third year students.

More on annual reviews

The requirements for Transfer and Confirmation of Status are laid out in a rather formal manner by the Division. Don't be too intimidated by these regulations. In Hilary Term you will be sent more information on what is expected in the Report, and you should make sure that you discuss the probable contents with your supervisor soon after that. You may find it hard at first to write an extended piece of prose like this, but you will later discover it was worthwhile, when you come to start writing your thesis.

The First Year Report should include, as a minimum

  1. a clear description of what your project is about, and its goals
  2. a survey of relevant previous work, including a bibliography of key papers
  3. a report on some original work you have done
  4. a plan, with an approximate timeline, for the next two years, leading to a thesis.
  5. a description of transferable skills acquired.

The Second Year Report is mainly a write up of what you have done so far, including published papers if any, with an updated plan for the remaining year.

Transferable Skills

Note that your first and second year reports should include a paragraph describing the 'transferable skills' you believe you have acquired as part of your D.Phil. work. It is now a requirement, imposed by the government, that post-graduate students spend at least two weeks each year explicitly in pursuit of such skills, in addition to anything you learn during your research, and the University now requires you to report on what you have learned on the form on which you apply for transfer of status. Hence, it's a good idea to practise writing something now and get feedback from your reviewers. ('Transferable' skills are things that are generally useful in later life, and not specific to your research project. So, for example, learning to use a lathe, program in C, give a talk at a meeting, write a technical report or a funding application, are all transferable skills. Knowing how to build a miniature cooler or how to design a coupled ocean-atmosphere GCM are probably not. Further guidance can be found here.

Third year students who have not completed their thesis must prepare a thesis outline by the end of September, detailing the titles, content and state of completion of each of their chapters. This will be discussed by the Graduate Studies Committee in October.

At each of the annual discussion sessions, you should be ready to address the following questions: (1) What are the objectives of your project? (2) What have you achieved during the last year? (3) What difficulties have you experienced, and what remains to be done to overcome them? (4) What are your plans for next year? You should bring up any problems of an organisational, as well as a scientific, nature. Most students - and staff - find these discussions quite useful and even enjoyable!


If you have a problem that you cannot resolve with your supervisor, please see the Director of Graduate Studies (Prof. Pat Irwin) or the Head of AOPP (Prof. David Marshall). For help with any routine matters see Sarah Harrington.

Your college will offer help with personal problems not related to AOPP (such as health), but of course your supervisor needs to know if your work is affected.


As a graduate student, your relationship with your college will primarily involve meals and social activities, but you will be assigned a College tutor or advisor with responsibility for your personal and academic welfare.

Travel to Meetings and Conferences

Please consult Sarah for advice on travel before making any firm plans. You will need to complete a Physics Travel Plan outlining details of your trip, and how it will be funded, for any travel outside Oxford. On your return you should complete a expenses claim form and submit it to Sarah with your receipts. Both the Travel Plan and expenses claim form are downloadable from

Thesis Preparation

When your thesis is finished, two copies (which must be securely bound in either hard or soft covers) must be submitted to the Graduate Studies Office, to be sent to your examiners. After the examination, a third copy - fully bound in hard covers and incorporating any changes requested by the examiners - must be submitted for deposition in the Bodleian Library. (See the Postgraduate Research Student Handbook for more details.)

Please have one extra, fully bound, copy of this final version made for the sub-departmental library. It is also standard practice to give a copy to your supervisor. You are responsible for the cost of binding.

An introduction to LaTeX is available for people who plan to use that package.

Remember that the maximum legal length of a thesis in AOPP is 250 pages, inclusive of everything!

Staying on

Many of the sub-department's research grants have post-doctoral positions attached to them, and graduates of the sub-department are usually strong candidates for these. A few years as a post-doc here may give you an ideal chance to extend and publish your thesis work. Alternatively, you may prefer to broaden your scientific experience by moving to a post-doc position in another research institution, either in the UK or abroad. Note, however, that only in exceptional circumstances can you hold a post-doc job before your thesis is finished.

Undergraduate Teaching and Other External Activities

You may wish to undertake some teaching of undergraduates, or other forms of part-time employment (e.g. running computer systems) or external activity (including major sporting commitments) during your time as a research student. Teaching in particular provides valuable experience and is generally encouraged by the University - other forms of part-time paid employment may be acceptable should you need to stay on after the end of your studentship grant. You must, however, make sure that external activities such as teaching and teaching preparation do not interfere with your research work. You should always consult your supervisor before taking on teaching or any other time-consuming external activity and you should note that the Research Councils limit teaching to a maximum of six hours in any one week.

Notices about demonstrating and tutorial opportunities can be found on the Physics web site at

Addresses and affiliations

The Physics Management Committee asks us all to observe the following guidelines in external correspondence:

  • Our affiliation for subject-related matters (e.g. submission of publications, seminar notices at other institutions, correspondence with conference organisers) is: Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Department of Physics, University of Oxford.
  • Our 'legal' affiliation, for general purposes (e.g. library cards, college applications, official university forms) is: Department of Physics.
  • We should not use 'Department (or Sub-department) of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics' for external purposes.
  • Our full postal address is Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PU.

Digital Copy of Your Thesis

Students admitted on or after 1 October 2007 and successfully completing the D.Phil. or M.Sc.(by Research) programmes are required to deposit a print and a digital copy of their thesis. You may only deposit your e-thesis AFTER you have been granted leave to supplicate. The deposited digital copy should be the finalised copy of the thesis, as approved by the examiners. The digital copy should be deposited by the author in Oxford Research Archive (ORA). To do this, go to, click on Contribute and follow the instructions. See for a deposit guide.

Degree Confirmation

Quite often employers require evidence of a student having been awarded a DPhil before they have had their degree conferred. You can request a Letter of Confirmation from the University here.

MPLS Graduate Training

For information about training for graduates within the MPLS Division go to

Graduate Progression Forms (for transfer/confirmation of status; appointment of examiners, etc.)

Research Integrity and Ethics

See this website for links to the relevant University policies, guidelines and procedures which are intended to promote the responsible conduct of research in the University's ongoing research activities.

A research integrity checklist is provided to assist students and their supervisors in discussing research integrity at the start and regularly throughout a project.

Johnson Prize

The Johnson Prize is awarded annually to the student who has produced the best 1st year Transfer of Status report.

The Prize was established in the memory of Manuel John Johnson (1805-1895), Keeper at the Radcliffe Observatory, President of the Royal Astronomical Society and Fellow of the Royal Society. Johnson researched in astronomy and meteorology. He observed the total solar eclipse of 27 July 1832 while in charge of the St Helena Observatory and published the "Catalogue of 606 principal fixed stars in the Southern Hemisphere". The Prize originally consisted of a gold medal plus any dividends left after paying for the medal. Unfortunately the prize fund no longer allows for the medal (!) but is worth £150.


2016/17 Jamie Parkinson
2015/16 Tobias Thornes
2014 Joe Hitchen
2013 Patrick Watts
2012 Liam Brannigan
2011 Hannah Arnold
2010 Zak Kipling
2009 Benjamin Grandey
2008 James Maddison
2007 Sarka Tukova
2006 Roland Young
2005 Kuniko Yamazaki
2004 Ana Aguiar
2003 Adam Camilletti
2002 ?
2001 Sam Adlen

Werrett Prize

The Werrett Prize is awarded annually to the student who has produced the best 2nd year (Confirmation of Status) report.

The Prize was established in the memory of Steve Werrett, a space instrument designer in AOPP in the 1980s who worked his way up from technician to DPhil student to senior researcher, but died prematurely of cancer. Steve, who was liked by everyone, was a leading member of the team that developed the Improved Stratospheric and Mesospheric Sounder (ISAMS) including the first Stirling cycle cooler used in space. The prize is worth £150.


2016/17 Ryan Garland
2015/16 Not awarded
2014 Not awarded
2013 Liam Brannigan
2012 Peter Watson
2011 Cecile Merlet
2010 Joanna Barstow
2009 James Maddison
2008 Tom Jacoby
2007 Roland Young
2006 Robin Wordsworth
2005 Ana Aguiar
2004 Adam Camilletti
2003 Simon Crooks
2002 Laurie Rokke
2001 Fiona Eccles