Ocean Sciences Ph.D.


The program leading to a doctorate in ocean sciences is designed around a core training in oceanography for all students, supplemented and focused by advanced training in oceanography and in the traditional disciplines—biology, chemistry, Earth sciences, and physics—as chosen by the student and his or her advisers. The core training is provided through courses in ocean sciences; a subset of which is taken by all students in the first two years and reinforced by the student's seminars throughout the program. Preparation also includes upper-division/graduate courses in ocean sciences and in the specialty discipline, graduate seminars, independent study research credits, participation in a departmental student seminar series, and a minimum requirement of two quarters as a teaching assistant. There is no formal language requirement.

A scheduling meeting in the first quarter of enrollment is used to map out the course program in the first year. The course program is determined by a faculty advisory committee in consultation with the student and courses are drawn from ocean sciences and other science departments (e.g., biology, chemistry, Earth and planetary sciences, physics). A departmental oral examination covering material from the core courses is usually taken at the beginning of a student's second year in the program and must be completed successfully within two years of entering the program. The purpose of this examination is to ensure that the doctoral student candidate has acquired sufficient fundamental knowledge of oceanography to proceed toward the doctoral degree.

A qualifying examination requiring a written research proposal to be defended orally in front of the student's qualifying examination committee is recommended to be taken during the fall quarter the year after the department exam of the program, normally the third year. A dissertation demonstrating original thought and research, must be written, presented in an open seminar, and defended to the student's dissertation reading committee. Students are strongly encouraged to prepare their dissertation in a form suitable for publication.

Sample Pathways

The pathways within the ocean sciences Ph.D. program are differentiated from related degrees in the traditional disciplines by their focus on global-scale problems and interactions, a focus on the ocean, and their inherently interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinary projects across and between pathways are encouraged, as are interactions with faculty in related departments.

Biological Oceanography

This area of study involves the interactions of organisms with their chemical and physical environments. It includes research on the physiology and ecology of organisms, but differs from marine biology in its focus on the oceanographic setting of the organism in relationship to, for example, biogeochemical cycling and the effects of ocean currents on distributions of organisms. The focus is mainly on small oceanic life-forms (plankton and bacteria, molecular ecology) and their roles in the biogeochemical cycles of marine systems.

Chemical Oceanography

Chemical interactions of trace metals and radionuclides in the sea are the focus of this area of study. Research includes development of analytical techniques, measurement of trace species in seawater, and investigation of the effects and interactions of trace elements on biological processes using analytical and isotopic approaches.

Geological Oceanography

Paleoceanography, paleoclimatology, and sediment geochemistry are the focus in this pathway. Research areas include the history of global geochemical cycles and composition of the ocean on various timescales, the fate and diagenesis of materials in sediments and their contribution to the paleoceanographic record, understanding ocean and climate history by the use of records of stable isotopes and trace elements, and paleoclimate modeling.

Physical Oceanography

The physics and dynamics of the ocean and atmosphere are the main aspects of this program. Research includes observational, computational, theoretical, and experimental physical oceanography, geophysical fluid dynamics, ocean acoustics, dynamical meteorology, climate, and global change.

Advancement to Candidacy

Course Requirements

To introduce students to the breadth and depth of the field of ocean sciences, students will be required to complete the following.

The four core ocean sciences courses are expected to be completed in the first year of the program prior to taking the departmental oral examination:

OCEA 200Physical Oceanography


OCEA 220Chemical Oceanography


OCEA 230Biological Oceanography


OCEA 280Marine Geology


Three Graduate-Level or Upper-Division Elective courses:

A minimum of three graduate-level or upper-division elective courses is required to provide depth in the chosen area of emphasis or supporting disciplines. These courses are selected in consultation with the student's adviser and the department's graduate advising committee. A maximum of one course may be a graduate-level seminar (OCEA 290), and at least two courses must be graduate or upper-division undergraduate lecture courses.

Attendance in the following course is required each quarter of enrollment:

OCEA 292Seminar


The following course is taken prior to, or concurrent with, being a teaching assistant:

Generally offered during the fall quarter each year.

OCEA 296Teaching in Ocean Sciences


Independent Studies or Thesis Research:

A minimum of three courses in independent studies (OCEA 297, before advancing to candidacy), or thesis research (OCEA 299, after advancing to candidacy) under the direction of an adviser. Students beyond their first year will usually take 10 or 15 credits of independent study or thesis research each quarter.

OCEA 297Independent Study

OCEA 299Thesis Research

Teaching Requirement

Teaching experience is satisfied by two quarters of teaching assistant experience in ocean sciences or related departments.

Pre-Qualifying Requirements

Ph.D. students must pass a Department Examination typically taken at the beginning of their second year. The purpose of this exam is to ensure that the Ph.D. student has acquired sufficient fundamental knowledge of oceanography, and developed a suitable research plan, before developing their thesis proposal and before taking their Qualifying Examination.

Qualifying Examination

Ph.D. students must pass a departmental qualifying examination to advance to candidacy. Students will submit a written research proposal to their qualifying examination committee, then defend this proposal orally before the committee.




The Ph.D. dissertation, demonstrating original thought and research, must be written, presented in an open seminar, and defended to the student's dissertation reading committee. It is intended to help guide and evaluate the student's program, study, and progress. The Ph.D. dissertation, satisfying all format and content requirements, must be submitted to the Graduate Division before the deadline in which all degree requirements are to be completed within the term of receiving the degree.

Dissertation Defense

The Ph.D. dissertation defense is composed of two parts: one part is the open presentation of the dissertation; the second part is a meeting, following the presentation, with the dissertation reading committee to determine completion of degree requirements.The Ph.D. dissertation defense must be presented before the deadline in which all degree requirements are to be completed within the term of receiving the degree. 

Academic Progress

Ph.D. students meet with a member of the Ocean Sciences Department's advisory committee once each fall and spring. In addition, during the spring quarter each year, beginning with the second year and continuing until degree completion, students must meet with their committee members and provide an annual academic progress report to the department.

Applying for Graduation

Once requirements for degree have been met, including approval from their academic adviser and the Ocean Sciences Department, Ph.D. students may apply for the degree by the deadline for the quarter in which they would like to receive their degree. Deadlines are published in the Academic and Administrative Calendar each year.