Program Requirements

There are no formal course requirements for students in physical oceanography. However, students do need a solid foundation in fluid mechanics, mathematics, and descriptive oceanography. Students interested in interdisciplinary research which overlaps with physical oceanography can tailor their individual curriculum to obtain an appropriate background for the field of interest. See Curriculum for more details.

1st and 2nd years

Most students spend the first one to one-half years on coursework, although they are encouraged to start research as soon as possible. Why?

  • To build expertise in identifying a field of interest
  • To develop a firm understanding of the state of knowledge within the field
  • To single out possible research/thesis topics

General exams

Students typically complete a written research project, and written and oral exams at the end of the second year. After passing these, students prepare and defend a thesis proposal within four months.

The General Exam Committee (GEC) for physical oceanography evaluates:

  • The student's grasp of material covered in the core curriculum and/or other courses specific to the student's individual course of study, as well as the ability to synthesize material from different sources
  • The student's ability to approach research problems in a manner appropriate for an independent scientist

3rd through 5th years

Students spend the remaining years in the program on dissertation research and writing. However, they may complete additional courses to broaden their perspective or obtain knowledge necessary for their thesis research.

Students are encouraged to maintain close contact with their thesis committees through regular discussions with committee members and periodic formal committee meetings approximately every six months. A student's thesis committee includes the principal research advisor and three to five faculty members with interest and expertise in the research area. The committee must have one member each from MIT and WHOI and may have members from outside the Joint Program.

Oral defense

The Ph.D. is completed by a successful public defense of the thesis research, followed by a closed questioning period with the thesis committee and submission of the written thesis. Students are strongly encouraged to complete their theses before the end of the fifth year. Extension into the sixth year is possible after formal petition to the Joint Committee for Physical Oceanography.

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