Graduate Student FAQs
Prepared by Dr. Carton, these are explanations of guidelines and are not the policy statements themselves.
  1. Incoming Students
  2. Returning Students
  3. Exams and Dissertations
  4. Coursework
  5. GRAs and Research
  6. Maintaining Student Status
  7. Exit Interviews
  8. Conferences/Finding a Job
  9. In Case of Problems
  10. I Want to Break a Rule

Incoming Students

What activities are there within the department for graduate students?

For graduate student activities in the Department the best source of information is the Metograds website located here.

What advising is available for graduate students? Who may advise?

Upon admission each incoming graduate student is assigned an academic advisor who is a regular member of the Graduate Faculty and the University-recognised point of contact, and a research advisor, specifically responsible for oversight of the students research activities. The title research advisor is an informal designation local to the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science that by University policy cannot be the equivalent of co-advising.

The academic advisor has overall responsibility to ensure that the student academic life runs smoothly, and will meet with the student on a regular basis (the frequency varies, but should exceed 1/semester).In many cases these two advisors are in fact the same person.The advisors are chosen based on the students statement of interests and additional communications.

The following rules govern who may serve as academic advisor:

  1. Academic faculty
  2. Senior Research Scientists may be nominated by the department to be given authority to be the sole advisor for PhD students, and approval will be considered if they have been involved with students, do their work here on the campus, and the department faculty wants to give them this responsibility.
  3. Nominations for Associate Research scientists to co-advise grad students will be reviewed on the same basis.
  4. Authority to advise or co-advise will not be given to individuals outside the university, although this may be permitted in the future for those given the proposed new title of College Park Professor.

Upon arrival in the fall, following a general introduction to the Department hosted by the Graduate Director, the student will have an initial meeting with his/her academic advisor to determine the appropriate coursework. The faculty meet annualy in June to review the progress of all current graduate students. At that time any policy issues are also reviewed.

Upon successful completion of the Qualifying Examination, normally taken after two-four semesters, the students academic and research advisors (for those students continuing for a PhD) form a specialty examination committee, who also evaluate the student dissertation prospectus. The Specialty Examination normally follows the Qualifying examination by at most one year.

After the student has passed into candidacy the student together with his/her advisors form a five member dissertation committee whose membership is often the same as the Specialty Examination Committee. This committee is commissioned to meet with the student and advisor on a regular basis throughout the Ph.D. research. Membership on this committee may change as the interests of the student evolve. Generally this committee also becomes the dissertation committee.

How do I find out about housing?

Off-Campus Housing Services: 1110 Stamp Student Union, (301) 314-2645

Graduate Hills Apartments: (301) 422-0147

I need to get a desk/key/computer account. Who do I ask?

For a desk or keys, see the president of the AOSC Graduate Student Association or have your advisor send a note to the department secretary. For a computer account, contact Jeff Henrikson.

What part-time job/fellowship options exist outside the department?

For assistance in finding off campus employment check out the Career Center. To find out about University Fellowships check out the Graduate School Fellowship Office. A number of fellowships are available including Graduate Dean's Scholarships, Dissertation Fellowships, and Tuition Scholarships. To find out about external fellowships, check here.

English is not my native language. How do I improve my language skills?

The Maryland English Institute (MEI) offers a series of pronunciation and grammar courses. In addition, talking regularly with native english speakers is extremely important.

Are there awards for graduate students?

Yes, check out the Fellowships & Awards page for past recipients. Also, faculty members send award announcements frequently via email.

Returning Students

I am thinking of changing advisors. Is this allowed?

Certainly! Advisors are here to assist students. As research interests evolve (or for any other reason) a student may well decide to change advisors. In making the change I suggest that you make sure that GRA support is available if you need it. Please help your current advisor make the transition easier (for example you may time your transition to ensure that a project is completed first).

Does the University invoke any sort of time limit on the validity of a passing grade on the qualifying examination, or is it left up to the department?

Upon re-admission a student must advance to candidacy. In order to advance to candidacy, the readmitted student must demonstrate that their knowledge is current and consistent with the standards that are in effect in the program at the time of re-advancement to candidacy. The department or program will determine what constitutes an acceptable level of current knowledge on a case-by-case basis. This means the department/program can require the student to retake the comprehensive examination or otherwise demonstrate, perhaps by evidence of recent professional activity, that his/her knowledge is consistent with current standards of the department/program.

After a re-admitted student is advanced to candidacy he/she will be given four years to complete the dissertation. No extension will be granted beyond the four years

Does the answer above mean a returning student can bypass the qualifying examination based on professional activity?

The statement above refers to the case of a student who has already passed the qualifying examination at the PhD. level, but did not complete a PhD and is returning to do so.

Suppose I want to substitute for AOSC611, what do I do?

The curriculum allows for the possibility that a student may substitute AOSC 600 (not AOSC 601!) for AOSC 611. The example discussed was that of a student focusing on midlatitude air chemistry who might want less exposure to dynamics and more to synoptic systems and observations. If you fall in this (unusual) category, then you need to get written approval from your Advisor, the Graduate Director, and Chair before taking the courses, and in any event certainly not within a month of the exam date (the three aforementioned people do not want to be confronted with a fait accompli). Incidentally, in my opinion students would be wise to take 600 at some point anyhow for a variety of reasons.

Am I required to attend the Graduate Student Seminar?

Your advisor may urge you to in any event (as will I).

How do I find out about ESSIC courses and whether they are being offered this semester?

Check the ESSIC web site. Also, talk to the instructor listed as being in charge of the course.

Exams and Dissertations

Can I take the Qualifying examination partly one semester and partly another semester?

This would constitute two "tries."

How do I add a NASA/NOAA scientist to my specialty examination/dissertation committee?

Members of these committees must become members of the Graduate Faculty. The appointment procedure is described in the Graduate Catalog here .Forms are available here (see item: Nomination to the Graduate Faculty). The scientist should be appointed in the category of 'special member' of the Graduate Faculty.

Who should serve on a specialty examination committee?

Department rules govern the specialty examination. We currently require five members of the Graduate Faculty of which three must be tenure-track faculty. See the question above for information regarding appointments to the Graduate Faculty.

I've heard that there is a new 'fast-track' option to the qualifying examination. How does it work?

Graduate students with "exceptional, documented scientific achievements may, through written petition, replace the written Comprehensive Exam with a seminar followed by an oral examination."

A description of the documentation required is given in the Graduate Curriculum Page.

What are the MS and Ph.D. requirements for degrees in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Department?

The requirements are stated in the Graduate Curriculum Page.

I need an extension for admission to candidacy/completing a dissertation. Is this possible?

Yes. Extensions are normally for one year. The first can be obtained with a letter from the Graduate Director along with a letter of explanation and a timetable. The second requires a vote of the faculty in addition. A third extension is rarely permitted and you better have a very good reason.

What rules govern the formation and action of the dissertation committee including conducting the defense?

The rules governing dissertation committees are given on the Graduate School website.

Among the issues to bear in mind are the fact that the dissertation committee needs to be formed at least six weeks in advance of the final defense. The dissertation defense cannot be held until the Graduate School approves the composition of the Dissertation Examining Committee.

Dissertation committees must have a chair "who must be a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty or, by special permission, has been otherwise appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School."

Also,The Dean's Representative must be a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty at University of Maryland and must be from a graduate program other than the student's home program."

Regarding reporting of the outcome: "Following the defense, the chair, in the presence of the Dean's Representative, must inform the student of the outcome of the defense. The chair and the Dean's Representative both sign a statement indicating which of the above alternatives has been adopted. A copy of this statement is to be included in the student's file at the graduate program office, and a copy given to the student."

Finally, notice of the defense must be given to the department five working days before the defense, while the dissertation committee requires the completed dissertation a minimum of 10 working days ahead of the defense. They generally appreciate even more time.

Can I include co-authored material in the dissertation?

At the same site as above you will find: "A letter needs to be sent to the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research certifying that the student's examining committee has determined that the student made a substantial contribution to that work. This letter should also note that inclusion of the work has the approval of the dissertation adviser and the program chair or graduate director. The format of such inclusions must conform to the standard dissertation format. A forward to the dissertation, as approved by the Dissertation Committee, must state that the student made the substantial contributions to the relevant aspects of the jointly authored work included in the dissertation."

What form do I use to create a dissertation committee?

Submit the Nomination of Dissertation Committee form to the Grad School, 2107 Lee Building. This form can be found at: http://www.vprgs.umd.edu/gss/forms/Noination&Thesis.pdf

What dissertation style requirements are there?

UMCP Style Guide for Preparing Master's Theses & Doctoral Dissertationsis available from Graduate Records Office, 2117 Lee Building. There should also be a copy in the department's library. It can also be found online at: http://gradschool.umd.edu/current_students/electronic_thesis_and_dissertations_at_um.html.

I need to substitute a member of a dissertation examination committee. Is this possible?

  1. Contact Trudy Lindsey in the Graduate School as soon as possible.
  2. Submit an email request.
  3. Do not proceed until you get a written response.

When is the best time to set up the Dissertation Committee?

The Department has found that the committee should be formed immediately after the student has passed into candidacy (see university requirements for candidacy). Since the committee is a collection of the best minds on the student's chosen topic as defined by his/her prospectus, having the benefit of consultation and advice from the committee members both individually and collectively during the dissertation development period is enormously valuable and will enhance the students productivity substantially. It is commissioned to meet with the student and advisor on a regular basis throughout the Ph.D. research following the specialty examination. This is where the student learns to consider the wider implications of their research - beyond those specifically designed to satisfy the goals of a given sponsored project. Membership on this committee may change as the interests of the student evolve.

I need to write a dissertation prospectus. How long should it be and what should be in it?

In my own personal opinion the prospectus should not exceed 20 pages and could be much less. It should, however, contain the following in some form:

  • preliminary dissertation title
  • an abstract telling what you intend to do, why its important, and roughly how you intend to do it. It could even suggest what result you expect.
  • background section describing previous related work and telling the committee any information they need to evaluate the prospectus.
  • scientific methods section describing the approach to the problem and discussing any preliminary results.
  • workplan providing rough estimates for how long the work will take to complete.

The student is generally expected to give an oral presentation of the dissertation prospectus to his/her specialty examination committee and so it should be organized in such a way that it can be presented orally with minimum additional effort.

Warning...dissertation committees frequently complain of:

  1. a poorly thought out hypothesis
  2. methodologies that cannot address the hypothesis, and
  3. workplans that are wildly ambitious.

Be prepared to discuss those points.

What is the difference between the "specialty examination committee" and the "dissertation committee"?

The specialty examination committee, whose membership is described above, is a Department committee which is assigned to evaluate the student's potential to complete a satisfactory dissertation following his/her successful completion of the written and oral portion of the qualifying exam. The committee also evaluates and judges the student's dissertation prospectus.

The dissertation committee is a committee appointed by the Graduate Schoolto evaluate the student's dissertation and recommend to the university that the student has met all requirements for the Ph.D. degree and should be eligible for graduation (however note its additional role as discussed above).

The two committees are entirely separate but may contain some common membership.

Are there both Graduate School and Department requirements?

Yes, there are both Graduate School and Department requirements. The Graduate School requirements are of a broad nature and generally set minimum standards. The Department requirements have been added to address specific issues in the applied sciences. The two sets of requirements should be consistent.

I have passed my specialty examination. Who do I inform?

The Chair of your Specialty Examination Committee (normally your Advisor) should draft a letter to be entered into your file within the Department. In addition the Graduate School needs to be informed. The Application for Admission to Candidacy form is available here.

When is the deadline for submitting my MS application, Ph.D. application, dissertation, etc.?

The deadlines are listed here.

How do I get my dissertation bound?

Dissertation binding services are available through the library here. Bear in mind that there is a long delay. Not as good, but much quicker is Kinkos which offers thevelo binding. In addition, you can order bound copies when you submit your dissertation on-line at http://dissertations.umi.com/umd/.

Coursework

Is it possible to transfer credit from my previous graduate program to satisfy some of the current program requirements?

MS degree candidates

Yes. For the MS degree, as described above, no more than 6 credits can be transferred. They cannot have been used to satisfy previous degree requirements, must be graduate courses, the student must have received a grade of "B" or better, and they must be approved by the Graduate Director.

This is a Graduate School policy: The credits must be from a U.S. regionally accredited institution.

This is Department policy: The student needs to prepare a petition to the Department containing the following information for each course: course title, catalog description, transcript of course grade, and requirement for which a waiver or transfer is sought. The student submits the petition to his/her Advisor. The student's Advisor makes a recommendation and forwards the petition to the Graduate Director. The Graduate Directorcirculates the petition to the entire academic faculty for comments. The Graduate Director makes a decision, notifies the student and the Department Chair. The Chair has final decision on whether to allow the transfer. Please ask the Graduate School for the credit transfer form.

PhD Candidates

Yes. In principal Ph.D. students are required to take 30 credits of coursework. However, note: Students may petition the department for a waiver of these requirements based on credits earned at another institution at the graduate level. These rules are designed so that students are not required to repeat introductory graduate coursework unnecessarily and to progress through their academic program as rapidly as makes sense academically. Please accompany your petition with:

  1. a note or co-signature from your Academic Advisor agreeing with the request,
  2. a catalog description of the course you are substituting and grade received,
  3. the catalog description of the corresponding UMD course you are substituting for, or a discussion of why there is no corresponding UMD course

The Graduate Director will circulate the request to the academic faculty for comment for a period of 1 week and will make a decision taking into account any comments he/she receives. At the end of the process(1.5 weeks) the student should receive a decision in email form, a copy of which should go in the student's file.

Do I need to take at least one credit every semester?

Yes. However it is possible to have tuition waived.

I am an advanced Special student and am applying to join the department. Can I transfer credits toward a degree?

Yes, up to 12.

Who has to be registered during the summer? Only GRAs, or all students? Only GRAs with problems related to VISA? One or two summer semesters? Does the one credit payment waver apply also for non-GRAs?

You do not need to be registered in the summer or winter sessions to be considered a full-time student.

Where do I find the schedule of classes?

The schedule of classes is listed here.

GRAs and Research

What are the responsibilities of a student supported by a GRA?

The rights and responsibilities are laid out in the Handbook for Graduate Assistants. Note particularly, "It is not unusual in such cases for grant work and personal work to merge and for the work time to consume far more than the usual 20 hours. Graduate RAs usually follow the project director's instructions regarding work when classes are not in session."

Who do I contact in the front office for various departmental activities?

    Tammy H.
  • Graduate Students
  • Call in local facility/housekeeping jobs
  • Maintain phone/email/room assignment list
  • Seminar set-ups, announcements
  • Sonja
  • Track, order, stock supplies
  • Call FedEx/UPS, facilitate pickups
  • Tammy P.
  • Track, order, distribute keys/ids
  • Initiate travel approvals for research/tenure faculty
  • Obtain temporary passes/ids for visitors
  • June
  • Initiate research payroll action forms

What is the Code 900 Fellowship?

The Code900 Fellowship is a fellowship awarded each year to PhD students in Meteorology, Geology, or Geography who are working with, or in collaboration with, NASA scientists. No forms, just pass on the file to the Grad Director by February. The student is advised by a UMD faculty in collaboration with GSFC scientists; GSFC provides full support for the first year; after the first year, UMD faculty provides 50% support and GSFC scientist provides 50% from grants.

Maintaining Student Status

What do I need to do to maintain my student status?

"A degree-seeking student, full-time or part-time, who has not enrolled in graduate courses for two consecutive semesters and has not received written permission for a time-limited period of activity from his/her Graduate Director [as well as the advisor. This permission should be in writing. The student should retain a copy and a copy should go in the student's file], will be terminated from his/her graduate program. Normally, an approved period of inactivity should not exceed one calendar year".

The following time limits are also in force: MS students - 5 years, PhD students - 5 years (plus 4 years advancement to candidacy). Please don't take this long.

What is the timing? What communications will there be?

"Termination will become effective 90 days after the end of the 2nd consecutive semester without enrollment. ... During this 90-day period, the Graduate Director must notify the student in writing that he/she is in danger of termination."

Can students be readmitted?

Yes, but this can only happen twice.

What about credit for coursework previously taken?

Credit for coursework taken towards the MS degree will only be given for courses taken within 7 years.

What about Candidacy?

"Doctoral students who had been advanced to candidacy prior to termination due to inactivity will be required to become re-advanced to candidacy within one year of readmission." No exceptions. This re-advance may be simply a certification by the Department or it may mean retaking the qualifying examination (I don't think the Department has a policy on this as there hasn't been a recent case).

Must students register for at least one credit to maintain status?

Yes, unless the graduate school approves a waiver. According to policies enacted fall, 2005 students will be notified on the 10th day of registration for each semester that they have failed to comply with the continuous registration requirement. They will then have 90 days to appeal termination. Students who are terminated must reapply for admission.

Exit Interviews

What are the exit interviews? What is the information used for?

Beginning in the spring of 2005 we have started conducting exit interviews for students leaving our program for whatever reason. The Department is collecting this information to help us identify aspects of our teaching, research, and "quality of life" that need improvement. Please help us get better by participating in the exit interviews. The information will only be seen by the Department administration.

Conferences/Finding a Job

What opportunities are there to present my dissertation research?

Visit the websites below for upcoming meetings:

Both AMS and AGU provide travel support for graduate students.

What do I need to do besides research?

Wise advisors explain to their students that personal interactions are essential to a successful scientific career, both because of the potential for developing new ideas, and because you will require help and guidance at many times during your career. The Department provides a number of opportunities for students to interact with working scientists.

Incidentally, several books discuss science career strategies and related topics in detail along with a number of good biographies (Winning the Games Scientists Play by Carl J. Sindermann gives a variety of strategies that would have made Nicolo Machiavelli proud. Another, Put Your Science to Work by Peter Fiske, is published by the AGU [ISBN0-87590-295-2], and seems to more of a career guide, but I haven't read it).

In Case of Problems

I got a letter from the Graduate School pointing out that my GPA has been below 3.0 for (1, 2, or 3) semesters. What do I do?

In any event your first step should be to discuss the situation with your academic advisor. The seriousness of the situation is a function of how long the problem has persisted. If your GPA has been < 3.0 for 3 semesters you must request a waiver from the Graduate School (in the form of a letter) and this request must be accompanied by supporting letters from your academic advisor and the Graduate Director. This request letter must:

  1. Describe the circumstances that led you into this academic trouble &
  2. Based on the first part, your plan for getting out of academic trouble.

Note: "A student may repeat a course in order to improve the grade. Whether higher or lower, the latter grade will replace the original grade."

Who should I talk to when I have a problem (other than the usual ones)?

All students should have an Advisor. In some cases students will have both a Research Advisor and an Academic Advisor. In those cases the latter is a regular member of the Academic faculty. Your Advisor is the first person you should turn to in case of a significant problem. If that does not resolve the problem you should come and talk with the Graduate Director (Da-Lin Zhang). If the problem is still not resolved you should make an appointment to see the Department Chair (currently James Carton). Please follow this order of contact, but please do not leave unresolved problems. We are here to help!

In addition to the Department, the University has an Ombudsperson for graduate studies. This individual provides 'neutral territory' between the student and the University in order to provide some independent guidance. Typically this office handles about 200 grad student issues a year ranging from advising issues through complaints of harassment, etc.

I want to Break a Rule

I want to do something that violates any of the rules listed above. Is it possible?

Yes. The Graduate School policy regarding waivers is given here. Basically, you need to make a strong argument that there will be an academic advantage to obtaining a waiver. The form may be available here. Please accompany your waver request with a note from your Advisor agreeing with the request. The Graduate Director will circulate the request to the academic faculty for comment and will make a decision taking into account any comments he/she receives.