Can I study climate science?

Can I study climate science at UNSW?

Many different scientific disciplines study aspects of climate using a broad range of methods.  Some projects are more numerically intensive (say, applying fluid dynamical theory to the calculation of oceanic and atmospheric flows) while others are centred on analysis of field measurements with a relatively simple theory component. All projects benefit from skills in lateral and critical thinking, synthesis, and communication.  Students are expected to develop a thorough understanding of the context of their project and master the fundamental principles behind their work, to ensure their research provides a solid foundation for their career to flourish over time.

While the background needed varies substantially depending on the specific area, certain areas of undergraduate training are particularly useful:

  • Physics (mechanics, waves, basic thermodynamics)
  • Maths (multivariate calculus, linear algebra, basic statistics, differential equations)
  • Chemistry, biology (basic or with environmental applications)
  • Environmental Sciences (meteorology, oceanography, or hydrology courses)
  • Computing (data mining, statistical analysis, data visualisation, low level languages)

Normally a student would be in good shape if they had covered about half of this; projects are also available that bridge more into social sciences and climate impacts.  Stronger background in a particular area (e.g., quantum or statistical mechanics, advanced data analysis, organic chemistry, quantitative ecology, geophysical fluid dynamics, etc.) can set a student apart and increase their chance of a research breakthrough.

We offer two types of research degrees within the CCRC:

PhD Doctor of Philosophy

The PhD degree provides training in research up to the level necessary for initiating and carrying out unsupervised original research. Like a MSc degree, the PhD requires the candidate to carry our research on an approved topic, under the supervision of a member of staff. The PhD degree, however, is longer and of a higher standard than a MSc and demands a much greater capacity for independent and original research. On completion of the research the results are incorporated into a thesis, which is submitted for examination by experts in the field. The PhD usually requires at least three years of full-time study. Part-time PhD candidature is encouraged but only for candidates who can spend at least 20 hours per week on their research and are able to maintain regular contact with the university.

A major benefit of undertaking postgraduate research in the CCRC is the opportunity to work with researchers in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. The Centre of Excellence comprises five universities, CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and some of the world's most outstanding international research organisations. Most students are co-supervised across these institutions. There are also opportunities to undertake a joint PhD across two of the Centre of Excellence universities. For more information on the Centre of Excellence, click here.

Applicants who apply for the PhD program would normally have some previous research experience and/or hold an honours or Masters’ level degree. PhD students in Australia are expected to finish in under four years and normally do little if any coursework.

Master of Science by Research

The MSc degree provides basic training in research and is usually completed over two years of full time enrolment (although can be taken part time). Each candidate is given an individual research topic and carries out research on the topic under the personal supervision of a member of staff within the CCRC. Like a PhD, upon completion of the research, the results are incorporated into a thesis, which is submitted for examination by experts in the field.


Interested? See the Postgraduate Research page.