Should I study climate science?

Climate change and natural climate variations are two of the most important issues facing Australia and the world in the 21st century.  The need for students who understand environmentally relevant physical sciences has never been greater.  Demand is currently high for graduates of programs in this area worldwide. Most of us here at the CCRC study quantitatively the atmosphere, ocean and land surface or how they work together.  This can have applications not only to climate but to fisheries, weather forecasting, water resource management and many others.  

Recent PhD graduates from the CCRC have gone on to research positions at CSIRO and in several overseas research institutions.  A Masters’ or Honours degree can be a stepping-stone to the PhD, or a great asset to anyone seeking non-research employment in areas that will be affected by environmental issues and changes, where good scientific training and rigorous decision-making are highly regarded.

Can I do it?

Many different scientific disciplines study aspects of climate using many methods.  Some projects are more hard-core (say, applying fluid dynamical theory to the calculation of oceanic and atmospheric flows) while others are centered 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 master the fundamentals behind their project, so as to ensure their research is solid and to provide a 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:

  1. Physics (mechanics, waves, basic thermodynamics)
  2. Maths (multivariate calculus, linear algebra, basic statistics, differential equations)
  3. Chemistry, biology (basic or with environmental applications)
  4. Environmental Sciences (meteorology, oceanography, or hydrology courses)

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.

Applicants who do a PhD normally should show previous research experience and/or hold an honours or Masters’ level degree, though these are not absolute requirements.  PhD students in Australia are expected to finish in under four years and normally do little if any coursework.

I’m interested.  What do I do next?

First, you should have a look through our staff and research pages to get a better idea of which experts here you might want to work with, and contact them for project ideas. For details about different courses please go to the CCRC postgraduate and undergraduate study pages.

Latest news

Dr Michael Molitor Public lecture - De-carbonising for growth: why everyone is wrong about the costs of addressing climate change
20 April 2014
We will rapidly de-carbonize the global energy system not because we care sufficiently about the enormous risks flowing from a climate system profoundly modified by human activity but because, in the absence of this gigantic infrastructure investment opportunity, we will never generate sufficient economic growth between now and 2050. This inevitable outcome has dramatic implications for Australia's future energy supply and prosperity.

Plastic bottle caps found in the ocean (source: NOAA PIFSC) Ocean debris leads the way for castaway fisherman
05 February 2014
The fisherman who washed up on the Marshall Islands last weekend was very lucky to have stranded on a remote beach there. The currents in the Pacific Ocean would have inevitably taken him into the great garbage patch of the North Pacific, where he could then have been floating for centuries to come.

Man in heat wave Get used to heat waves: extreme El Niņo events to double
20 January 2014
Extreme weather events fuelled by unusually strong El Niņos, such as the 1983 heatwave that led to the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Australia, are likely to double in number as our planet warms.

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