PhD in Astronomy

Coursework

Students entering the program without a master’s degree must accumulate 64 credits from graduate-level classes with a grade of B− or higher. Of these:

  • 32 credits must be for 4-credit astronomy (AS) courses numbered GRS 701–749
  • 12 credits must be for advanced AS courses numbered GRS 750–799 or, with the permission of the director of graduate studies, graduate-level physics or engineering courses
  • 4 credits must be for the research preparation courses GRS AS 802 and 803 or approved substitutes
  • 4 credits for the astronomy seminar courses: GRS AS 850, 851, 865, or 866

No more than 12 credits may be for classes numbered GRS AS 900–919.

Students entering with a master’s degree must complete 32 graduate-level credits in astronomy. Of these:

  • at least 12 credits must be for AS classes numbered GRS 701–749
  • 12 credits must be for AS courses numbered GRS 750–799
  • 4 credits must be for the AS seminar courses: GRS 850, 851, 865, or 866

No more than 4 credits may be for classes numbered GRS 900–919.

Both post-bachelor and post-master’s students are expected to participate in a journal club and seminar series (GRS AS 850, 851, 865, 866) each semester that they are in residence, although they will only receive four academic credits toward their degree.

Written Comprehensive Examination

Students must pass both the written Astronomy Comprehensive Examination and the Oral Qualifying Examination (see below). The Comprehensive Exam consists of two 3-hour written tests administered on two separate days. The exam is designed to test the student’s ability to solve quantitative problems in astrophysics and space physics using both his/her knowledge of the material covered in the core courses (GRS AS 700–749), as well as application of basic physical principles. The Comprehensive Exam must be passed no later than the spring of a student’s second year in the program.

Oral Qualifying Examination

After passing the Comprehensive Examination, a student must take the Oral Qualifying Examination within the subsequent academic year. During this year the student should undertake a directed research project with a member of the faculty. Ideally, the research should lead to a potential dissertation topic. The purpose of this directed research is to ensure that the student has the preparation and the ability to conduct the original research required for the PhD thesis. It is expected that the directed research will lead to publishable results.

The Oral Qualifying Examination is based on the directed research: the student presents the results of the research in a formal seminar and is examined afterward by a panel consisting of the student’s research advisor and other members of the Department of Astronomy faculty. The panel questions the student, not only about his or her research, but also about the student’s knowledge of related fields of physics and astronomy.

PhD Dissertation

The PhD dissertation can be on any topic in astronomy, astrophysics, or space physics. The dissertation must represent original scientific research that contributes substantially to the advancement of the field. Within three months of successful completion of the Oral Qualifying Exam, the student selects a tentative dissertation topic and the department assigns first and second readers for the dissertation. The student and his/her advisor select four additional members of the PhD examining committee. At least one of the members of the PhD examining committee must be from outside the Department of Astronomy and preferably from outside Boston University. The membership of the committee must be approved by the department.

A prospectus of the dissertation must be approved by the PhD examining committee, reviewed by the Department of Astronomy faculty, and further approved by the department chair and director of graduate studies at least one calendar year prior to the final oral examination. The prospectus is subject to further review by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The PhD examining committee should meet with the candidate at least twice per calendar year to monitor the candidate’s progress toward completing the dissertation.

Final Oral Examination

Candidates must defend their dissertations as worthy contributions to scientific knowledge and demonstrate mastery of related fields of physics and astronomy. The defense is carried out at a final oral examination, consisting of a public presentation of the dissertation research and an examination of the candidate by the PhD examining committee.

An abstract summarizing the research and the scientific results of the dissertation must be submitted to the readers at least five weeks prior to the final oral examination. The abstract is limited to a maximum of 350 words and must be written in proper, formal English. Upon approval of a final draft by the readers, the abstract must be approved by the chair and director of graduate studies of the Department of Astronomy and submitted to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at least three weeks prior to the final oral examination. Prior to the examination the abstract is made available for comment to all members of the Department of Astronomy faculty. Abstracts are subject to review by the Graduate School as well as by the Provost.

At least four members of the PhD examining committee must vote to pass the candidate. Failure to achieve four votes of “pass” constitutes a failure, in which case the candidate must leave the PhD program without obtaining the PhD degree. Upon successful completion of the final oral examination, the final version of the dissertation and abstract, as revised following comments and suggestions by the PhD examination committee and the Department of Astronomy faculty, must be approved by the readers, as well as by the chair and director of graduate studies of the Department of Astronomy. The candidate should consult the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences for the precise format and number of copies of the dissertation to be submitted to the Graduate School. Please refer to the Forms, Policies & Procedures page of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences website for further information and required forms.