PhD in Astronomy

The PhD program in Astronomy prepares students to engage in research at the forefront of their field and to begin a position in academia or research. Students normally enter this program with an undergraduate degree in astronomy, physics, or another physical science.

Course Requirements

In addition to the requirements listed below, all 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 a total of four academic credits toward their degree by taking these courses.

Students must accumulate 64 credits with a grade of B− or higher from graduate-level classes. Course requirements are as follows:

  • 32 credits must be 4-credit astronomy (AS) courses numbered GRS 701–749
  • 12 credits must be 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 research preparation courses (or approved substitutes), including:
    • GRS AS 802 Graduate Research and Scholarship
    • GRS AS 803 Research Methods in Astronomical Data Analysis
  • 4 credits of AS seminar courses:
    • GRS AS 850/851 Astrophysics Seminar
    • GRS AS 865/866 Space Physics Seminar

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

Students with prior graduate work may be able to transfer course credits. For details, see the GRS Transfer of Credits policy.

Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for this degree.

Comprehensive Examination

Students must pass both the written Astronomy Comprehensive Examination and the Oral Qualifying Examination. The written 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 knowledge of the material covered in the core courses (GRS AS 700–749) and application of basic physical principles. The written Comprehensive Exam must be passed no later than the spring semester of a student’s second year in the program.

After passing the written 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.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates must demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in astronomy, astrophysics, or space physics. They must also demonstrate a mastery of their fields of specialization. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

It is possible for a student admitted to the Astronomy PhD program to leave the program with an MA degree only. This may occur if the student fails to complete the PhD requirements and/or if the student decides that he or she no longer wishes to remain in the PhD program. To exit the program with an MA, the student must fulfill all of the requirements listed for the MA in Astronomy.