Ph.D. in Astronomy
Please note the GRS pages are the official pages regarding degree requirements:
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.
Requirements for the PhD degree:
Students must accumulate 64 credits from graduate-level classes with a grade of B– or higher. Of these, 24 credits must be from 4-credit astronomy (AS) courses numbered 701–749; 2 credits must from GRS AS 720; 8 credits must be from advanced AS courses numbered 750–799 or, with the permission of the director of graduate studies, graduate-level courses offered within Boston University. Advanced courses outside of Boston University require petition to the Astronomy faculty. In addition, 4 credits must be from any combination of 2-credit AS seminar courses (which may be repeated for credit): GRS AS 850, 851, 865 or 866. No more than 12 credits may be for classes numbered 900–919. Students entering with a master’s degree must complete 32 graduate-level credits in astronomy. The remaining up to 26 credits are normally expected to come from research courses numbered GRS AS 900–919. In addition to the requirements listed above, all students are expected to participate in a journal club and seminar series each semester that they are in residence. Students with prior graduate work may be able to transfer course credits.
(2) Oral Qualifying Examination
Students must pass an Oral Qualifying Examination by the end of their third academic year. During the year preceding the Oral Qualifying Examination, 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 dissertation. It is expected that the directed research will lead to publishable results, but publication prior to the Oral Qualifying Examination is not required.
The Oral Qualifying Examination is largely based on the directed research: the student presents the results of the research in a seminar setting and is examined afterward by a panel consisting of the student’s research advisor and at least two other members of the Department of Astronomy faculty. The panel questions the student about his or her research and also about the student’s knowledge of related areas of physics and astronomy.
A Guide to the Oral Qualifying Examination was prepared by the Astronomy Faculty in 2020.
(3) 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 First and Second Readers for the dissertation are identified. The student and his/her advisor select three or four additional members of the PhD dissertation steering 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 Astronomy Department Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and/or the Department Chair. A prospectus of the dissertation must be approved by the student’s PhD dissertation steering committee, reviewed by and approved by the DGS and Chair at least 6 months prior to the final oral examination. The prospectus is subject to further review by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The PhD dissertation steering committee should meet with the candidate at least twice per calendar year to monitor the candidate’s progress toward completing the dissertation.
(4) 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 (usually staffed by the student’s former PhD dissertation steering committee members).
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.