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.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate graduate-level knowledge of astronomy and physics, including the following topics: fundamental physics and astrophysics; gravitation, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics appropriate to astronomy; and the dynamical behavior of space and astrophysical plasmas.
  • Demonstrate graduate-level knowledge of observational techniques used to study astronomical and space phenomena.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the forefront of the field through PhD-level research.
  • Ability to communicate astronomical information orally to a graduate- and faculty-level audience.
  • Ability to communicate astronomical information in written form.
  • Demonstrate critical thinking about astronomical topics as well as other technical and general scientific topics.
  • Perform original scientific research at a high level.
  • Publish original research in a dissertation and (typically peer-reviewed) journals.
  • Appropriately use and acknowledge work of others.
  • Disseminate and handle data and other research products in an appropriate manner.

Course Requirements

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

  • 24 credits must be from 4-credit astronomy (AS) courses numbered GRS AS 701–749
  • 2 credits must be from GRS AS 720 Graduate Research and Scholarship
  • 8 credits must be from 4-credit advanced AS courses numbered GRS AS 750–799 or, with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies, relevant graduate-level courses offered within Boston University. Advanced courses outside of Boston University require petition to the Astronomy faculty.
  • A total of at least 8 credits must be from completing all of the four 2-credit AS seminar courses (which may be repeated for additional credit):
    • GRS AS 850/851 Graduate Literature Seminar I and II
    • GRS AS 865/866 Graduate Research Seminar I and II
  • The remaining up-to-22 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 student-centered seminar series (AS 850/851 and/or AS 865/866) and a professional-centered scientific colloquium series each semester that they are in residence. 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 international language requirement for this degree.

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 their research and also about the student’s knowledge of related areas 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 developed by the student 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 mastery of their field 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.

Any Astronomy PhD student who has fulfilled the requirements of the MA in Astronomy can be awarded an Astronomy MA degree.