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. The program mainly consists of courses in astronomy and original research conducted under the guidance of a faculty advisor.
Students normally enter this program with an undergraduate degree in astronomy, physics, or another physical science. During the first academic year, students generally concentrate on coursework; a research area is usually chosen during the first or second year. Research, the most important part of the graduate program, occupies much of the student’s time after the first year. Students must pass a qualifying examination by the end of their third academic year. The purpose of this examination, based mostly on a directed research project, is to ensure that the student has the preparation and the ability to conduct the original research required for the PhD dissertation. Students submit a dissertation prospectus under the guidance of a faculty advisory committee and continue performing original research. Once they have written their dissertation, students undergo a dissertation defense.
Degree 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 (or signed) 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.
The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Bulletin outlines the requirements for the PhD in Astronomy, including:
- 64 credits of Coursework (including directed and independent research credits) at the 700-level or above
- Seminar series participation
- Qualifying Examination
- Dissertation and Final Oral Examination
- Satisfactory Academic Progress for PhD degree
Graduate Student Funding
The Graduate School of Arts & Science guarantees five years of full funding for PhD students who maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. Graduate students are supported through University Fellowships, Teaching Fellowships, and/or Research Fellowships. The normal pathway is for students to receive Teaching or University Fellowships during their first year or two and to be supported with Research Fellowships after that, while working closely with individual faculty members on research.
Funding beyond five years is generally provided (but not guaranteed) to students who are working productively toward the PhD degree. Visit GRS Financial Aid – Aid for PhD Students for more information.
A profile of the BU Astronomy PhD program is available, as coordinated through Boston University’s Office of Graduate Affairs.
Additional Program Details
Academic Progress Timeline
YEAR 1 —
By End of First Year
- Completion of AS 701, AS 703, and AS720
- Completion of up to 2 of the additional courses numbered AS 704-749 offered that year
YEAR 2 —
No Later than End of Second Year
- Completion of the remaining 2 courses numbered AS 705-749
YEAR 3 —
No Later than End of Third Year
- Completion of 4 credits for the astronomy seminar courses: GRS AS 850, 851, 865, or 866
YEAR 4 —
No Later than End of First Semester of the Fourth Year
- Passing grade on the Oral Qualifying Examination
No Later than End of Fourth Year
- Selection of the members of the student’s PhD Dissertation Steering Committee, including the First and Second Readers of the dissertation
- Interim Progress Report submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) by the end of the Spring semester, to be prepared in consultation with, and approved by the members of the PhD Dissertation Steering Committee.
YEAR 5 —
No Later than End of Fifth Year
- Interim Progress Report submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) by the end of the Spring semester, to be prepared in consultation with, and approved by the members of the PhD Committee.
YEAR 6 —
No Later than the End of Sixth Year
- Dissertation Prospectus submitted to the DGS and GRS no later than 6 months before the Final Oral Exam. Review the Graduate School’s PhD Graduation Checklists for year-specific deadlines.
YEAR 7 —
No Later than the End of Seventh Year
- Coursework: complete all required courses.
- Dissertation & Final Oral Examination:
A student must be registered in the preceding semester and in the semester during which the degree requirements are completed.
Dissertation Deadline Schedule Dissertation Abstract Approved by the DGS and Chair, and submitted to GRS at least three weeks prior to Final Oral Exam. Properly Formatted Draft of Thesis Submitted to Readers and GRS at least three weeks before Final Oral Exam. Final Oral Exam – A presentation of PhD research to the student’s PhD Examination Committee and an audience of departmental students and faculty.
– Examination of the candidate’s dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in astronomy, astrophysics, or space physics. Also must demonstrate mastery of their field of specialization.
– At least four members of the PhD examining committee must vote to pass the candidate.
Dissertation 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’ PhD Graduation Guide for the precise format and submission requirements for the dissertation.
- Dissertation & Final Oral Examination:
Satisfactory Academic Progress
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GRS) and the Astronomy Department guarantee five full years (12 months each) of financial support for students who maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. This support will be in the form of Teaching Fellowships, Research Fellowships, or Graduate Fellowships. Funding beyond five years is generally provided (but not guaranteed) to students who are working productively toward the PhD degree. The time limit for completion of the PhD is seven years (exceptions require a petition to GRS). A leave of absence of up to two semesters is permitted for appropriate cause, but the leave period counts towards the seven-year time limit. All classes must be completed with a grade of B- or better to maintain satisfactory academic progress, with an overall GPA no lower than 3.0 (on a 4-point scale).
The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences requires graduate students to maintain Good Academic Standing in order to remain enrolled in their graduate program and/or to retain GRS scholarship and/or fellowship support. The GRS criteria for Good Academic Standing are as follows:
- Have no more than two failing or W grades.
- Meet all milestones of the degree, such as comprehensive exams, qualifying exams, and dissertation prospectus, on the schedule specified by the program.
- Meet all milestones of the degree with sufficient quality of work as specified by the program.
- Satisfactorily fulfill all service fellowship obligations, as specified by the program.
“A student in a Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) PhD degree program is required to have an advisor who is a member of the faculty in the student’s department or program. If an advisor is not assigned in advance of registration, the student should consult the Department Chair/Program Director or Director of Graduate Studies about assignment procedures. The First Reader of the candidate’s dissertation committee will normally be the student’s advisor once he/she has begun the dissertation stage of their degree.” — GRS Bulletin
An Astronomy graduate student traditionally has two faculty advisors: the Director of Graduate Studies and a research advisor. The Director of Graduate Studies serves as the academic advisor for all students in the program; a student’s research supervisor serves as their advisor for research activities and dissertation work.
Department Program Petition
Students seeking approval of changes to Astronomy Department rules and procedures related to the PhD program should complete the Department of Astronomy General Petition for Changes in Graduate Studies to request such changes (*). The completed petition form is reviewed by the student’s Faculty Advisor as well as the Director of Graduate Studies.
*Note: Requirements for petitioning changes to Graduate School rules can be found on the GRS Bulletin Policies website, and are not covered by the Astronomy Department petition form.