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.

Program Requirements

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.

PhD Profile

A profile of the BU Astronomy PhD program is available, as coordinated through Boston University’s Office of Graduate Affairs.


Additional Program Details




JJ Hermes

Assistant Professor; Director of Graduate Admissions