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Graduate Program

The goal of the graduate program in astronomy is education and mentoring of our students toward their long-term careers in research and teaching in astronomy or related STEM fields. More specifically, the program aims to produce doctoral graduates with a broad knowledge of Astronomy, effective communication skills, and experience in cutting-edge research.

Broad knowledge of Astronomy is gained through a full set of graduate astronomy courses covering every major research area in astrophysics (see the curriculum on the Timeline & Requirements page). For most students, the curriculum during each quarter of their first two years includes: one core graduate course and one elective graduate course astronomy, which provide a sequenced set; a third formal course in a related field (e.g., astrobiology, physics, statistics, computer science, etc.) and/or faculty supervised research; and, weekly participation in astronomy colloquium, seminars, and journal club. Visit Courses for a full listing of graduate courses offered by the Astronomy Department.

Effective communication skills are gained partly through the required one year of service as a teaching assistantship.  This is usually done during the student’s first year.  Being a teaching assistant also helps to broaden knowledge of astronomy.  Other activities that help with communication skills include the journal club class, in which students present recent literature to their peers.  Many of the graduate courses also require oral presentations.  For those students wishing to hone their teaching skills, opportunities are available to be an instructor during the summer term.

Development of research skills starts in the first year.  Graduate students are expected to start with a small research project with a faculty member while they are taking classes.  This first research project is expect to lead to the “Research Qualifier”, where the student submits a 5-10 page journal-quality write-up of the research project to be evaluated by a faculty committee, and gives an oral presentation.  This first project does NOT have to be related to the student’s Ph.D. project, allowing students to explore various areas of modern astronomy and astrophysics. 

After completing the required course work and the Research Qual, the student is expected to focus on research leading to the Ph.D. dissertation, which is usually completed around the 6th year.

Before becoming a Ph.D. candidate, the student must pass the “General Exam”, which is an oral presentation by the student on a topic related to the Ph.D. research topic.  As well as demonstrating that the student is ready for state-of-the-art research in the area of interest, this exam is yet another opportunity for the student to improve their communication skills.

Our program emphasizes the Ph.D. degree. However, students are eligible to receive a M.S. degree when they have met the Graduate School requirements, and most students obtain this degree along the way.