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 research rotations, spending 2-3 quarters on different projects with multiple faculty.  It is the hope that one of these rotations leads 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 qualifying 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. In preparation, the student must pass the “General Exam”, which is an oral presentation by the student on a topic related to a proposed 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. At this point, the student becomes a Ph.D. candidate, and spends most (if not all) of their time writing. The dissertation is usually completed around the 6th year, after which our students go on to many wonderful careers (see Graduate Outcomes).

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. 

Graduate Program News

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Congratulations to Lupita Tovar for winning a Presentation Award at the National Diversity in STEM Conference, which was recently held by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science in Portland, Oregon. Tovar's presentation was on "The Impacts of Stellar Magnetic Activity on Exoplanet Environments". SACNAS Blog Post
The 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society was a stellar success for UW Astronomy! More than 100 UW-affiliated registrants made an impressive showing on our home turf with press releases, undergraduate iPosters, and sessions packed with UW research. As the AAS and astronomy community at large return to masked, in-person events, new forms of communication and collaboration emerged as key themes of the conference. Read on for a handful of ways that UW Astronomy shone at this winter’s… Read more