Astronomy PHD programs

Astronomy / June 23, 2019

The objective of our PhD program is to prepare students for careers in astronomical research and university-level education. To accomplish this, we emphasize:

  • Acquisition of a broad knowledge of astronomy and familiarity with both observational and theoretical techniques;
  • Exposure to a variety of advanced and specialized topics in modern astronomy;
  • Extensive "hands-on" research, including supervised research projects undertaken in the first years of graduate school;
  • Experience presenting talks reviewing the literature and describing new research.
  • Formulation of an original dissertation research project;
  • Experience writing research papers and observing proposals;
  • Publication of results in peer-reviewed journals; and
  • Public defense of the research before IfA astronomers and other scientists.

As the introduction to the Astronomy Graduate Program indicates, there are two possible paths toward a PhD in astronomy. Students starting with a Bachelor's degree (or a Master's degree in a field unrelated to astronomy) take a series of courses and research projects during their first two years. Students who already have a Master's degree or equivalent in astronomy, physics, or a closely related field are exempt from many of the requirements. Both paths converge at the Qualifying Examination, which is required of all students. Subsequently, all students propose a dissertation topic in the Comprehensive Examination, research and write a PhD dissertation, and defend it in a Final Examination.

Students entering with BA/BS degrees

Most students enter our program with Bachelor's degrees. During their first two years, they are required to take a series of courses and to undertake two directed research projects. They progress toward the PhD by taking the Qualifying Exam about one month after the end of their fourth semester.

Formal requirements


  • Maintain cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Take and pass Qualifying Exam
  • Research and write Dissertation
  • Take and pass Final Exam/Defense within seven years of admission


  • Take 30 credits of grad-level astronomy (or equivalent – ), including:
    • ASTR 633 (Astrophysical Techniques)
    • At least 3 credits of ASTR 7XX
    • No more than 9 credits of ASTR 699 counting toward this total
  • Satisfactorily complete two directed research projects
  • Pass Qualifying Exam by start of 5th semester

Getting a MS degree

The departmental requirements for students entering the PhD program with a Bachelor's degree are a super-set of the requirements for students earning a "non-thesis" (Plan B) Master's degree; consequently, students passing the Qualifying Exam earn a MS degree while continuing toward the PhD. See "Receiving the MS degree" for instructions on how to collect your sheepskin.