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Ph.D. Degree Program

The Ph.D. degree is for students who wish to pursue a career in academic research in astronomy or related fields.  Candidates for the Ph.D. degree undertake research programs that explore new horizons in astronomy, astrophysics, astrochemistry, and cosmology.  A master's degree is not required for admission to the Ph.D. program. Average completion time is ~6 years for students entering with a bachelor’s degree. 

Degree Requirements

The Graduate College requires 96 hours of coursework for the PhD, including research units in ASTR 590 and ASTR 599. Most astronomy students having half-time assistantships take 8 hours per semester plus 4 to 8 hours in the summer, so the total credit requirement may be fulfilled in approximately 4-5 years.

Required Courses Required Hours-Entering with approved M.A./M.S. degree Required Hours-Entering with approved B.A./B.S. degree
Formal Coursework:    
    • ASTR 501, ASTR 502 81 8
    • Additional formal coursework (excluding thesis research, non-thesis research, and independent study credit hours, e.g., ASTR 599, ASTR 590) 0 24
        • Of the additional coursework, the minimum number of hours in the unit (excluding thesis research, non-thesis research, and independent study credit hours) N/A 8
        • Of the additional coursework, the minimum number of 500-level hours (excluding thesis research, non-thesis research, and independent study credit hours) N/A 8 (4 in the unit)
        • Based on Proficiency Exam results, students may be required to complete ASTR 404, 405, 406, and/or 414 during their first year. A maximum of 8 hours of these courses may be applied to the degree. 8 max 8 max
Research/Project/Independent Study Hours (e.g., ASTR 590; min/max applied toward degree): 4 min / 24 max 4 min / 32 max
Thesis Hours Required: (e.g., ASTR 599; min/max applied toward degree): 32 min / 52 max 32 min / 60 max
Total Hours 64 96
Other Requirements:    
    • Minimum GPA 3.0 3.0
    • Masters Degree Required Before Admission to PhD? N/A No
    • Proficiency in Advanced Undergraduate Astronomy (see below) Yes Yes
    • Qualifying Exam Required No No
    • Preliminary Exam Required Yes Yes
    • Final Exam/Dissertation Defense Required Yes Yes
    • Dissertation Deposit Required Yes Yes

1. Students entering with an approved M.A. or M.S. degree may proficiency out of ASTR 501 and/or ASTR 502 with departmental approval.  Other ASTR graduate courses must be taken for substitute credit hours.

Demonstrated Proficiency in Advanced Undergraduate Astronomy (ASTR 404, 405, 406, and 414) 

Students must show proficiency in the four courses by one of the following options:

  • Pass the appropriate section of the proficiency exam (four sections aligned to the four courses), which is offered at the start of every Fall semester.  A student can petition to take the exam once more the following year.  The decision on petition approval by the graduate advisor will depend on the student’s background and proficiency plan.
  • Pass the course with a B grade or better.
  • Students who have had an equivalent course at other institutions (B grade or better) may petition for those courses to count as proficiency.
Under normal circumstances, students are expected to pass all sections of the exam or pass the appropriate course (or equivalent) before the start of the 3rd semester of graduate study.

First Summer Research Project (4 hours)

During the first summer in residence, each student will enroll in ASTR 590 (Independent Study) and will complete a research project with an Astronomy Department faculty member.  A paper reporting the results is required, which must be prepared in scientific journal style and approved by the faculty member.

Preliminary Examination 

Ph.D. Preliminary Examination consists of a written preliminary paper on the Ph.D. research topic and an oral examination. It must be passed by the end of the third year of study.

Dissertation/Final Examination

Completion of an original research project culminating in a dissertation publishable in whole or in part is required. The final examination is a defense of the doctoral dissertation. The Graduate College does require that all doctoral candidates be registered for the entire academic term during which they take the final examination, regardless of when the thesis will be deposited or when the degree will be conferred.


Students must satisfy all general University residence requirements. In addition, students must satisfy all Graduate College requirements. Students should pay particular attention to the Graduate College policies on the composition of preliminary and final examination committees.

For additional details and requirements refer to the Graduate College Handbook.

Approved by the University Senate, May 2011