Why Choose UW Astrobiology?

The UW Astrobiology Program (UWAB) is a leader in the fields of astrobiology education, research, and training, having established the first astrobiology program in the nation more than a decade ago. Our students come from diverse backgrounds – personally, professionally, and academically – and work side-by-side with faculty members, researchers, and fellow students in a highly collaborative learning community.

The UWAB Graduate Program offers two credentials: a Graduate Certificate in Astrobiology and a Dual-Title PhD in Astrobiology. The Graduate Certificate is available to students enrolled in master- and doctoral-level studies in a wide range of departments. The Dual-Title PhD curriculum is available only to students enrolled in specific UWAB-affiliated doctoral programs. Although many universities offer undergraduate astrobiology courses, UWAB is one of few to offer structured, interdisciplinary training at the graduate level, and with over 20 credits of required coursework, is arguably the most rigorous. Our students consistently come out on top—many receiving competitive fellowships (NESSF, NSF-GRFP), and winning prizes for their research at conferences nationwide (AbSciCon, ISME, LPSC).

To support our graduate program, UWAB has nearly thirty faculty members, spanning multiple astrobiology-related departments—several of whom are appointed as dedicated astrobiology faculty. UWAB faculty belong to many different research groups, and work on a variety of topics, including understanding the history of life on Earth, exploring life in extreme environments today, and studying the possibilities for life both elsewhere in our solar system and on extrasolar planets. The UWAB community also includes UW’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) team, one of fifteen competitively selected members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

In addition to performing pioneering research, our faculty makes a significant impact on the broader community. Many of our faculty members have taken on leadership roles within the scientific community (e.g. NAI Executive Council), helping to identify priorities for the future of research (NASA’s AB Roadmap, NRC Reports), as well as contributing to the design, operation, and leadership of key spaceflight missions (e.g. NASA’s Kepler, MSL, Spitzer, Hubble, EPOXI, Stardust, Phoenix). They have also organized and participated in educational opportunities for the public (e.g. UWAB’s Fall Colloquium series, other public lectures, and presentations at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center), and for the next generation of scientists (e.g. Santander Summer School in Astrobiology).

Maintaining a diverse and well-integrated community is a priority for UWAB, and our student body reflects this, with more than half of our students being female and/or minorities. The small size of our program and the variety of activities our students participate in together ensure that our student body is also highly cohesive, and this helps to facilitate the cross-discipline collaboration that UWAB strives for.

From the UWAB curriculum, students gain a broad overview of the field of astrobiology, a functional familiarity with methods and concepts from a number of different fields, and the ability to communicate effectively across disciplines. Expanding beyond traditional classroom-based coursework, our students’ research often takes them to exciting locales—analog environments, observatories, research vessels, and other field sites stretching from the equator to the poles. Students also participate in annual workshops, which are typically multi-day field trips involving hands-on research experience, as well as technical lectures from experts in the field. In addition to research training, UWAB students are also coached in professional development, preparing them for success and leadership in the scientific community.

Since its inception in 1999, UWAB has trained over twenty-five astrobiologists. Our graduates have gone on to science and education careers in a variety of environments spanning the globe, including research universities (e.g. Princeton, Northwestern, St. Andrews), NASA centers (e.g. Ames Research Center, Jet Propulsion Lab, Kennedy Space Center), liberal arts colleges, private research institutes, and startups; and many of our researchers have been recipients of prize postdoctoral fellowships (e.g. NPP, CITA, CIERA). A recent interview with several of our alumni reflects the consistently high praise our students have for their experiences in the UWAB program, and for the preparation it has given them in meeting their career goals.

To learn more about our graduates and their career paths, see our Alumni page.

For more information on our faculty members and their research interests, check out our Faculty profiles.

To learn more about the topics our researchers are interested in, check out our Research Areas page.

To see what’s been happening in the UWAB community lately, take a look at some of our recent e-Newsletters.

Photo (From top to bottom:) 1) David Smith (Ph.D Biology & Astrobiology - 2012) and Luke Roberson (NASA) performing microgravity research. 2) UWAB student Aomawa Shields (shown with Mary Voytek (NASA) and Carl Pilcher (NAI)) won first place in the national Student Poster Competition at AbSciCon 2012. 3) UWAB's Jeff Bowman doing field research in Antarctica. 4) Students with the Curiosity Rover double during a field trip to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Fall 2012). 5) UWAB Student Meg Smith during a trip to Iceland.

Our students develop a broad understanding of the field of astrobiology, while gaining hands-on experience with exciting research topics! See end of page for captions.