Academics

Introduction

The Astronomy Department at the University of Washington offers a full curriculum of courses in various fields, including planetary astronomy, stellar structure and evolution, interstellar matter, galactic structure, extragalactic astronomy, observational and theoretical cosmology, and a summer observing course using a 30-inch telescope with modern instrumentation.

The Undergraduate Program

The undergraduate program in astronomy strives not only to provide a basic bachelor’s level understanding of modern astronomy, but also to prepare students for professional graduate programs and to challenge students to develop their interests, talents, and responsibilities to society. We have one of the largest undergraduate major programs in the nation. Undergraduates are active not just in classes, but also in hands-on experiences at our Manastach Ridge observatory, a campus radio telescope project, the on-campus observatories, and in a variety of creative, faculty-mentored research programs, some of which lead to professional publications. The undergraduate and graduate programs both provide career mentoring plus a balance of field coverage and problem-solving methods. Astronomy students at all levels have an array of opportunities to engage in public outreach which build class unity while developing a sense of civic responsibility and public presentation experience.

The Graduate Program

The Department’s graduate program exists to craft generations of creative, self-confident, and committed graduates who will be our lifelong colleagues in research (about 80%), teaching (about 10%), engineering, computing, and technology development (about 10%). Our success is measured by the professional success of our PhD students. Graduate students throughout the U.S. voted our graduate program the best in the U.S. Our undergraduate program has exploded to become one of the largest in the U.S. the past five years. Public and K-12 programs have exploded under the leadership of our faculty and lecturers. Every faculty member has professional grants and grant expenditures are now twice as large as our state-funded budget. Our faculty are major users of national telescopes in space and on the ground, and one member is the Project Scientist in Project Stardust that will return samples of interplanetary dust to the U.W. campus for analysis. Our faculty have taken leadership in major astronomical projects, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Hubble Space Telescope, and detectors and cameras at the leading edge of technology. Two senior faculty have been awarded top medals for their distinguished careers and service.

Graduate Admissions

Before you apply, you need to know that graduate admission procedures vary by institution. At the UW, graduate admissions is decentralized. So although the Graduate School works closely with graduate programs on technical, administrative and policy issues, graduate programs have a great deal of autonomy. Understanding the role of the Graduate School and the role of graduate programs will help you successfully navigate graduate admissions at the UW. It will also help you know who to contact when you have questions.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Review minimum admission requirements and basic information about applying
  • Research graduate programs. Select a graduate program and review admissions requirements, deadlines and application materials. Then visit the program’s website and contact the program if you have any questions.

Courses

The “core” curriculum for graduate students is as follows, with the ‘A’ and ‘B’ sequences offered in alternate years. Depending on when a student enters the program, he or she may take Year ‘A’, with emphasis on stellar astronomy, followed by Year ‘B’, with emphasis on galactic and extragalactic astronomy, or vice versa.

YEAR A YEAR B
Autumn Thermodynamics-Statistical Mechanics (507)
Radiative Processes in Astrophysics (519)
Hydrodynamics-Magnetohydrodynamics (508)
Interstellar Matter (541)
Winter Stellar Atmospheres (521/522)
Origin of the Solar System (557)
Astrophysical Dynamics (509)
Galactic Structure (511)
Spring Stellar Interiors/Evolution (531/532)
High Energy Astrophysics (561)
Extragalactic Astronomy (512)
Cosmology (513)

It is expected that all graduate students will take the above 12 courses during their first two years, regardless of whether or not they pass the qualifying exam after their first year. Because of the importance of these courses, they should be taken for a grade, rather than credit/no-credit. Students who elect not to take one of these courses should have an extremely strong reason for doing so, and should discuss that decision in advance with the Graduate Advisor. A student who has elected not to take a course, and then does poorly on relevant questions on the qualifying exam, may be asked to take the course the next time it is offered.

Interdisciplinary Tracks

The Astronomy Department is a key participant of the UW Astrobiology (UWAB) Program and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) in Big Data and Data Science. Graduate students in Astronomy have the opportunity to be a part of these interdisciplinary programs, with the choice of graduate certificate or Ph.D. titleship. Both UWAB and IGERT programs have their own admission requirements.