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.

UW Astro Grads 2017
UW Astro Grads 2017

Broad knowledge of Astronomy is gained through a full set of graduate astronomy courses covering every major research area in astrophysics (see the curriculum below). 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.

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.  Students are expected to start with a small research project with a faculty member while they are taking classes.  This first research project is expect to lead 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 project does NOT have to be related to the student’s Ph.D. project.

After two years the student will have completed the required course work, and the Research Qual, and the focus turns to research leading to the Ph.D. dissertation, which is usually completed around the 6th year.

Before becoming a Ph.D. candidate, the student must pass the “General Exam”, which is an oral presentation by the student on a topic related to the 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.

Although most students obtain a masters degree along the way, our program emphasizes the doctoral degree.  Students are eligible to receive a master’s degree after adequate “mastery” in the required courses, and when they have met the Graduate School requirements.

Core Curriculum

The “core” curriculum for graduate students is a series of 8 courses , of which the student needs to complete 7. A typical sequence of core course 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.

Autumn Radiative Transfer/Stellar Atmospheres (519) Interstellar Matter (541)
Winter Thermodynamics/Hydrodynamics (507) Galactic/Extragalactic (511)
Spring Stellar Interiors/Evolution (531)
Exoplanets and Planets (557)
Cosmology (513)
Summer Observing (581)

Students must register for at least 10 credits each quarter. Typically 6 of these are from formal courses, with additional credits coming from Journal Club (575 – 1 credit), in which each student presents a paper of general interest, and Colloquium (576 – 1 credit), in which visiting faculty give lectures to the entire department. The remaining 2 credits may come from other courses of the student’s choice, or from independent research with a faculty member (600).

In addition to the core courses, there are other courses which the student may elect to take, both in the Astronomy department, in in other department, such as Nuclear Astrophysics (cross-listed with the Physics Department) and courses in Planetary Astronomy and Observation and Instrumentation. Click here for a full listing of graduate courses offered by the Astronomy Department.