Graduate Program Overview
This statement summarizes the curriculum, the procedures, and the regulations that make up the graduate program in Astronomy and Astrophysics; it is intended to serve as a guide to both students and faculty members. Not included here are the general regulations of the University and of the Division of the Physical Sciences; for these the quarterly Time Schedules and the Graduate Announcements should be consulted.
The Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs is the Academic Advisor to graduate students. Students should consult regularly with the Academic Advisor concerning their programs and progress, and questions concerning the graduate program or its administration should be directed to the Academic Advisor. In the period before the student has a thesis committee, the Academic Advisor has the authority to approve substitutions to the standard list of courses where appropriate. Graduate students are under the general supervision of the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs, the Chair of the Department, and of the Dean of Students of the Division of the Physical Sciences. For some purposes, it is appropriate for students to consult with the Chairman or with the Dean of Students.
Outline of the Program
A student normally enters graduate study in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics with an undergraduate degree in Physics or in another Physical Science. During the first and second academic years, each student will split their time taking core courses and conducting research. At the end of the student's second academic year, the Candidacy Examination for admission to doctoral research is taken. By the student's third year, he/she should have made progress in soliciting faculty sponsorship and be on track with their research goals. The expectation is to complete the program in four to five years.
Course Requirements for the Ph.D.
First and Second Year students
The normal program of courses for the first and second year students is as follows: Year 1
- Autumn quarter: ASTR 30100 Stars
- Winter quarter: ASTR 30300 Interstellar Matter
- Spring quarter: ASTR 30400 Galaxies
- Autumn quarter: ASTR 31000 Cosmology
- Winter quarter: ASTR 31100 High Energy Astrophysics
- Spring quarter: ASTR 30600 Detection of Radiation
In addition to the required courses, first years are to attend a regular weekly program of Faculty Research Seminars (FRS), first and second years are to attend weekly Graduate Student Research Seminars, and all students are required to attend weekly colloquia. These activities inform students of the broad range of research opportunities available to them in the department. Much of the program for first and second year students is dedicated to research which may consist of projects one quarter, or longer, in duration.
The following course are typically taught in the department, and will provide more depth in particular research areas then is given in the six core courses listed above:
- ASTR 31300: Extragalactic Studies
- ASTR 31500: Dynamics of Fluids
- ASTR 31600: Dynamics of Particles
- ASTR 32000: Relativistic Astrophysics
- ASTR 32100: Cosmology
- ASTR 33000: Computational Physics and Astrophysics
- ASTR 34000: Statistical Methods in Astrophysics
- ASTR 36100: Interstellar Matter
- ASTR 38x00: Topics in the history of astronomy or, History of the Telescope
*The some of the above courses are taught in alternate years. Note:
students should consult with the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs, or advisor, on appropriate courses to take that coordinate with their research interests.
STEP I: FALL AFTER 1 YEAR IN DEPARTMENT
The student makes an oral presentation (~20 minutes) to the committee on a minor research project (one that took 1 or 2 quarters). This will be followed by questions about the project and about more general issues in astronomy, with aim of determining whether the student is making sufficient progress towards the goals listed at the bottom of this page. Based on the exam, courses, and feedback from advisor[s], the committee will provide feedback to the student. In rare cases this may include the requirement to re-take a course. The Candidacy Committee will provide written reports to the student, Academic Chair, and Advisor. STEP II: JUNE OF THE 2ND YEAR
Student makes an oral presentation on a major project (3-4 quarters of research) accompanied by written report. The report should include a full bibliography of all relevant work (as in a standard scientific publication). If the student played a major role in writing a paper, this can be used in lieu of the written report. The presentation will be followed by questions about the work and the broader context, so that the entire oral exam will typically last between 90-120 minutes. Scope of Exam:
Questions are likely to begin with motivations for the research, history, and references and then extend to courses related to the work. For example, a report on Gravitational Lensing in the Dark Energy Survey will likely be followed by questions about cosmology (31000) and detection of radiation (30600). The committee will also probe the students knowledge in any core course in which a grade lower than B was obtained. STEP III. EVALUATION
After Step 2, the committee will consider the student's presentations, input from his advisor on the project, and grades and comments from instructors of the core courses, and decide on a grade of pass or fail. The committee will convey that information to the Academic Chair. The student may be required to re-take one or more courses. To pass the exam, a student must demonstrate:
- Skill at the analysis of a research problem and presentation of that analysis in oral and written presentations
- A broad general knowledge of astronomy and astrophysics as reflected in a grade point average in the core courses of 3.0 or above
- A maturing, deeper technical knowledge of one or more subfields of astronomy and astrophysics as reflected in thoughtful responses to questions at the oral exam.
Teaching Requirement for the Ph.D.
A further requirement for the Ph.D. is that a student must fulfill a practicum in teaching for a minimum of two quarters. This teaching program need not be accomplished during consecutive quarters, nor in a single year, but it must involve the following:
- Participation in a training program in teaching techniques which may take the form of a workshop, a series of seminars, and in certain cases, outreach programs.
- Service as a teaching assistant for the two quarter undergraduate courses at the University or the equivalent (approved by the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs).
- If a student wishes to satisfy the requirement under provisions of the first item above (that is, by doing something other than serving as a teaching assistant in two quarters), the Asst. Chair for Academic Affairs should be consulted about a specific plan a student wishes to propose.
Teaching experience obtained while an undergraduate is not acceptable in satisfying this requirement. Teaching at Chicago: A collection of Readings and Practical Advice for Beginning
(provided by the Center for Teaching and Learning here at the University of Chicago.)
The system of grades in the University can be found at the Grades & Honors
website. Departmental policy states that a graduate student is expected to maintain an average grade of B (3.0 on a scale of 4.0) or better in his/her course work at the 300-level. If a student falls below this average, his/her progress will be reviewed by the department, and he/she will be advised by the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs concerning his/her future work in this department. Note:
In truly exceptional situation, the grade of I (Incomplete) will be given. Beforehand, a student must submit to the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs, a letter signed by the student and the instructor stating the work that must be completed, the deadline for the completion of that work, and the grade that will be awarded, automatically, if the work is not completed by the specified deadline. The deadline for the completion of a course must be within one to three months, unless the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs approves a later deadline.
Dissertation Project Requirement for Ph.D.
By Autumn quarter of their third year in the graduate program, student will have committed to a thesis advisor with whom they wish to work with on their thesis project. The student and advisor should move quickly on forming a committee. Once a committee is formed, meetings should be set every six months. The student is responsible for arranging the meetings. Autumn registration is dependent on the advisor's affirmation that the outcome of the meetings was satisfactory, or of any major redirection suggested by the committee.
Note: The Summer quarter, in both the first and second years, will focus on research projects.
The Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
The requirements for this degree are satisfied in several stages:
- Course requirements - These are described above.
- Admission to research - A student is officially admitted to research on the basis of a satisfactory performance on the Candidacy Examination.
- The Sponsor - Upon passing the Candidacy Examination, the student should formally arrange, with a faculty member, to have that faculty member serve as Sponsor for the student's research. The Sponsor supervises the research and generally acts as the students advisor. The use of equipment and/or facilities required for the research should be arranged through the Sponsor.
- Candidacy - In order to establish formal candidacy for the degree, a student must obtain a candidacy form from the Graduate Student Affairs Administrator. Once completed, it is to be returned to the Administrator. You are then to meet with the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs to discuss your proposed thesis title and preferred committee members. When approval from the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs, and committee, is verified, candidacy is established. According to University regulations, formal candidacy must be established at least two years before the final examination for the degree. The continued registration of a student, who does not establish candidacy within this time limit, requires approval from the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs.
- The Dissertation Committee - When formal candidacy is established, a Dissertation Committee consisting of the Sponsor and at least three other faculty members is appointed by the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs. If the thesis is of a theoretical nature, one committee member should be an experimentalist/observer. If the thesis is of an experimental/observational nature, one committee member should be a theoretician.
Each student shall arrange to have his/her Dissertation Committee meet twice each year. The purpose of these meetings is to review with the student, his/her progress toward the completion of the course requirement, selection of a thesis topic, and progress on the thesis project.
Prior to each meeting, the student must obtain an Annual Report Form from the Graduate Student Affairs Administrator. A student whose committee has not met before the date of registration for Autumn quarter, will not be allowed to register.
It is the responsibility of the Dissertation Committee to conduct a final oral examination. At the conclusion of the examination, the Committee will (1) accept or reject the defense of the dissertation and (2) accept the dissertation, but specify what further work will need to be done in order to make it acceptable.
- The Dissertation - The principle requirement for the Ph.D. degree is the presentation and defense of a dissertation describing an original piece of research that has been performed, independently, by the student. The dissertation shall consist of a paper, or of papers, accepted for publication in a recognized scientific journal, and the student should be the sole author of the published dissertation. However, if the thesis depends, in part, on contribution of an extended research group, multiple authorship may be in order. The thesis advisor should request, six months before the expected date of defense, that the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs establish an ad hoc committee to determine final authorship.
A dissertation shall be accepted as satisfying the requirements of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics only if it has been approved by the Dissertation Committee and has been submitted for publication in a recognized scientific journal. Each published paper this is submitted as (part of) a dissertation shall carry a notation, preferably on the first page, as follows: "Presented as (part of) a dissertation to the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, The University of Chicago, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree." The published dissertation shall also contain acknowledgements to fellowships or traineeships held during the research period as well as to research grants and other sources of support.
*For further information on multiple authorship, see Appendix A.
- The Final Examination (the Dissertation Defense) - It is the responsibility of the student to arrange with the Dissertation Committee for the final oral examination. The examination covers the subject matter of the dissertation and related subjects. Copies of the dissertation, normally in the form of preprints, or reprints of the published version, are to be distributed to the Committee at least two weeks before the examination. A report of the final examination must be sent to the Dean of Students of the Division of the Physical Sciences. After the Committee approves the dissertation, the Advisor will release it for submission to the Office of Academic Publications.
- The Office of Academic Publications - After the final examination, the student must arrange with the Office of Academic Publications for the submission and final acceptance of the dissertation before the degree can be awarded. The office will advise students of the format in which the dissertation must be submitted.
- Submission to a Journal - The Department requires that at least one major single-authored paper based on the dissertation be submitted to appropriate refereed journal. The student must show an acknowledgment of receipt of the paper from a journal before the Department will approve the award of the degree. See Appendix A for exceptions.
- Application for the Degree - During the first week, in the quarter you are to graduate, contact your Graduate Student Affairs Administrator. The Administrator has to provide you with the permission to "apply" to graduate, via the Registrars Gargoyle system, so that a link is provided on your cMore account.
- Other regulations - Regulation pertaining to the application for the degree, deadlines, and other matters will be found in the quarterly Time Schedules and the graduate announcements.
Appendix A: Dissertations Based on Research that is Published Under Multiple Authorship
In view of the importance of independent research as the basis for a Ph.D. dissertation in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the possibility of basing a dissertation on research published under multiple authorship poses a question of prime concern. As put forth in the body of these regulations, it is expected that the degree candidate will be the sole author of the published paper or papers representing the dissertation. However, if there is some special circumstance that cannot be avoided with advanced planning of the research and that requires publication in a scientific journal under multiple authorship, then the student and sponsor shall initiate the following procedures:
- At least six months before a final examination can be scheduled, the student and sponsor shall inform the Chairman of the Department of the circumstances that might require the use of a paper or papers published under multiple authorship as the published account of the dissertation research. The student and sponsor shall submit a written request for Departmental approval for the use of a joint paper or joint papers as the basis for the dissertation, and they shall support their request with a written explanation of the need for joint publication of the dissertation work.
- Upon receiving the request for Departmental approval, the Chairman of the Department shall appoint an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the matter. The Ad Hoc Committee shall consist of the members of the Dissertation Committee plus one additional faculty member appointed to replace the sponsor, who will normally act as Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee.
- The Ad Hoc Committee shall consider the written statements from the student and the sponsor and, if necessary, carry on further discussions with the student and the sponsor. It shall be necessary for the candidate and his sponsor to establish that the candidate expects to carry out suitable independent scientific research so as to qualify for the Ph.D. degree. Then it must be established that joint authorship is necessary as a consequence of some special circumstance under which the research is to be carried out.
- The considerations and final decision of the Ad Hoc Committee shall be communicated to the Chairman of the Department within three weeks of the proposal for joint authorship. The written report of the Committee shall include: (a) a specific decision approving or disapproving the use of a joint paper or joint papers as the published account of the dissertation work; and (b) a specification of the grounds for the Committee's decision.
- If the decision of the Committee is without reservation, then it shall be final. In the event that there are reservations, then the Chairman of the Department shall review the request and the Committee's report, and he shall make a final decision in keeping with the criteria and policies stated above.
- If joint authorship of the published account of the dissertation research is approved, then the official dissertation shall consist of an expanded account of the work written by the candidate alone. That dissertation shall be prepared in the format prescribed by the Office of Academic Publications.
The Department considers that it is the responsibility of the student and the sponsor to anticipate the need for joint authorship of the published account of the dissertation research and to submit a timely request for Departmental approval in accordance with these procedures.