Graduate Program Overview
Faculty in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics work on a wide range of topics at the frontiers of astrophysics: from understanding the beginning of the Universe to the search for habitable extrasolar planets; from the formation and evolution of the earliest galaxies to modeling the most energetic events in the modern Universe; from exploring our own solar system to the largest structures of the Universe.
Research groups have access to leading telescopes worldwide, including the 6.5-m Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas, Chile; the Dark Energy Survey at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile; and the South Pole Telescope. Researchers also make use of a number of space telescopes and are actively developing new space missions and observational programs for EUSO, JWST, TESS, and SOFIA.
Chicago is an active participant in gravitational waves research as a member of LIGO, leading the development of the Holometer at Fermilab, and studying extreme cosmic particles at the Auger Observatory. And, we are a founding member of the world's largest optical telescope, the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, which is now under construction in the Chilean Andes with first light expected early in the next decade.
Assistant Chairman for Academic Affairs: Professor Richard Kron
Academic Affairs Administrator: Julia Brazas
Graduate Student Affairs Administrator: Laticia Rebeles
Information for Prospective Students
Students seeking admission for graduate study leading to Ph.D. degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics typically enter with an undergraduate degree in Physics or another Physical Science. If an applicant does not hold a degree in these areas, evidence of a solid foundation in physics and mathematics obtained through coursework or other experiences should be provided to demonstrate that the applicant is prepared for graduate-level work in Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The following materials should be submitted using the Online Application system.
Information for Current Students
The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics are satisfied through the following steps:
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. The Thesis Advisor serves as the student's sponsor and research supervisor.
The Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs is the de facto Academic Advisor to incoming graduate students. Students should consult regularly with the Academic Advisor concerning their program and progress, especially during their first year or until another advising relationship has been established. Students are encouraged to seek out mentors or potential research supervisors from among the faculty as early as possible in their program for advising guidance.
It is in the student's best interests to become widely acquainted with the faculty through informal means well in advance of choosing a Thesis Advisor and potential Thesis Committee members. This can be accomplished by meeting with faculty outside of class and engaging with them at departmental talks and events.
Graduate students receive tuition support and a monthly stipend from a combination of Teaching Assistantships (TA), Research Assistantships (RA), and Fellowships. All first-year graduate students receive Teaching Assistantships for a minimum of two quarters during their first year. A limited number of TA positions are available beyond the first year for students interested in continuing their teaching experience.
As soon as possible during the first year, students should begin seek out fellowships from the National Science Foundation, NASA, or other sources. The process of identifying, applying for, and securing funding is an integral part of the academic enterprise. The PSD Dean of Students and UChicagoGRAD offer resources and support for seeking fellowship opportunities. Students may also seek out Research Assistantships with departmental faculty.
During the first and second academic years, students complete six Core Graduate Courses, in addition to electives. The Core courses are ASTR 30100, ASTR 30300, ASTR 30400, ASTR 31100, and ASTR 30600. These courses are offered during the Autumn, Winter, and Spring Quarters.
Required Core Courses
Elective courses numbered as 300XX and 400XX provide more depth in particular research areas, allowing students to explore topics of interest. Students should consult with the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs, or other faculty advisor, on appropriate courses to take that coordinate with their research interests. Electives may be taken in other departments, provided they are numbered in the 300XX and 400XXs.
In addition to Core Graduate Courses, students are expected to complete pre-candidacy research projects that will be presented as part of their Candidacy Exams. This work is undertaken as part of the ASTR 37100 Pre-Candidacy Research course. The purpose of this course is to foster opportunities for students to engage in one or two research projects that will form a substantive part of their candidacy exam presentations.
Students who actively begin research with a faculty member will enroll in ASTR 37100 as one of their electives. Students are required to enroll in ASTR 37100 no later than by the summer of their first year. The Faculty Research Seminars were established to present a broad perspective on research in the department and help facilitate collaborations between students and potential research supervisors. First-year students are required to attend these and second-years are strongly encouraged to attend.
Placing out of Core Graduate Courses
A student entering the graduate program in Astronomy and Astrophysics with a Master's Degree may place out of one or more of these courses by demonstrating that s/he has taken a similar level course at a previous institution and by passing the Core Course exam. In place of the waived Core Course, the student will enroll in a graduate-level elective course to meet the 300-unit requirement. Students must first meet with the course instructor before petitioning the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs for approval of a course waiver.
Graduate students are 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, the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs, in consultation with the student and other faculty, will identify appropriate actions for enhancing academic progress. Audited courses do not count towards the student's grade point average.
In truly exceptional situations, the grade of I (Incomplete) will be given. In this instance, the student must submit a letter to the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs that outlines the work to be completed, the deadline for the completion, and the grade that will be awarded, automatically, if the work is not completed by the specified deadline. The letter must be signed by both the student and instructor and submitted before the date when grades are due to the Registrar. The instructor sets the deadline for course completion up to three months, unless the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs approves a later deadline.
All students must fulfill a practicum as a Teaching Assistant for a minimum of two quarters. Typically this is completed within the first year of graduate studies but need not be accomplished in consecutive quarters. The TA is responsible for undergraduate lab instruction in consultation with the course and lab instructor. The Academic Affairs Administrator is a resource for TAs in support of their instructional activities and pedagogical support, as outlined in the departmental Teaching Assistant Handbook. In addition, the Chicago Center for Teaching offers professional development to TAs through its programs and online resources.
Students who complete their pre-candidacy requirements officially advance to candidacy on the basis of satisfactory performance on a two-part examination given at the beginning and end of the second year of graduate study. The first exam is held before the start of the Autumn Quarter and the second is held after the end of the Spring Quarter.
Format of the Examinations
In the Candidacy Examinations, the student presents his/her research undertaken in the ASTR 37100 course(s) and responds to questions from the Candidacy Committee. The purpose of the exams is to assess the student's development as a researcher, through which the student also demonstrates a deepening conceptual understanding of astronomy and astrophysics. While the focus of the exams is on the research presentations, the committee will also probe the student's knowledge in any Core Course. To pass the exams, a student must demonstrate:
Students are encouraged to contact the Chair of the Candidacy Committee with any questions regarding exams.
Part One of the Examinations
The first candidacy examination takes place before the start of the Autumn Quarter of the second year of graduate studies. The exam is scheduled for one hour on a date determined by the Chair of the Candidacy Committee. The student makes an oral presentation, approximately 20 minutes in length, on a short duration project (1-2 quarters of research) completed in the ASTR 371000 course. In the remaining time, the student will respond to questions from the Candidacy Committee. Questions are likely to begin with motivations for the research, history, and references and then extend to courses related to the work.
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 provides a report to the student, the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs, and faculty advisor confirming academic progress.
Part Two of the Examinations
The second candidacy examination takes place after the end of the Spring Quarter of the second year of graduate studies. The exam is scheduled for two hours on a date determined by the Chair of the Candidacy Committee. When the exam has been scheduled, the student must obtain a Candidacy Form from the Student Affairs Administrator that will be signed by the Chair of the Candidacy Committee at the end of the exam. The signed form must be returned to the Student Affairs Administrator.
The student makes an oral presentation on a longer duration project (3-4 quarters of research) completed in the ASTR 371000 course, 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 research and the broader context for it.
Advancement to Candidacy
Advancement to candidacy is made when a student has successfully passed the candidacy examinations. The Candidacy Committee will consider the student's presentations, input from his or her advisor on the project, and grades and comments from instructors of the Core Courses and will decide on a grade of pass or no pass. In the event the student does not pass, s/he may be required to re-take one or more courses. A recommendation to advance to candidacy is made to the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs. Students who are not advanced to candidacy will be granted a Master's Degree.
Upon passing the Candidacy Examination the student is eligible to apply for admission to Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. This step is governed by regulations of the Division of the Physical Sciences, administered by the PSD Dean of Students. Candidacy Application Forms are available from the Student Affairs Administrator.
Establishing the Thesis Advisor and Thesis Committee
Once candidacy is established, the student formally chooses a Thesis Advisor (Sponsor) by the Autumn Quarter following the second candidacy exam. Together, the Sponsor and student identify members of a Thesis Committee consisting of the Sponsor and at least three other appropriate faculty members from The University of Chicago. For example, 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. Members of the Thesis Committee are not required to have an appointment in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics; they may be selected from among the Physics Department faculty or Fermilab, for example. A student may also wish to include additional Thesis Committee members who are not affiliated with The University of Chicago.
The student must schedule an appointment with the Assistant Chair of Academic Affairs to discuss his/her proposed thesis title and preferred committee members. Following this meeting the student submits, in writing, the thesis title and proposed committee members to the Student Affairs Administrator. The Student Affairs Administrator will notify the student when the Thesis Committee is in place, and the student can then schedule the first meeting of the committee. The Thesis Committee must be established no later than the Spring Quarter of the third year of graduate studies.
The decision of a Thesis Advisor - and by extension, the thesis topic - are vitally important. The process by which a mutually suitable researcher/sponsor arrangement is pursued is the subject of many excellent publications on academic life. Students should also draw upon their experiences with faculty, as well as seek guidance from other graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, and the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs, to help them identify a Sponsor.
After candidacy is established the student enrolls in ASTR 49400 Post-Candidacy Research, and may also take electives of advanced coursework, for a minimum of 300 units per quarter (including summer).
Once a Thesis Committee is formed, meetings should be scheduled twice per year. The purpose of these meetings is to review with the student his/her progress on the thesis project. The student is responsible for arranging the meetings. Prior to each meeting, the student must obtain a Bi-Annual Report Form from the Student Affairs Administrator for completion by the student and his/her Sponsor. The completed form must be returned to the Student Affairs Administrator.
Independent research is the hallmark of advanced study. An important responsibility of doctoral candidates is to communicate progress or problems in their research to the Thesis Advisor and committee. Students should contact the Student Affairs Administrator, the Assistant Chair for Academic Affairs, or PSD Dean of Students should they encounter issues that prevent them from making academic progress.
Thesis (Dissertation) Requirements
A thesis is accepted as satisfying the requirements of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics for the Ph.D. when it is approved by the Thesis Committee and has been submitted for publication in a recognized scientific journal. Each published paper that is submitted as (part of) a thesis shall carry a notation, preferably on the first page, as follows:
Presented as (part of) a thesis to the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, The University of Chicago, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree.
The published thesis shall also contain acknowledgements to fellowships or traineeships held during the research period as well as to research grants and other sources of support.
In the case of a single-author paper, the thesis is the manuscript submitted for publication, plus any supplementary appendices augmenting the presentation that might not be appropriate in a published paper. In the case of a multiple-author paper or papers (which also must fulfill the requirement of submission for publication), the thesis must be an extended version, written solely by the student and describing in detail his or her contributions to the published work. In both cases, the student's Thesis Committee should approve the planned work at least three quarters before the Final Examination. Both types of theses (single-author paper or extended single-author version of the multiple-author paper) must be submitted in the required University-standard format.
Information on formatting requirements and deadlines are available from The University of Chicago Dissertation Office. Students are strongly encouraged to contact the Dissertation Office to confirm deadlines and requirements at least one quarter before they intend to hold their final examination. The student is responsible for ensuring that the thesis complies with the submission and acceptance guidelines of the Dissertation Office before the Ph.D. degree can be awarded.
The Final Examination, or oral defense, marks the candidate's professional entry into scholarship. A defense is a public presentation at which the candidate will present his or her research to the Thesis Committee, engage in dialogue and debate with the committee, and receive constructive criticism from the committee.
It is the responsibility of the student to arrange the date and time of the Final Examination with the Thesis Committee. The student's thesis forms the basis of the examination. A draft copy of the thesis must be submitted to the full Thesis Committee for review two weeks before the scheduled Final Examination. The student must obtain the Report of Final Examination for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy form from the Student Affairs Administrator, to be completed at the end of the Final Examination.
It is the responsibility of the Thesis Committee to conduct the examination. Following the public presentation, the committee will confer privately to decide whether to accept or reject the defense of the dissertation, or, accept the dissertation with qualifications, specifying what further work will need to be done. The committee's decision will be recorded on the Report of the Final Examination form and the form returned to the Student Affairs Administrator.
Submission to a Journal
The Department requires that at least one major single- or multiple-authored paper based on the thesis be submitted to appropriate refereed journal.
An Application for a Degree must be submitted by the first day of the quarter in which a student expects to graduate. The form is available from the Student Affairs Administrator in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The Application for a Degree is valid only for the quarter for which it is made. If the degree is not granted at the end of the quarter in which it was expected, the student must reapply before the deadline of the next quarter. Students should consult the Academic Calendar for registration dates and deadlines.
Students who expect to receive a degree must have fulfilled all financial obligations to the University by the end of the ninth week of the quarter in which they expect to receive a degree. Students who fail to meet this obligation will be removed from the list of degree candidates and must re-apply for a degree after settling their accounts. Students who have questions or wish to make special arrangements for payment should make an appointment with the Bursar well in advance of the deadline for fulfilled the financial obligations.