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PhD. in Astrophysics and Astronomy

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The Astrophysics Ph.D. program is structured (1) to provide students with a thorough grounding in the tools of astronomy and the underlying physics used in astronomy, through a sequence of graduate level courses; but also (2) to stress an early entry of the student into research. The evaluation of students for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. will place significant weight on their potential as research scientists.

To receive the Ph.D. in Astrophysics and Astronomy  a  student must:

1.     Pass the Qualifying Examination on undergraduate Physics at a Ph.D. level (grade of A), before the end of the student’s first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on this exam. Alternatively, a student may qualify for the Ph.D. program by taking a sequence of undergraduate courses, based on discussions with the graduate advisory committee, and by achieving at least a 3.5 average on these courses.

2.     Pass the core physics or their subject exams and the core astronomy courses with a grade averaged over all core courses of 3.375. The core courses are described below.

3.     Complete the two-semester AST 805 research project satisfactorily at the Ph.D. level. The research project would be graded by a committee consisting of two members of the astronomy group and one faculty member from outside the astronomy group, who would examine the student on the research and on general knowledge pertinent to the research project. This oral examination will serve as the student’s comprehensive examination. A Record of Completion Form (see Appendix F) must be signed by the committee at the end of the oral examination. A proposal for this research project must be approved by the astronomy group by the end of the first year of graduate study.

4.     All Astrophysics Ph.D. students must complete the following courses. This normally will take two years.

Core physics courses:
Classical Mechanics - PHY 820 (Fall)
Statistical Mechanics - PHY 831 (Fall)
Classical Electrodynamics I  - PHY 841 (Spring)

Core astronomy courses  (taught alternate years, with only 2 or 3 of these courses offered in any one year):
Stellar Atmospheres, Structure, and Evolution (AST 840)
Radiation Astrophysics (AST 810*)
Galactic Astronomy (AST 825**)

Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology (AST 835 or AST 830)
Nuclear Astrophysics (PHY 983)

Elective Courses:


The core courses do not cover all areas of astronomy and physics to which graduate students ought to be exposed. Additional topics will be offered from time to time in elective courses, or in the Special Topics Seminars. Among these additional topics are (1) Observational Techniques in Astronomy. (2) Numerical Techniques, and (3) General Relativity.

5.   Form a Ph.D. Guidance Committee (see Sections VII and VIII) no later than six months after fulfilling the Comprehensive Exam Requirement. The Guidance Committee must meet with the student at least once every year. Prior to the formation of their Guidance Committee the students are mentored by the Associate Chair for graduate studies and the Graduate Advising Committee.

6.   Write a dissertation on original research, followed by an oral examination based on the dissertation and related material. A student’s research program is determined in consultation with the student’s research advisor and guided by the student’s Ph.D. Guidance Committee.

7.   Register for a minimum of 24 credits of doctoral dissertation research (AST999).

8.   The Department of Physics and Astronomy has no foreign language requirement.

9.   The student should serve as a Teaching Assistant for at least one semester. International students who are not native English speakers must pass the SPEAK test (see sec. XII) in order to be a TA.

* called AST 820 in Fall 2001

**called AST 820 in Spring 2003

M.S. in Astrophysics and Astronomy

Many of our Ph.D. students obtain a M.S. degree during the course of their studies. However, students will not normally be accepted into the Astrophysics graduate program unless their ultimate goal is to obtain a Ph.D. degree. To obtain a M.S. degree, students must take the same courses as for the Astrophysics Ph.D. degree. This includes taking the two-semester research course described for the Ph.D. program.

The requirements for the M.S. degree are:

1.     Complete a total of 30 credits that satisfy either Plan A (with thesis) or Plan B (without thesis) of the general university requirements for a Masters degree.

2.     Pass the Qualifying Exam on undergraduate Physics at the M.S. (with a grade of B or above) level before the end of the student’s first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on this exam.

3.     Pass the core physics and astronomy courses with an average grade of 3.0 or better.

4.     Under Plan A: complete at least 4 credits of Astronomy 899 Master’s Thesis Research, and pass a final oral examination in defense of the thesis; or, under Plan B: complete 6 credits in Astronomy 805 Research Project and pass the examination on the research course at least at the M.S. level. Students choosing Plan A must form a Guidance Committee of three regular faculty members, including the student’s Master’s thesis advisor. This committee will meet with the student yearly and will act as examiners of the student’s thesis and oral defense (see form needed – Appendix E).

5.     The Department of Physics and Astronomy has no foreign language requirement.



Department of Physics and Astronomy
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI, USA