How to Get a PhD in Astronomy

Dec 15, 2019

Earning a PhD in astronomy gives you the tools you need to study the universe. For more information on what's required to earn a PhD in Astronomy, keep reading.

To earn a PhD in astronomy, you will have to demonstrate knowledge of astronomy, physics, and mathematics. As an undergraduate, you should take classes in those subjects, and as a graduate you will take more specific courses and conduct research.

How to be Admitted to a PhD Program in Astronomy

In order to pursue a PhD in astronomy, you'll most-likely need a bachelor's degree. It can be good idea to have a bachelor's in either astronomy or physics; however, some programs may not require this. Many schools may be more likely to admit students with GRE physics test results. Some schools may require you to submit three letters of recommendation, ideally from astronomy or physics researchers or faculty. You may also need to write a letter of intent explaining why you want to join the program and what you intend to do with the degree. Finally, you'll submit your unofficial transcripts.

Common Program Requirements and Courses

The exact requirements to earn a PhD in astronomy will vary from program to program, as you may take anywhere from 6-16 courses during your time in the program, but most programs conclude with students completing a thesis, consisting of original research in astronomy that will be evaluated by a committee of researchers and faculty at your institution. It may take anywhere from 3-6 years to complete the PhD; the following are some of the course topics you might see.


In cosmology courses, you will learn about the physical properties of galaxies. You'll study the Big Bang and how galaxies are formed. You may also study concepts like dark matter, Friedmann models, baryosynthesis, and superclusters of galaxies.

Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics

In these courses, you will study fluid dynamics and how they apply to astronomy. You will study different kinds of waves, such as sound, gravity, and hydromagnetic. You will learn how these dynamics affect the formation of planets, stars, and galaxies.

Observational Astronomy

Observational astronomy courses will teach you how to use telescopes and other tools to observe astronomical phenomena. You'll learn how the atmosphere affects observation, as well as observational and statistical methods. You may also learn about how to use observatories, and how to write proposals to get funding for scientific research, as well as how to write scientific papers.

Radiative Processes

These courses teach you about radiation, and how it affects astronomical study. You will learn about types of radiation such as electromagnetic, continuum, and thermal. You will learn about different theories of radiation, as well as topics like special relativity, plasma processes, and bremsstrahlung.

Interstellar Medium

In these courses, you will study the matter that exists between stars. You may cover topics such as free-free radiation, ionization balance, and magnetic fields. You may also learn about interstellar chemistry, neutral hydrogen clouds, and molecular clouds. You could also study nebulae and star formation.

As you prepare for a PhD in astronomy, consider all the factors that will help you succeed, such as a strong grounding in physics and mathematics, good relations with your professors, and a willingness to study and learn. If you know what you need to do and how to prepare for it, you will be able to succeed in becoming an astronomer.

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