Skip to main content

Graduate Exams

Astronomy & Astrophysics Ph.D. graduate students take three major exams during their graduate studies. A Qualifying Exam at the end of their 2nd year. An Advance to Candidacy Exam, typically at the end of their 3rd year, to become a Ph.D. candidate. To complete their Ph.D. requirement they will have to complete a Thesis Defense.

Qualifying Exam

Students are required to complete a research-based written report and oral qualifying exam before the end of their second year. Both the written report and oral presentation will focus on novel research completed by the student advised by a participating faculty member as part of the PHYA 296: Second-Year Independent Research requirement.  The written report should be submitted in advance of the oral exam and is expected to be in the style of a published peer-reviewed journal article. The oral presentation will be approximately ~30 minutes in length and will focus primarily on the context, methods, results, and implications of the research study. The oral presentation will be followed by questions on the specific research project (~20 minutes) and astronomical fundamentals covered in the required Core courses (~30 minutes). 

The qualifying exam is administered by the Graduate Advisory committee consisting of three (3) faculty members and will include some faculty who have taught one or more Core A or Core B courses in the previous two (2) years. Each exam will be administered by three (3) of the committee members; if the Research Advisor is a committee member, they will not be eligible to serve as one of the examiners during that person’s oral exam.  

Advance to Candidacy

Qualified students will be required to constitute a Dissertation Committee prior to their advancement to candidacy, which is expected by the end of the third year. The Dissertation Committee will consist of five faculty members: the student’s Dissertation Advisor, two faculty members from the Astronomy program, 1 faculty member from the Physics department from outside the student’s research area, and one external tenured faculty member from another department. Candidates will be required to submit a written research proposal and make an oral presentation to the Dissertation Committee. The Committee may follow the oral presentation with additional questions to assess the candidate's preparation for dissertation research.

The proposal and presentation should address the following elements:

  • The scientific context of the proposed research;
  • Evidence of research preparation (related research up to this point);
  • A research plan, including methodologies and required resources; and
  • A dissertation timeline, including submission of publications, completion of dissertation, dissertation defense, and other relevant research activities (e.g., proposals, relevant training, instrument development/installation, conferences/talks, etc.)

In adherence with Graduate Division requirements, a cumulative GPA of 3.0 will be required for Advancement to Candidacy.

Ph.D. Dissertation and Defense Requirements

Ph.D. Candidates are required to complete a dissertation and oral defense in order to complete their degree requirements. Candidates should coordinate with their thesis advisor(s) and Dissertation Committees well in advance to schedule the completion of these elements, and to complete University requirements outlined on the Division of Graduate Education webpage.

The dissertation is a written exposition of the student’s thesis research work. It will be reviewed by the members of the Dissertation Committee, who are typically the same as the members of the candidacy exam committee. The form and style of the dissertation must conform to procedures described in the Division of Graduate Education Dissertations and Master’s Theses “Bluebook”. A final draft of the dissertation must be submitted to the Dissertation Committee no less than four (4) weeks prior to the planned oral defense date.

The oral defense is a public presentation of the thesis work, followed by a closed-door examination by the Dissertation Committee. This defense should be scheduled with the Dissertation Committee several months in advance of the anticipated completion date.

If corrections to the dissertation are mandated by the Dissertation Committee, these should be completed within four (4) weeks of the defense, or before the final submission date of dissertation materials to the Division of Graduate Education, whichever comes first.

Additional University requirements for the dissertation and defense, as well as templates for the dissertation file, can be found on the Division of Graduate Education webpage.