College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences

Doctoral Degree in Astronomy (NEW): Requirements


The UCR Department of Physics and Astronomy expects to offer a PhD program in Astronomy starting Fall 2023.  The degree is designed to provide a broad background in observational, theoretical, and computational astrophysics through a combination of courses and research.  Requirements for the program are described below.

Courses will include a set of core courses taken in the first year, followed by electives (see below).  The program emphasizes an early start to research, with students will beginning research project at least as early as the Winter quarter of their first year.  It is expected that students in the PhD program will be associated with a thesis research advisor by the end of the spring quarter of their first year.  A special seminar class PHYS288 is designed to familiarize the student with research activities of the faculty.

A student is recommended for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree in Physics upon completion of the following requirements:



Satisfactory completion of the courses listed below. Each course must be passed with a grade of B- or better and the student must maintain an average for all courses of B or better.

Comprehensive Examination

Ph.D. students must pass a comprehensive exam.  The exam will have two parts administered in the summer of the first year.  The first part will consist of an oral report on the research undertaken during the two graded research classes (PHYS 297).  The oral report will focus on the background, motivation, and methods of the research study.  (By comparison, the Candidacy Exam will focus more on preliminary results and plans for future work that will lead to a thesis, as described below.)  The second part of the comprehensive exam will be a written test on topics in Astronomy related to the Core courses listed below.
Based on the student’s overall performance on the comprehensive exams, the department will recommend a pass at the Ph.D. level, a pass at the M.A./M.S. level, or a fail.  The oral and written parts of the exam may each be repeated once by the end of the fall quarter of the second year if the initial performance was unsatisfactory.


The following Core Courses will be taken in the first year:


Core Courses:

PHYS 206 Computational Astrophysics
PHYS 211A Radiative Processes in Astrophysics
PHYS 213 Astrophysics of the Interstellar Medium
PHYS 214 Techniques of Observational Astrophysics
PHYS 215 Dynamics & Evolution of Galaxies
PHYS 217 Stellar Structure & Evolution
PHYS 219 Cosmology & Galaxy Formation
PHYS 297 Directed Research (two quarters)
PHYS 401 Professional Development in Physics and Astronomy
Phys 296 Summer Research in Physics and Astronomy


In addition, at least two elective graduate lecture courses must be completed from the list below.  Other courses, including those outside the Department, may also count as electives with the approval of the Astronomy Graduate Advisory Committee.


Elective Courses:

PHYS 203 Statistical Astronomy
PHYS 204 Advanced Galaxy Formation and Cosmology
PHYS 208 General Relativity
PHYS 211B Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
PHYS 216 Star Formation
PHYS 218 Fundamentals of Astrophysics
PHYS 226 Cosmology (Advanced Topics)
PHYS 227 Particle Astrophysics
PHYS 229 Theory of Dark Matter Halos and Galaxies
PHYS 247 Introduction to Applied Data Science
PHYS 261 Special Topics in Astrophysics


Qualifying Oral Examination

Ph.D. students must complete an oral qualifying exam in the general area of the student's proposed dissertation research.  The oral presentation should provide background and motivation for the dissertation research, preliminary results from this research, and a clear plan for completion of the thesis including a timeline for the acquisition of data (if relevant), analysis, other key milestones, and papers to be submitted to journals. The exam committee will be composed of the student’s research advisor, at least two other departmental faculty, and one faculty member from outside the department.  The exam must be taken before the end of the student’s third year in the program.  At the discretion of the committee, a student may be permitted to take it a second time.
After passing this exam and advancing to candidacy, students will provide yearly updates on their progress to the thesis committee.  The thesis committee will be comprised of the student’s research advisor and at least two other departmental faculty, typically those who have served on the student’s candidacy committee.


The student is recommended for the Ph.D. degree following their advancement to candidacy and completion of the following requirements:


Doctoral Thesis

Doctoral candidates must complete a satisfactory written thesis that presents a review of existing knowledge relevant to the candidate's original research, an outline of specific problems addressed by the candidate’s work, and a detailed description of the strategies, analysis techniques and results of the candidate's original research.  The research must be of sufficiently high quality to constitute a contribution to knowledge in the subject area.  

Final Oral Examination

Doctoral candidates must perform satisfactorily in a final oral defense of their thesis before the candidate's thesis committee.


Normative Time to Degree: If the student is full-time with no deficiencies, the normative length of time pre-candidacy (before the Qualifying Exam) is not more than three (3) years. The normative time between Candidacy and Defense/Ph.D. completion is three (3) years. Overall, the normative time from enrollment in the program to Ph.D. degree is expected to be six (6) years.






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