Department of Astronomy

Graduate Program

The department offers a graduate program leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in astronomy. Current research provides opportunities in optical observational astronomy as well as computational theory. Prospective graduate students must submit scores on the Graduate Record Examination including the advanced physics test. Further information on the department's graduate programs, and details concerning financial aid, are available through the departmental office.

More information about graduate studies at CWRU can be found at the website of the School of Graduate Studies. Information about the online application process can be found here.

Graduate applications in astronomy are normally due by January 15 for admission in the following fall; however, under special circumstances late applications will be considered.

If you have questions about the Astronomy graduate program, contact Professor Heather Morrison at

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Graduate Program Goals and Objectives

The goal of the graduate program in the CWRU Department of Astronomy is to educate and train the next generation of professional astronomers. As professional astronomers work in a variety of settings – universities, research labs, observatories, museums, and planetariums – our program offers a wide range of research and educational opportunities for students pursuing their doctoral degree.

Graduate research opportunities are available in both observational and theoretical astrophysics, covering fields of galaxy formation and evolution, large scale structure and cosmology, and stellar abundances and chemical evolution. CWRU Astronomy is the sole owner/operator of the Burrell Schmidt telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, giving graduate students opportunities for significant observing time and instrumentation research as well. We are also members of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey consortium, which provides further opportunities for thesis research involving SDSS data.

For admission into the Ph.D. program, a bachelors degree in astronomy, physics, or a related technical field is required. Preparation in upper level undergraduate courses in classic mechanics, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and electricity and magnetism is expected; preparation in astrophysics courses is helpful but not required. A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 is also expected, and applicants must also submit scores for the GRE general and physics subject exams.

Our research program meets state and regional needs by training students in technical research skills, fostering an active scientific research community, and participating in public outreach and educational activities. Our students assist with all these activities by presenting their research at a variety of technical and public venues and acting as teaching assistants for our undergraduate education programs. Of particular importance is our ability to give students hands-on technical training in research observatory science, an opportunity that is fast-dwindling in this age of remotely-managed observatories.

Upon graduation, our students generally take national or international research postdoctoral positions at universities or research facilities. Five years after degree, our graduates are competitive for permanent positions at universities and research labs.

As per the requirements of the Ohio Board of Regents, our Ph.D. program was externally reviewed in 2011/12; the next scheduled review is in 2018/19. These programmatic goals and objectives were last revised in December 2012.

Graduate Student Research

We strongly encourage our graduate students to get involved with astronomical research as soon as possible, typically in their first semester in the program. We offer opportunities for both observational and theoretical projects in galaxy evolution, stellar populations, stellar physics, cosmology, and galactic dynamics. Students have access to our wide-field Schmidt telescope at Kitt Peak, Arizona, early access to data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and access to CWRU's high speed computing cluster. Examples of possible projects for incoming graduate students can be found here.

Graduate Program Requirements

Requirements for the Ph.D. degree include coursework, a Ph.D. qualifying examination, and a written doctoral thesis.

In consultation with the departmental faculty, students build an individualized curriculum of courses in Astronomy and other related fields. The University requires a total of 36 hours of course work for students entering with a bachelors degree, or 18 hours of coursework for students entering with a masters degree. These requirements can be met by a variety of lecture courses and supervised research.

Required courses for the degree consist of:

  1. ASTR 406 Astronomical Techniques
  2. ASTR 411 Stellar Physics
  3. ASTR 423 The Local Universe
  4. ASTR 428 Cosmology and the Structure of the Universe

These required courses may be waived if a student has earned a B or better in equivalent coursework elsewhere).

Aside from the required courses, students may choose from a variety of elective courses, depending on their specific interests Possibilities include:

  1. ASTR 433 Dark Matter
  2. ASTR 497 Special Topics in Astronomy
  3. MATH 444 Mathematics of Data Mining and Pattern Recognition
  4. MATH 439 Integrated Numerical and Statistical Computation
  5. PHYS 413 Classical and Statistical Mechanics I
  6. PHYS 414 Classical and Statistical Mechanics II
  7. PHYS 451 Empirical Foundations of the Standard Model I
  8. PHYS 465 General Relativity
  9. PHYS 481 Quantum Mechanics I
  10. PHYS 566 Cosmology

Note that Graduate Studies requires a PhD student to have a grade point average of 3.0 or above to remain in good standing.

Ph.D. Qualifying Exam
During the summer that follows the end of their second year of classes (usually in Mid-June), students take a combined written and oral qualifying exam based on the material in the required Astronomy coursework. The exam also includes a presentation on the student's research. Admission to PhD candidacy is contingent on the student passing this qualifying exam, and on demonstrated competence in individual research. Such competence may be evaluated by the student's research adviser(s), by the student's performance in presentations during the academic year (ie journal club talks) and on the qualifying exam research presentation.

If a student fails the qualifying exam, he or she will be allowed to re-take the exam one more time before separation from the University, as described in the Graduate Student Handbook.

The Doctoral Thesis
Students must complete a doctoral thesis consisting of original research in Astronomy, supervised by a faculty member. This thesis will be reviewed by the student's thesis committee; award of the Ph.D. is contingent on the approval of the thesis by the thesis committee.

Graduate Student Expectations

Colloquiua and Journal Club
The department schedules colloquia about every two weeks during semester and also has a weekly journal club. Both of these offer students the opportunity to broaden their knowledge about topics in astronomy which may not be covered in their coursework, and so attendance at colloquia and participation in journal club is expected. Participation in journal club includes sending suggestions for articles, voting for the article to be discussed, and active participation in the discussion.

Grad studies has policies for graduate students taking Holiday, Vacation, Parental Leave and Sick Leave, see for more information. A grad student should check with his or her research advisor and (if appropriate) with the instructor for whom she/he is working as a TA before scheduling vacation time, and inform these people in the case of sick leave.

Research Projects
In general, a graduate student will work with two different faculty members on research projects in their first two years, although this can be changed, with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies, if both student and advisor wish to make the first year project longer.

Graduate Course Listings

ASTR 406. Astronomical Techniques (3). Emphasis will be on acquisition of direct imaging and/or spectroscopic data and its subsequent reduction. Principles of optics applied to astronomical telescopes and instrumentation. Modern detector technology. Computational techniques will also be explored through projects emphasizing modeling of data, dynamical simulations of star clusters emphasizing modeling of data, dynamical simulations of star clusters and galaxies, or astronomical database mining.

ASTR 411. Stellar Physics (3). Radiative transfer, atomic and molecular opacities, and the observable properties of stars. Stellar interiors, nuclear processes, and energy generation. The evolution of stars of varying mass and production of the elements within supernovae explosions.

ASTR 423. The Local Universe (3). The Milky Way Galaxy. Galaxy populations. Quantitative structure and dynamics of galaxies. The interstellar media of galaxies. Dark matter and stellar populations. The Local Group and Virgo cluster.

ASTR 428. Cosmology and the Structure of the Universe (3). Distances to galaxies. The content of the distant universe. Large scale structure and galaxy clusters. Physical cosmology. Structure and galaxy formation and evolution. Testing cosmological models.

ASTR 433. Dark Matter (3). Evidence for dark matter in the universe. Gravitational dynamics, gravitational lensing, rotation curves, Oort limit, stellar dynamics. Galaxy clusters, growth of structure, the microwave background. Baryonic and non-baryonic dark matter candidates. Alternate gravity models.

ASTR 497. Special Topics in Astronomy (1-3). Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

ASTR 601. Research (credit as arranged).

ASTR 701. Dissertation (Ph.D.) (credit as arranged).

ASTR 702. Dissertation (Ph.D.) (credit as arranged).