Institute of Astronomy

Ph.D. Programme

Application Portal Closed - PhD / MPhil


The application rounds for the PhD and MPhil courses at the Institute of Astronomy are now closed.  The Applicant Portal will open [for entry in October 2020] in early September.  Informal enquiries can be sent to

Course Overview

The Institute offers the opportunity to study for the Ph.D degree, for which the normal duration of study is expected to be three years. The format is almost exclusively research based, although students attend a number of short courses during their first two years covering research related skills.

Ph.D. projects may be exclusively theoretical or observational but many combine aspects of both. It is normal for students to attend at least one relevant international conference during their three years of study, and most students working on observational research projects will undertake observing trips (depending on the requirements of their project) to telescopes overseas.

The typical Ph.D. student intake each year is between 10 and 13, a significant number of which are funded via STFC Doctoral Training Partnership studenships for which qualifying UK and EU residents will be considered automatically. STFC awards cover all University and College fees, but living expenses are included only for UK and certain EU residents. A number of Overseas Ph.D. students are also admitted each year financed from other sources, including funding bodies in their own country and scholarships available to University of Cambridge applicants.

You may also be interested in postgraduate research opportunities in Cavendish Astrophysics and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. For consideration by these departments, you will need to make a separate application to each department.

Projects & Supervisors

Each year some 25 supervisors will offer a total of well over 50 Ph.D. projects. With 10-13 students starting their Ph.D., there are many more projects than students. Experience over many years shows that offering students the opportunity to investigate and assess a number of projects once they have arrived has many advantages for both students and supervisors and represents one of the key attractions of choosing to undertake a Ph.D. at the Institute. The choice of Ph.D. project, normally decided within the first three months, is reached after discussion between the student and a number of potential supervisors.

As a consequence, with the exception of the three funded positions listed below, the Institute does not provide a list of specific projects on offer for the coming academic year. Insight into the current research interests of potential supervisors can be found at Research at the IoA and by looking at their recent papers using NASA/SAO ADS or the preprint arXiv (astro-ph).

Students from the EU and Overseas will, however, normally wish to apply for University, Cambridge Trust or Gates Scholarships. Such applications for funding require the specification of a supervisor and research area. Applicants should therefore follow the instructions in the Funding section when completing the University Application Form.

For Home and EU applicants there are also three funded PhD positions available.

Data Mining the ALMA Archive (Dr Oliver Shorttle)

Geology of Rocky Exoplanets (Dr Amy Bonsor)

Planetary Material in the Atmospheres of White Dwarfs (Dr Amy Bonsor)

Academic Requirements for Admission

The Faculty's minimum academic requirement for admission as a Ph.D. student is the equivalent of a UK upper second class four-year undergraduate honours degree (five-year from Scottish universities). However, competition for Ph.D. places at the Institute is such that offers of admission are made almost exclusively to students who hold, or are expected to receive a strong first class honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject. If you are studying for a degree overseas and are unsure of its UK equivalent, please contact for advice.

In the United Kingdom and Australia, students will have completed a four-year undergraduate degree leading to a master of science, or similar qualification. In other countries, including the majority of Europe and India, a three-year undergraduate degree followed by a one- or two-year masters degree is necessary. A number of factors are considered when assessing applications, including relevant research experience and the subject area of the undergraduate degree (nearly always physics, astrophysics or mathematics based). The Faculty's minimum academic requirement for students graduating on a North American-related "GPA scheme" is a GPA of 3.5/4.0, although essentially all successful applicants have a higher grade of at least 3.8.

Students whose initial training is in another discipline, such as mathematics, usually need to acquire a masters level qualification with a substantial physics-based element. For applicants interested in more theoretical research areas, the one-year MASt in Mathematics or our  MASt in Astrophysics are options for acquiring the necessary background in astrophysics prior to commencing study for the Ph.D. Typically, each year, several students completing these courses are offered admission for a Ph.D. at the Institute of Astronomy.

Please see our  Academic Requirements FAQ for further useful information about first degree requirements and some specific information for applicants educated in the USA.

Page last updated: 12 October 2018 at 08:14