Institute of Astronomy

Ph.D. Programme

Applications for entry in October 2020


Applications are now being accepted for the PhD, MASt and MPhil in Astronomy.  The closing date for applications is noon on Tuesday 7th January 2020.

Please see the course guide on the Graduate Admissions Website for further information.



Royal Society PhD Studentship


Royal Society Studentship - a fully funded studentship (Home/EU students only) for entry in October 2020 has just been announced see here for full details.

Course Overview

The Institute offers the opportunity to study for the Ph.D degree, for which the normal duration of study is three to three and a half years. The format is almost exclusively research based, although students attend a number of short courses during their first year focusing on 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 several relevant conferences/workshops during their period of study. 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. intake each year is between 10 and 16, a number of which are funded via STFC Doctoral Training Partnership studenships for which qualifying UK and EU residents will be considered automatically. A number of EU and 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. A separate University application is necessary for each department where you wish to be considered for a Ph.D. place.

Projects & Supervisors

Each year some 25 supervisors will offer a total of well over 50 Ph.D. projects. With 10-16 students starting their Ph.D., there are many more projects than students. As a consequence, the Institute does not provide a list of 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).

Royal Society Studentship - a fully funded studentship (Home/EU students only) has just been announced see here for full details.

University and United Kingdom Government requirements mean that the linking of students to supervisors and projects depends on the University Fee Status of applicants – one of a) UK Home b) European Union non-resident or c) Overseas.

For Home and EU students resident in the United Kingdom, experience shows that offering students the opportunity to investigate and assess a number of projects once they have arrived in October 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.

For students from the European Union there may be options for exploring alternative projects (as for Home students above). However, to be accepted for Ph.D. study (in October 2020) and considered for University funding it is still necessary to have a named supervisor and a specific project-description.

Students from Overseas must also have a named supervisor and a specific project-description in order to be accepted for Ph.D. study.

For students from the EU and Overseas, there is hardly any time available following the Ph.D. application deadline to establish student-supervisor links and develop a project description. It is therefore essential that applicants make contact with a potential supervisor before making a formal application to the University.

More specific information about completing the University Ph.D. application form, including funding eligibility, can be found in the Funding section .

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 undergraduate academic record, relevant research experience and availability of project/supervisor in the selected subject area. The competition for the limited number of Ph.D. places available means that for students graduating on a North American-related "GPA scheme" (maximum 4.0), essentially all successful applicants will have a GPA of at least 3.8.

The short, research-only, Ph.D. degree is suited to students who have an undergraduate degree in astrophysics or theoretical physics. 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 December 2019 at 09:21