Institute of Astronomy

Ph.D. Programme

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. Full funding for Home, and some Republic of Ireland students, is via the award of one of our STFC Doctoral Training Partnership studenships. All eligible students will be considered automatically for an STFC studentship but significant additional funding is required to cover the University fees for Overseas students. A number of Overseas Ph.D. students are therefore admitted each year, with finance 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 15 supervisors will offer a total of well over 40 Ph.D. projects. With 10-13 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).

The number of supervisors/projects available in any particular research area is limited and the timescale for consideration of applications is short. There is less than a month between the University application deadline at the beginning of January and the nomination deadline to the University funding competitions in early February.  Applications from students who wish to be nominated for scholarship funding from the University can only be considered where the support of one of our Potential Supervisors has been obtained and a research project description provided. 

Academic Requirements for Admission

The Faculty's minimum academic requirement for admission as a Ph.D. student is the equivalent of a good UK 2.1 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 admissions@ast.cam.ac.uk 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: 26 August 2021 at 16:26