Institute of Astronomy

Postgraduate Student Handbook

New Arrivals

Co-Directors and Heads of Department: Cathie J Clarke & Mark Wyatt

It gives us much pleasure, as co-Directors of the Institute of Astronomy, to welcome you to postgraduate life at the IoA. We hope you will find it a really enriching experience and a great environment in which to conduct your research.

Scientific creativity thrives on interaction and at the IoA there are numerous opportunities for people to get together and share scientific ideas. We hope that as well as becoming fascinated with your own research quest, you will be stimulated by the breadth of science being pursued here. The wide range of talks, both by locals and our many visitors, for example at our seminar and colloquia series, will give you insight into the most exciting areas of contemporary astronomy. But chance conversations, for example at one of the regular morning coffee or afternoon tea breaks - both amongst your peer group and more widely in the IoA - are likely to be equally valuable. And don't forget the possibilities for passing your own knowledge to others - there are plenty of opportunities for public outreach and for teaching and mentoring undergraduate students.

Graduate students in the IoA have an excellent track record when it comes to submitting their theses on time, so clearly the buzz of activity around the IoA cannot be too distracting. Nevertheless, there may well be times when it's hard to achieve the right balance between your own research and acquiring a broader astronomical education (not to mention the rest of life beyond the IoA). If you become worried about setting your priorities, don't hesitate to get guidance from those around you, especially your supervisory team or the postgraduate coordinator. We are all here to help you.

Many of you will be embarking on what will turn into a lifetime of astronomical research, while others will use this time to go deeply into a fascinating subject but then go on to other things. Whichever category you are in, we hope you have a very happy and productive time here.

What can you expect?

Welcome to life as a postgraduate student at the Institute of Astronomy! The purpose of this section is to let you know what you can expect from your first few weeks in the department. When you arrive in Cambridge there will undoubtedly be many orientation activities prepared for you by your college to welcome you into college and university life. At the IoA, we have also planned a variety of events to introduce you to how the department works and to let you know what you can expect from your time here and what is expected of you as a student. The exact calendar of events will be announced when you arrive, but you can expect the first few weeks to be filled with meeting many new faces and talking to a great many people!

About the department

The IoA hosts more than a hundred individuals undertaking astrophysics research, including some 45 PhD students. The main building is the Hoyle building, where you will find the reception, administrative staff, lecture theatre, and many of the staff and students. Behind the Hoyle building are car parks, bike sheds, and the historic Northumberland and Thorrowgood telescopes. Finally, at the end of a tree-lined avenue, sits the grand Observatory building (fondly known as "Obs'') which houses the library and more offices.

The most recent addition to the department itself is a University-funded building known as the "Kavli'', hosting the Kavli Institute for Cosmology. This building is joined directly to the Hoyle via a link on the first floor of the Corfield Wing. It houses a mix of University staff, postdoctoral researchers, postgraduate students and visitors from the IoA, the Cavendish Astrophysics Group, and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). Although Fred Kavli passed away in 2013, his foundation continues to support physics research institutes around the world. For example, here can be found the Cambridge Planck Analysis Centre, under the leadership of George Efstathiou. The Kavli Foundation donation has also enabled the University to establish four long-term University fellowships in a research programme targeting "The High Redshift Universe''.

We have also recently seen the addition of a new building, the Battcock Centre, to the south of the Kavli building. While not part of the IoA, the Battcock Centre provides a new home to the majority of the Cavendish Astrophysics Group, concentrating more of the astrophysics research at the University onto the one site. The Department of Earth Sciences Bullard Laboratories can also be found behind the IoA. The end result is that you will have the chance to interact with researchers from a number of different departments. For example, the Cavendish has its own PhD students who you will likely meet from time to time. This mish-mash can be a little confusing, but it also means more opportunities to attend talks, Christmas parties, and Summer barbeques!

Arriving at the IoA

In terms of immediate practicalities, you will be assigned an office (usually one shared with other postgraduate students and the occasional postdoc) and a computer account. You can also expect a number of introductions to departmental procedures, introductory meetings with various people, and plenty of chances to meet your fellow students. You also have the option of attending any of the University lecture courses, which will begin shortly after your arrival, and might choose to do so to refresh your knowledge or explore a new topic while you're finding a supervisor...

Choosing a Project and Supervisor

The most pressing issue on the mind of most Ph.D. students is getting to work on your ground-breaking research. While some students identified a supervisor and a project during the admissions process, for many students the IoA works a little differently from most departments; you are given the freedom to shop around before committing yourself to a supervisor and project. You will receive a list of members of staff who are potential supervisors along with their research interests and other members of staff who will make themselves known at an introductory session where those interested in taking on students will present their work. You are encouraged to spend your first few weeks talking with a wide range of people.

Even if you are convinced you know exactly what your chosen line of research is, don't be too hasty to rule out other options! It's been known to happen that even the most die-hard theorists suddenly become inspired by a purely observational project (and vice versa), so be sure to approach the issue with an open mind and find the project (and supervisor) most suited to you. Your fellow postgraduate students are a valuable source of information, and many members of staff will even allow you to embark on a short trial project and spend a month or two before you commit yourself. At any rate, by Christmas, you should have settled on a supervisor and have a clear idea what your project will involve.

Other Activities

Other activities within the first few weeks include the University Safety Course which is compulsory (the Head of the Department is written to if any new students do not attend!); tours of the telescopes, and the start of graduate lectures. These lectures happen over the first couple of terms, and are designed to give you an introduction to topics relevant to your research. They vary from year to year but generally include things like: computing, public speaking, statistics, a student pre-print discussion group, and the useful "Astro Nuts and Bolts'' about miscellaneous astronomy topics. Finally, you mustn't forget the annual First Year Curry or Pizza which will allow you to meet the members of the department on a more informal basis.  Eat out at the IoA's expense! It certainly won't be the last time that they feed you.

Departmental Life

One of the first things that you will discover about the Institute of Astronomy is that on the whole it is a very relaxed and friendly place. There are many opportunities to meet up with the other members of the department to discuss your work perhaps over a cup of tea. The department rightly emphasises the importance of discussion and the sharing of ideas. Indeed, this is always in your own interest: whatever problems you face in your academic work, it is most likely that there is someone here who is an expert in that particular field and might just be able to point you quickly in the right direction.

Don’t feel that you are only allowed to talk to your supervisors about your work as you will soon discover that astronomers are a busy bunch who rarely seem to be able to stay in the same country for more than a few weeks at a time. If your supervisor is abroad and you have a particularly difficult problem with your work then it is always good to know to whom you can speak instead.

Academic work aside, there are also a number of occasions where you can get together with everyone from your fellow postgrads to the senior professors and just enjoy yourselves. In the following sections you can read about the most important events in your everyday life and how they are going to affect you.

Geographical Issues

The IoA is situated along Madingley Road, West of Cambridge city centre. It takes about 10 minutes by bicycle or 25 minutes on foot to get to the Institute from the city centre. You can also take the Universal (U) bus from Silver Street and alight (about 10 minutes later) on JJ Thomson Avenue. For those with a university card, each ride on this bus between West Cambridge and the city centre currently costs £1. You can check the bus route (which does change at times) and schedule online.

The Institute comprises several buildings scattered throughout a wooded site (see the site map on page 20), making for a very pleasant working environment. The main entrance and reception are at the Hoyle Building. This was originally a long, single-storey building opened in 1967. In 1999, a modern lecture theatre was added and second storey (the Corfield wing) and an extended entrance area was added in 2002.

South of the Hoyle Building is the refurbished APM building (so-called because it used to house the Automated Plate Measuring facility, used to digitise and process photographic plates) where the Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit (CASU)  is based.The University Observatory, built in 1823, now houses the library and more offices. Room numbers of the form H26 are in the Hoyle building, whereas numbers like O26 refer to the Observatory. To the East of the Hoyle building is the newer Kavli Institute for Cosmology, completed in 2009. The Kavli comprises a programme of research projects involving the IoA, the Cavendish Astrophysics group and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP).  The construction of the Kavli building formed the first phase of a longer term plan to relocate the entire Cavendish Astrophysics group to the IoA site. The next phase was the recently completed construction of the Battcock Centre, which now houses the Cavendish experimental astrophysicists, to the South of the Kavli building forming a rough court with the Kavli and Hoyle buildings.

All members of the IoA are issued with an access card this can be in the form of a temporary card until you get your university card which will be programmed when you arrive at reception. You may come and go as you please at all hours of the day and night (you are very unlikely to ever find the IoA deserted!). The University Security Patrol makes regular rounds of the site but it is very difficult for the Patrols to effectively police the site if they cannot identify the legitimate members of the IoA. Please make sure you carry some form of identification (e.g. University card) at all times. The windows are unalarmed between the hours of 08.00-18.00 and alarmed all weekends and bank holidays.

Although the University of Cambridge has no real centre and has buildings throughout much of central Cambridge, many of the science departments have, since the mid 70’s, been gradually relocating to new sites in the West of Cambridge, conveniently close to the IoA. The Cavendish Laboratories and the Computer Laboratory, for instance, are situated just across Madingley Road from the IoA. Also nearby, on Wilberforce Road, is the Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS), where weekly cosmology lunches are held. DAMTP now forms part of the CMS.

Postgraduate Lectures

A key aspect of the IoA is the breadth of research undertaken and the familiarity of individuals with astrophysical topics that extend well beyond their own specific research specialities. Maintaining a broad overview of astrophysics as a whole has been key to the success of the IoA and, for PhD students and young postdoctoral researchers, resisting the all too common move to over-specialise has tangible benefits for future careers.

The IoA, in collaboration with Cavendish Astrophysics, has a first-year programme of short, normally 8-lecture, courses designed to give IoA postgraduate students both a background knowledge of fundamental aspects of the subject and an introduction to a selection of highly topical research areas in astrophysics. Attending lectures will also help you to make the most of the weekly seminars and colloquia at the Institute which you are expected to attend.

You also have the option of taking some of the Part III Mathematics courses provided in DAMTP, a number of which are given by IoA Staff. These (typically) 24-lecture courses require a significant commitment in terms of both time and effort. However, particularly for students embarking on certain theoretical PhD topics, attendance at the right course can provide an excellent grounding, of direct relevance to their research.

You are expected to attend the IoA courses, as these will provide essential skills for your PhD studies and beyond. If you would like to attend other courses or have any questions, talk to Paul Hewett soon after you arrive.

Mandatory sessions for Michaelmas 2022 are:

Journal club -

Presentation Practice sessions -

Introduction to Research Computing

Once finalised and up-to-date the schedule of lectures can be found on the IoA website at

Academic Events

The IoA attracts many distinguished speakers from around the world to talk about their particular areas of expertise. In addition there are a great many resident experts who are often all too happy to share their vast wealth of knowledge with the rest of us.

The main academic events in the week are the departmental colloquia and seminars. These are separate from the postgraduate lecture series, and are open to anyone who wants to listen. It is strongly recommended that students attend (in fact, you’ll be frowned upon if you don’t). One of the things of which you will constantly be reminded is that you should not just follow one narrow line of research, neglecting all other fields of study. This leads to a fairly naïve view of the subject as a whole, and will certainly put you in a very weak position when it comes to your viva exam and when applying for postdoctoral positions.

It is always worth checking what talks will be on that day by clicking the “talks” link on the IoA homepage.





Institute of Astronomy Seminars



Hoyle Building Lecture Theatre

Institute of Astronomy Astrophysics Colloquia



Hoyle Building Lecture Theatre

Wednesday Seminars

These consist of a couple of short (half-an-hour maximum) talks given by resident and visiting astronomers on their current research starting at 1:15 pm. They are accompanied by a bread and cheese lunch at 12:30 pm. Look out for details in your inbox about signing up for a lunch platter, these are currently free but need to be ordered in advance!

During your time at the IoA, you will be required to give a Wednesday seminar about your work. It is expected that you will do this at some point during your second year, and again in your third year. You may also find it beneficial to present some results in your first year—this is good practice for conferences.

Figure 2: A talk in progress in the Hoyle Building  Lecture Theatre

Thursday Colloquia

On Thursday afternoons are the (more formal) astrophysics colloquia. The colloquium takes place in the Hoyle building lecture theatre at 16:00 pm after afternoon Tea, followed by wine, fruit juice and a selection of nibbles. There is a rota system in place to help with the serving of wine and washing/clearing up afterwards, please make sure that you sign up to help at least once a term. Often, the visiting speaker is taken out to dinner at one of Cambridge’s restaurants in the evening, and you are encouraged to go along (and even bribed with a subsidy!) Thursday colloquia generally only run during Full Term. There will also be the opportunity to 'Meet the Speaker' before the talk is given.  Please look out for details of this, you will get weekly emails. It is expected that all first year students attend Meet the Speaker Sessions.


Cosmology Meetings

There are regular Cosmology talks & meetings.  Details of these can be found - CAM cosmology infos (

DAMTP Astro Mondays


Every Monday during term time at 14:00, currently held online. Subcribe to the mailing list via the above link.

Featuring prominent astrophysicists from across Europe and the rest of the world.

PART III AND PHD STUDENTS ARE ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND : We require speakers to pitch their talks at a level that Part III students will learn something!

Data Intensive Science Seminar Series

A selection of data intensive talks from academia and industry, organised by the Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Intensive Science.  See the Talks page for more details.

Student Seminars

In addition to the large departmental talks, there are lots of smaller, less formal discussion groups and talks which are held at varying times during the week. One lunchtime a week (during Term) is usually set aside for student journal club, to which only the postgraduate students are invited. Part way through the year, first-year students give a brief presentation on their work to the existing students at journal club.

Journal Clubs/Group Meetings

Depending on what area you find yourself working in, there are also other journal clubs and meetings focused on one particular area of astrophysics. Most of these are relatively informal meetings, often involving food of some kind to stimulate the discussion process.

New meetings and journal clubs are always springing up and in general people are very welcome to attend these, although asking the meeting chairman first is always best! A selection of these are listed in Table 1. The locations tend to vary, so it may be best to check these with existing students before the meeting. Peter Kosec and the other X-ray students are alternate contacts for the X-ray meetings (students are usually much easier to track down!).






Stars Group Meeting


16:00 pm

Hoyle Committee Room

Chris Tout

Galaxies discussion



11.30 am

Ryle meeting room

Martin Haehnelt

Numerical Simulations



14:00 pm

Ryle Meeting Room

Debora Sijacki & Martin Haehnelt

Extragalactic Group Meeting Tuesday 10:00 am Ryle Meeting Room


Francesco D'Eugenio


Streams Group



14.15 pm

Obs meeting room

Wyn Evans

X-ray Journal Club


10:30 am

Hoyle Commitee Room

Andy Fabian

Debris Disks



13-14.30 pm

Hoyle Commitee Room

Mark Wyatt

X-ray BunClub


15:30 pm

Hoyle Commitee Room

Andy Fabian

Quasars Group


Wednesday (normally every other)

11:30 am

Hoyle Commitee Room


Aoife Simpson



Not-so Academic Events

The IoA has an arrangement with nearby Churchill College whereby any member of the IoA can use their tennis courts by simply going up to the lodge and asking for the key. Croquet and Volleyball Equipment are available for use in the IoA grounds. In the summer there are occasional cut-throat games of rounders, croquet, 5-a-side football and volleyball. Regardless of your research topic, you will always find a lot to occupy yourself with during the average week at the IoA. In fact, you will often find far too much to do, and it becomes difficult fitting in any work at all between coffee, lunch, lectures and other social gatherings. Do make sure that you relax, and try to learn as much as you can about the wider world of Astronomy outside your chosen field of research. The IoA works very hard to build an active social atmosphere in the department, and you are strongly advised to make the best of it!

Tea and Coffee

A friendly, relaxed atmosphere is vital if you want to work efficiently, and it is under this dubious claim that we meet every (weekday!) morning at 11.00 am for morning coffee and biscuits. This is normally held in the foyer of the Hoyle Building or outside on the lawn/in the marquees. It is well worth going to so that you can mix with your fellow students and get to know a bit about what they are doing, as well as steal some of their ideas. Most of the department will be there, so it is an ideal way to locate lost or well-concealed supervisors (and to show them that you’ve made it to work by 11.00 am). There is also an afternoon tea meeting at 15.30 pm nearly identical to morning coffee.

There is no charge for tea and coffee and you will find hot water, sugar and milk in the kitchens if you would like to bring your own speciality tea or coffee pods for the machine in the Hoyle kitchen. There is also instant coffee, hot water and a coffee brewing machine on the lower floor of the Kavli building for use by those whose office is in the Kavli.


There isn’t a canteen at the IoA, the nearest place to buy a range of snacks, food and drink is Greenwich House adjacent to the Observatory building. The other nearest place to buy food and drink is the West Hub.  At the far end of JJ Thomson avenue is West Cafe in the Hauser Forum building. Within the Cambridge Sports Centre there is Caf-fiend, serving great coffee and cakes. There is also the Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS) on Wilberforce Road, quite handy if you are over there for a lecture or seminar already.

If you fancy a more substantial (i.e. liquid) lunch there are a couple of pubs on Huntingdon Road/Castle Street fairly close to the IoA, the Castle Inn being a particular department favourite, and of course the city centre is not that far away.

Check out the Food Park on the West Cambridge and Eddington Sites, they have lots of different street food options. The West Cambridge Site is usually trading on Wednesdays from 12:00 - 14:00 pm and Eddington on a Wednesday evening from 17:00 pm - 20:00 pm.

If you are in a nearby College you will be able to get lunch there if you want. Churchill College dining hall welcomes visitors from nearby university departments, you can apply for a non-member Student Dining Card by filling out the form (see attachments) and handing it to the cashier in the Dining Hall.  It's best to choose a quiet time to do this.  Fitzwilliam College is also open to external Students and provides value for money meals which can be paid for with a college card or debit/credit card, they do not accept cash.

There is a medium sized Sainsbury's (supermarket) not too far from the IoA and also a very nice Patisserie - Dulcedo Patisserie, their coffee and pastries are very good! Both are located in the Market Square, Eddington which is about a 12 minute walk or 5 minutes on a bicycle.

The IoA itself has a new vending machine that sells snacks and drinks. Don’t forget the Bread and Cheese Lunch every Wednesday during Term at 12:30 pm which is free of charge. There are also several small kitchens with a fridge and a microwave, so you can heat up your own food. However, the kitchen near the Hoyle reception is only to be used by the catering staff for tea & coffee, and should not be used by students, except for cleaning up after the Thursday colloquium.                                                          


STFC states that “research students may, with the prior agreement of their supervisors, take up to eight weeks holiday in each year (pro rata for parts of a year), inclusive of public holidays. Leave should not normally be taken during the academic term”. However, this is quite a generous entitlement and students are asked to think carefully about how it would affect their progress before taking extended breaks. In any case, you should always check with your supervisor before making arrangements to be away from the Institute.

Do inform Bev at Reception if you are away from the IoA for two days or less (this is mainly for fire safety etc). Please discuss longer holidays and absences from the Institute with Debbie Peterson before making any arrangements.

Outreach Activities

The IoA has a diverse and ambitious public outreach programme, led by our Public Astronomer Matt Bothwell (  All postgraduate students are strongly encouraged to join in with some of the outreach activities, as they provide excellent practice and experience at communicating your subject. This will serve you well when it comes to interviews, professional seminars, giving talks in your College and of course explaining what you study to your family and friends!

Please get in touch with Matt if you are interested in getting involved, there are all kinds of different opportunities: from giving talks to schools, astronomy clubs, and the general public, to producing YouTube videos and running stargazing sessions for cubs and brownies. For more information on our activities, look at the Outreach page.

In order to be paid for any Outreach work you do, you must first fill in a Worker’s Agreement Form. This will be brought up during the outreach training sessions at the start of the year but, in case you missed it please talk to Matt, Hannah or Ashley about it.

Public Open Evenings

The IoA holds public open evenings on Wednesdays 19:00 - 21:00 pm, from the start of October to the end of March. These are incredibly popular: last year the open evenings were streamed on YouTube, and were (virtually) attended by around 17,000 people!

The evening begins with a 30 minute public talk, given by a post-doc or student from the IoA on any aspect of Astronomy at a very general level. This is followed by public observing or, in the case of cloudy weather, by tea and biscuits.

Postgraduate students are expected to help staff the evenings, and there is a modest remuneration for helping out as front of house and with the observing. Open evening talks also provide a very friendly and supportive audience on which to practice your communication skills. The sign-up sheet to volunteer to help can be found online on the intranet (under the “outreach” tab). The IoA has a number of historical telescopes on site which are available for use, and you will receive instruction on their use as part of your first-year training. To find out more, talk to Matt. 

Cambridge Festival Open Afternoon

Every March we hold an Open Afternoon for the general public as part of the annual Cambridge Festival. It’s normally held on the last Saturday of the Festival.

The department is filled with displays and demonstrations, and everyone possible is expected to help out in some capacity. Over a thousand people attend from diverse backgrounds, and helping out on the day is always an interesting and entertaining experience, plus you get free pizza and beer.

Other Activities

This is just the tip of the iceberg! There is a lot more outreach going on, including:

  • Hosting stargazing evenings for troops of brownies/cubs/scouts who visit us in the early evenings as part of their Astronomy badges. There are typically several groups per week looking for keen volunteers to answer space questions and show them around the night sky. Payment is available for this.
  • The department has an active YouTube channel, where we post a lot of public content, including a series of astronomy talks for children, a summer astronomy book club, and a weekly ‘ask an astronomer’ livestream run by the postgraduate students. If you would like to participate in any of our online outreach events (or if you have any ideas you’d like to explore), please let us know!
  • There are all kinds of other events going on which you would be welcome to help out at, including school career’s fairs, the `AstroEast’ programme, bringing astronomy to deprived schools across East Anglia, and much more.

You’ll get an ‘introduction to outreach’ session when you arrive at the IoA, and for more information just talk to Matt, you will find him in H59, or email


The Institute’s Science Cluster will most likely cater for your day-to-day computing needs during your time here. The cluster consists of computers ranging from individual desktops to shared servers and is unix based with most machines running Red Hat Linux or the equivalent Centos release.

Details of the computer system are available within the Computing section on the IoA Intranet  which is accessible through Raven (see Section 6.6). This is a pretty extensive resource detailing the machines and software available as well as computing policies. You may want to look at the FAQs, look at the User Guide which gives you step by step instructions for specific tasks on the cluster, or use the intranet search to find information.

The cluster offers many software packages ranging from standard web browsers, office suites and image editors to scientific packages (Mathematica, MATLAB, etc.), programming languages, and specialist astronomical software (including ds9, GAIA, IRAF, and the hilariously named Source EXtractor).

Shared Machines

While you will have your own desktop computer, you may wish to run jobs on shared servers which can offer higher performance in terms of CPU speed and memory. CPU time on these machines is a shared resource so you should nice all intensive jobs you run or you will rapidly make enemies!

High Performance Computing (HPC) 

If you find that you need computing resources beyond what is available at the IoA, you may want to look into using the University’s High Performance Computing (HPC) service. This is particularly relevant for compute intensive and/or memory intensive problems and usually involves some sort of parallel computing.

In the first instance, you can discuss with your supervisor whether you might benefit from access to HPC resources. The main two supercomputers at Cambridge are Peta4 and Wilkes2 - collectively known as CSD3. If you would like to get an account for accessing CSD3 contact Debora Sijacki ( and for help with using the resources take a look at the CSD3 user guide:"


Your account will give you “a reasonable amount” of home disk space (at the time of writing 5GB), available at /home/username. On request, users with a high volume of email, software source code or documentation can increase their home disk space in chunks of 1GB. Requests, accompanied by a short, one sentence, justification should be sent to Helpdesk (see Section 6.11) There are other storage disks (usually called “data disks”) you can access for your GB/TBs of data (if you have them). If you need a reasonable amount of storage on the data disk, email Helpdesk (see Section 6.11) with your request, or ask your supervisor about unreasonable amounts.

Home directories have hourly snapshots held for 24 hours and daily snapshots held for 65 days. The snapshots can be found in ~/.snapshot/. Home directories are backed up weekly, the first backup of the month is kept for 13 months, subsequent backups are kept for 1 calendar month. Snapshots are point in time read-only copies of live directories. They are located in the same file system as the live directories allowing recovery of previous versions of files or deleted files. They are not resilient to other potential forms of data loss and should not be considered as backups.

Most data directories are not backed up and don't have snapshots taken. The special data directory /data/vault/username, (which can be requested from helpdesk), is quotad up to 20GB. It has a near real-time copy made to a separate storage server and has a single snapshot taken at midnight, daily. 

In unix, the rm (delete) command is unforgiving and will delete the file immediately – at some point you will delete something important, so be prepared! It is usually safer to use ‘rm -i’ to confirm before you delete if you’re not sure. If you do have anything important, it is your responsibility to make sure it is backed up. CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and USB memory sticks may be obtained from Helpdesk for this.


You will have a departmental email alias,, which forwards email to your central University email address ( For students new to Cambridge since October 2019, your University email account will be on the University's Exchange Online email system. All previously registered students should have migrated from Hermes to Exchange Online by the start of the 2021/2022 academic year.

Personal Web Pages

If you make a folder called public_html in your home directory, you will be able to create your own personal web-pages using HTML, PHP and CSS, accessible at These pages are in addition to your main department website profile which you can find in the “People” section on the IoA website. To change your profile on the main website, click on the "Login" button near the top of the page and Raven authenticate, then click on "My Profile" in the menu on the left-hand side, then click on the "Edit" tab.

Although you are free to write whatever you like on both these sites, please remember they are IoA and University of Cambridge websites, so don’t write anything that might upset either! Violation of the rules will lead to the removal of your pages.


Raven is the University-wide web authentication service provided by the UIS. Your Raven ID (provided by the central university and the same as your CRSid) with your Raven password is used to authenticate you onto a number of web based services around the University. Your Raven ID should automatically be added to an access control list to allow you to access the department intranet and room booking system, however if you have any problems, please email Helpdesk.

As a postgraduate student, you should be given your Raven ID and password by your college.

Remote Access

A small group of machines may be accessed from outside the IoA (see Remote Access & Security), but only via secure shell (SSH), scp or sftp. NoMachine NX is also available which gives you a graphical interface to a remote machine rather than just a terminal (although you need to connect via the VPN service). During the pandemic students have been given access to their desktop systems through the NoMachine remote desktop client.

Free SSH clients are readily available for Windows (MobaXterm) and most other operating systems and should come built in to Linux and Mac OS X. Linux and Mac clients allow X-forwarding (by using the -X option), while X-forwarding is possible on Windows clients using an X-server such as the freely available Xming or MobaXterm. If you don’t understand all this unix terminology, then don’t worry, you will soon pick it up and there is more information on the intranet.


We provide desktop machines for all students, but do not provide full specification laptops. The department can loan modest specification laptops to students for use as ‘screens’ to facilitate remote access to the Institute computer system and monitors. The specification of available laptops is available at For further information, please contact Helpdesk.

Connecting Your Laptop

If you want to connect your own laptop to the IoA network with a wired connection rather than by the usual wireless connection, you will need to complete a form available from Helpdesk. Once this is complete, you should be able to plug your laptop into most of the network ports on site.  Note that not all the network ports are enabled. If you plug into one and nothing happens try another one or contact helpdesk to get that port enabled.

Wireless Networking

Wireless access is provided by the eduroam service which will allow you to access WiFi in Cambridge, as well as worldwide at most universities. It can be difficult to set up when outside of Cambridge, so you should do this before you leave. Eduroam will also work on mobile phones. Note that you need a special key to connect to eduroam which is different from your usual password. You can obtain this from the aforementioned website.

There is also the UniOfCam network which allows you to quickly connect to the internet whilst in Cambridge. Once you are connected to the network you will need to open a web browser and then log in using your Raven ID.


Printing using the department’s printers is free for research-related work. You can find out which are the nearest printers to your office by either asking your office mates or looking it up on the intranet. If your laptop is connected into the department network or eduroam, you can also use that to print to printers in the department.

Quite often when you go to a conference you will end up presenting a poster summarising some of your recent work. You can find out more about getting these printed in Section 8.5.

When it all goes wrong...

The first thing you should do in the event of any computer problem is of course RTFM  (Read the Fine Manual!). You should also look at the Computing User Guide in the intranet even if you are familiar with computers. If this does not answer your question, try asking the people in your office or someone in the experts list in Section 12.2. If they are of no use, then the computer support Helpdesk (see below) should be able to help.

The Computing Group & Helpdesk

The IoA has a group of computer support staff (Graham Bell, Sue Cowell, Neil Millar and Cormac O'Connell), who are in charge of the Science Cluster computers, network and most of the software available on the Science Cluster.

The IoA Computing Group are best contacted via email to Helpdesk (  Helpdesk uses a support system called RT which generates tickets to handle individual requests. It is monitored by the support team during normal working hours and the system keeps track of faults that haven’t been fixed, maintains records of what has been done already and provides historical notes for methods of fixing similar problems in future.

You should always submit a request/report of any problem or question to the helpdesk email account. An email to Helpdesk ensures that i) your problem is formally logged, ii) a specific response will be forthcoming, iii) the knowledge about your problem reaches the appropriate group member rapidly, and iv) the Computer Group don’t end up fixing the same issue multiple times for different users who have not used the Helpdesk email facility.

Please do contact helpdesk urgently with hardware problems e.g. if a machine has crashed or hung, and do not attempt any direct action of your own which could cause physical damage or data loss (a quick way to lose friends!). The other reason not to restart the system yourself unless absolutely necessary is that, although that may clear the fault, it is then much harder to find out what went wrong and hence prevent a repetition of the problem. Please do not email individual Computer Group members, as mail directed to Helpdesk is much more effective and helps everyone.

The standard Helpdesk phone number is 66666. A mobile phone number (dial internally on 50339) is available for use in emergencies, or as a single phone contact for out of office hours computer support. Please be sparing with the use of this facility! Basically, if the building is in danger of exploding or your machine has become demonically possessed and is breathing fire, then you can probably think about dialling the mobile. Remember, usually the best way to resolve a problem is to email Helpdesk, even out of hours, as system managers will occasionally log in. This not only allows a written record of the problem, but logs it in the database so that it can’t get lost.

Contact: Helpdesk 66666

If you do have any general comments or concerns you want to raise about computing in the IoA, the best way to do this is through the Student Reps on the Computer Users Committee (CUC).



The IoA Library, located on the ground floor of the Observatory building, holds about 35,000 books and 250 current periodical titles including electronic publications. Apart from a few special collections all material is available on open shelves. The standard loan period for books is 28 days, but renewals are also available. A printed/online guide to using the Library is available. The Library home page brings together a range of astronomical and general Library resources.

Books and journals can be searched on iDiscover. iDiscover is shared with other departments and faculties, but you can select Astronomy from the dropdown menu of libraries to search only the IoA Library. A list of new acquisitions is circulated monthly and suggestions for new titles are very welcome. A display of new books can be found in the small library area by the director’s offices in the Hoyle Building. Monthly listings of new books can be found on the Library website.

Electronic journals can be accessed through links on iDiscover, or on the Library webpages.  On campus access should be seamless, although you may be asked for your Raven password at times.

The Rayleigh Library is just across the road in the Cavendish Labs, and may occasionally have something that the IoA does not. Failing that, there is also the Betty and Gordon Moore Library, which covers sciences, in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences on Wilberforce Road and the mighty University Library (UL), which has every book ever published anywhere by anyone, or something like that. Individual Colleges have their own, less-specialised, libraries, which can be useful if you just want to consult a standard textbook.

Feel free to contact Mark Hurn ( if you have any questions about the library, or if you have suggestions for new books.



Illustration from Sir Robert Ball's "Great Astronomers" (1895) (page 365)

The astronomy library actually has a very nice collection of scanned images of pictures and photographs. This is one dating back to 1823 when the Obs building was first constructed!

Post and Telephones

Mail trays are located in each of the main buildings, both for standard (Royal Mail) post and the University Messenger Service (UMS). The latter is a free service that delivers letters and small parcels between university departments and colleges every weekday.

You can use the IoA mail trays for work-related post and already stamped personal items. You can ask at reception if you would like us to frank (stamp) any work related mail but no personal mail is accepted. The deadline for outgoing post is 16:00 pm each weekday. If you need to arrange for Recorded/Special Delivery of important documents, such as job applications, contact reception.

Incoming mail addressed to you at The Institute of Astronomy, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0HA, will be delivered to your departmental pigeonhole each weekday morning after tea break. There are sets of pigeonholes in each of the main buildings, yours will be in the building containing your office. UMS mail is collected and delivered to the Hoyle building at 11:00 am each weekday and will be distributed with the post.

Each office has a telephone, shared between all the people in that office. Incoming calls can be made direct to your office number. As with the mail, there are two types of telephone networks, the University has an internal network of 5-digit numbers (which start with either 3 or 6) and calls between numbers on this network are free. If the 5-digit number begins with a 3, add an extra 3 at the beginning to dial it from outside the network, if it begins with a 6 you should add a leading 7.

Personal and business telephone calls can be made from the telephone in your office, although any personal calls must be paid for and will be added to your bill. For calls outside the University network (UK landlines and mobiles), dial 9 first to get an outside line. You will need to dial reception (37548) to make international calls from your office phone.

Office Equipment and use of Printers/Photocopiers

There are photocopiers and fax machines at various points throughout the IoA. These should not be ideally used for any personal use. Printers can be found all over the site, see the User’s Guide (see section 6) to find out where they are. Personal use is allowed within reason, although if this is abused the IoA will be quick to change this. Also, remember that colour printing is VERY expensive, use the colour printers only when completely necessary. 

Stationery cupboards with files, pens, paper etc. are also there for you to use, located in both the Hoyle, Kavli and Observatory buildings. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please let reception know. If you require any special arrangements to be made for your office setup (new office chair, non-fluorescent lamp, keyboard, etc.) please contact Mandy Cockrill  <>

Cambridge Terminology

This is complicated. There are so many things to know about the University. The most important things that will likely be related to your experience are the following:

  • There are 3 Cambridge Terms called MICHAELMAS (beginning October to the end of November), LENT (mid-January to mid-March), and EASTER (mid-April to mid-June) These are busier times of the year, when pesky undergraduates take over the town. It is also a busier time at the department, with colloquia and postgraduate courses and more people around. Try to avoid taking holiday during these times
  • You are a member of a Cambridge College. Make sure you know this and matriculate at the start of term (early October). Why point out something “so obvious”? Without mentioning names, one of your peers forgot to matriculate some years ago, leading to excessive headaches when trying to submit his first year report.
  •  As a member of the University you have an email under the domain, which is different from your account. Your RAVEN login is also your cambridge user ID (, and is needed to access a number of Departmental and University services.

Who's Who

  • One of the most important things for any new arrival to know is who to turn to with specific queries or problems. If these concerns are of an academic nature, then the first person for you to seek out is Paul Hewett (, who is responsible for postgraduate academic matters, or your College tutor. We are a friendly bunch at the IoA, you will find everyone happy to talk to you about any aspect of your studies (but don’t approach them when they’re up against a grant or funding deadline!). If, however, you do feel the need to talk to someone who is independent of the Institute’s system of student oversight, then Cathie Clarke should be your first port of call.
  • There are several daily issues that you may come up against that are of a more practical nature, such as where to go to stock up your supply of pencils, how to use the Library, or where to get tea and coffee.
  • Here, we aim to outline briefly some of the key (non-academic) staff at the IoA and what they can do for you...


Reception is located at the main entrance to the Hoyle Building. The receptionist handles the ebb and flow of the postal system, the switchboard, can scan documents (or set up your email to do so), and handle personal bills for the photocopiers and telephones. Reception can order stationery if you can’t find what you are looking for in the open stationery cupboards in each building. They will be glad to try and help out with any problem you might have in general day-to-day life in the IoA. Let Reception know if you will be away from the IoA for more than a few days (e.g. while observing or on holiday).

Contact: Bev Woolston Hoyle Entrance (3)37548  

The Admin Team

Angela Macharia is the Department Administrator. David Savidge is Deputy Administrator with particular responsibility for Finance, Buildings and Grounds and is also the Safety Officer. Angela is responsible for overall administration of the IoA including finance, personnel and welfare. David is Angela's deputy when she is absent or not available.

Debbie Peterson is the Senior Student Administrator and also a departmental Wellbeing Advocate. She oversees all aspects of Postgraduate Student administration from pre-admission enquiries, interviews, admissions, current student assessment processes, right through to the production of your PhD dissertation and examination. Debbie can advise on funding for Conferences, Observing trips etc., will arrange flights and can help you with the form-filling and sometimes complex University paperwork.

If you encounter any problems or have concerns of a non-scientific nature during your time at the IoA you should talk to Debbie in the first instance. She will often be able to help and, if not, she will certainly be able to point you to the most appropriate person. If you have any problems interacting with specific academic staff or have problems in your relationship with your supervisor you should also inform Debbie or Paul Hewett at an early stage. Any issues regarding your office, furniture or other facilities should be discussed with Debbie or send an email to Mandy Cockrill []. Mahsa Zohhadi who principally looks after undergraduate students and Carolyn Young who is the Postgraduate Admissions & Examinations Co-ordinator should be able to help you in Debbie's absence.

Ashley Worman is the HR Administrator and has particular responsibility for personnel and training issues, including immigration, visas, right to work and room allocation issues.

Susan Leatherbarrow (Office Hours Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 08:00 am – 15:40 pm) is the Accounts Clerk. She assists David in the Finance Office with the processing of accounts and financial management.

Each autumn, Paul Hewett organises a Seminar on “How to get an astro job”. Drawing on the experience of recently appointed postdocs and staff who themselves conduct interviews, he will cover: where to apply; producing a CV; completing job applications; interview techniques; etc. This is for all students and not just those in their final year as it is never too early to acquire these important skills.


Angela Macharia

Department Administrator



David Savidge

Deputy Administrator - Grants & Finance



Ashley Worman

HR Administrator



Susan Leatherbarrow

Accounts Clerk



Debbie Peterson

Postgraduate Student Administration




Mahsa Zohhadi

Undergraduate Student Administration




Carolyn Young

Postgraduate Admissions and Exam Coordinator



Other support staff

Other members of the team around the IoA include Susan Hatley who looks after Prof. Cathie Clarke and Prof Mark Wyatt (Heads of Department). Steven Brereton, P.A. to Prof. Anthony Challinor and Kavli Administrator and his colleague Dr Alison Wilson, will help you to track down academic staff and are always willing to help if you have questions or don't know who to approach about something, etc


Susan Hatley H48 (3)37521
Steve Brereton K12 (3)37516

Library Resources

The Library has a professional librarian, Mark Hurn, available to help with enquiries between 09.30 am -12.30 pm Monday to Friday. The Library’s role is to support the academic work of the IoA by the provision of appropriate information and services, and the staff are always keen to help you to make the most of the resources. During the postgraduate induction week there will be a tour of the Library and an introduction to the services offered.

Mark is always very helpful and more than happy to conduct a search for difficult-to-find material and provide an Inter-Library Loan facility for items which are not available in Cambridge.


Library office Observatory E (3)37537
Mark Hurn Departmental Librarian  

Graphics Officer

Amanda Smith is the Graphics Officer at the IoA. As well as providing help and advice she can make pictures, conference posters (including very large ones!) and diagrams look as good as possible for web and print presentation/publication. She also provides bespoke illustrations, graphics and a print-ready brochure service. So, if you need visuals to accompany a talk or press release, promotional material or visuals for a meeting or outreach activity do get in touch! Amanda works mainly on Macs using software that includes, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign & Cinema 4D. Digital files are shared easily via ftp, or We Transfer. For hard copies, the IoA have a high res A3 transparency scanner and photography service. In short, most if not all media types can be digitised and formatted for wider use, including: motion graphics, print press, merchandising, LaTeX, PowerPoint and Keynote presentations. The Graphics office also provide in-house printing, up-to and including A0 as well as overhead transparency, full-colour stationery and label printing. For everything else (e.g., posters larger than A0) there is AVMG (a University of Cambridge audio visual service) tel. 333787, whom Amanda will liaise with for you. AVMG provide a range of options - their foldable, A0 cloth conference posters are popular and cost £50 per print. They offer a same day printing service but do allow a day or two extra as they can get busy! Whatever your reprographic needs are get in touch. Amanda is here to share advice and give practical help that will enable you to create impactful, effective images that support your research.           


Amanda Smith Graphics Officer O3 (3)37545


Matt Bothwell heads the public outreach programme at the IoA with his colleague Hannah Strathern. Matt and Hannah are the people to contact if you are interested in getting involved. There are plenty of opportunities: from helping with the popular weekly open evenings, hosting visits from brownie/cub/guide troops doing their astronomy badges, to giving talks to school pupils of all ages. You might have some bright ideas for new things we can do.

Matt can also help with writing a public/astro-soc level talk, with your communication skills, and with press releases for your amazingly exciting results (when they happen). Matt spends a lot of time working out of the IoA, frequently out visiting schools, so isn’t always available at short notice – but he’s always reachable by email.


Matt Bothwell Public Astronomer H59 (3)39279
Hannah Strathern Outreach H12 (


All new Ph.D. students at the University of Cambridge are formally registered for a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree only at the end of their first year, subject to satisfactory performance, thus the first year is to be regarded as a probationary period.

All of us, that is the University of Cambridge, the IoA, your supervisors and yourself, share a common goal: that you complete your thesis work and obtain your Ph.D. within the period of your funding. The majority of Ph.D. students, including those with funding via STFC, will be aiming to submit their theses within three to three and a half years. Only the occasional student with funding from the Royal Society or overseas, that extends to four years, will be aiming for a somewhat longer timescale (but very definitely within four years). Finishing within the allotted time will also be viewed favourably by potential employers. This is not an easy task and will require dedication and hard work on the part of every one concerned. The aim of the first year assessment is to ensure that you are well on your way to achieving this goal. Thus the formal registration process is an important threshold in your studentship, second only to the Ph.D. examination itself.

A more formal description of you and your supervisors’ responsibilities in terms of assessment and feedback can be found in the Code of Practice for Research Students  which it is recommended you read.

The University has a formal student complaint and review procedure and the webpage describing the procedures can be found here. Each Department will have a ‘Responsible Officer’ and a deputy who will respond to local level postgraduate complaints. The Responsible Officers for the IoA are Professor Anthony Challinor and Professor Mark Wyatt.      

The Route to Your PhD

During the first Term you will consider the range of work undertaken at the IoA and discuss possible topics with potential supervisors. A suitable topic for research and supervisor should normally be identified before the end of the first Term.

Postgraduate Lecture Courses

The Institute has a long-standing policy of ensuring that Ph.D. students are given the opportunity to gain knowledge of a broad range of astrophysics, extending beyond the specific area of their Ph.D. research. In collaboration with Cavendish Astrophysics, the IoA offers a suite of postgraduate 'lecture courses', which complement the longer and more formal astrophysics lectures offered as part of Part III of the Mathematics Tripos. First-year students are expected to attend 40 lectures during the year.


Before writing anything at all, your attention is drawn to the University regulations concerning plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as submitting as one’s own work, irrespective of intent to deceive, that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement. It is both poor scholarship and a breach of academic integrity. You should familiarise yourself with the University’s plagiarism policy.

First Year Assessment Exercise

Formal registration for the Ph.D. degree occurs only after satisfactory completion of the first year assessment exercise, which involves the completion of an approximately 10,000 word report, to be submitted by the end of June in the first year of study. The precise deadline will be confirmed nearer the time along with instructions for the on-line submission process. The report is not to exceed 10,000 words, including summary/abstract, tables, footnotes and appendices, but excluding table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, list of figures/diagrams, list of abbreviations/acronyms, bibliography and acknowledgements.

The report will always contain a proposal for the research to be undertaken during the remaining period of study for Ph.D. but the content of the bulk of the report is not closely defined. Students should agree the title and outline content of their report with their primary Supervisor during March/April of the first year of study. Examples of the basis for the content of the report include: i) a complete, or almost complete, research project, ii) a submitted journal paper, or iii) an extensive critical literature review related to the proposed Ph.D. topic.

First Year Assessment Interview

Following appointment, two IoA researchers will each make a brief independent report to the Degree Committee on the evidence provided by the progress report and then hold an interview with the student to discuss the content of the report and the plan for future research. The assessors will then submit a joint report and recommendation to the Degree Committee, covering the quality of the report and the student’s registration, including any feedback they wish to provide for the student and supervisor(s).

Assessors’ and Supervisor’s reports

The student’s Principal Supervisor will comment on progress in the light of the assessors’ feedback and make his/her recommendation to the Postgraduate administration department. If the recommendation is straightforward the Department will register students for the PhD, otherwise the Degree Committee will contact the student and supervisor and advise what steps they need to take next. For more information see here.

The student will see the assessors’ report and the Supervisor’s report when the assessment has been completed.

Monitoring Progress After the First Year

To help the student monitor progress towards completion of their Ph.D. thesis, a progress report is also requested in the second year. Finally, a final thesis-plan is requested six to nine months ahead of the planned thesis submission date. In each case the report will be read by two members of staff and an interview with the student will be held to discuss the report. Written feedback to the student and supervisors is then provided.

The Ph.D. Submission and Viva

Finally, the most important assessment of them all, your Ph.D. oral examination! The degree of Ph.D. is awarded primarily on the quality of a dissertation of not more than 60,000 words constituting a substantial contribution to original research. The thesis is assessed critically by two examiners who then conduct an oral examination upon the subject of the thesis and the general field within which it falls. One of the examiners will be a member of staff of the IoA (but not your supervisor) and the other will be from another institution. Most Ph.D. orals last between two and four hours. At the end of the viva, normally you will be told whether the examiners are going to recommend the award of the Ph.D. or would like you to make some corrections to your thesis before making such a recommendation.

The administration of registrations, submission and examination are handled by the Board of Postgraduate Studies and by the Degree Committee of the Faculty of Physics and Chemistry. The Faculty consists of the departments of Chemistry, Materials Science, Physics and Astronomy. The Degree Committee webpage provides details of the Ph.D. submission process and should be the first port of call if there are any queries regarding procedures.

Final approval for your degree is conditional on you submitting a hardbound copy of your thesis. Institute of Astronomy PhD students are required to submit an additional copy to the IoA library. Students who matriculated in October 2019 or after can submit an expenses claim to the IoA [] for the cost of a single hardbound thesis.

Recording Progress

While the ultimate result of your time at the IoA should be an impressive bound dissertation, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Research Councils and the University now expect an on-going record of achievement, progress and development throughout your period of study. All IoA Ph.D. students are required to keep a Progress Log, covering activity relating to their Ph.D. research and a record of astronomy-related courses and presentations (both attended and given). The relevant paperwork and further information will be handed out in October and collected at the end of the academic year. Students are also required to complete a Transferable Skills log which will be collected towards the end of May each year.

Travel and Money (for PhD students)


Note: For any travel or conference requests please complete the Permission to Travel form [see bottom of page] and email it to post-graduate.admin@ast in the first instance.

Permission to travel is required for ALL trips even if funding is not required from the department. If you are attending a conference remotely and you plan to claim conference registration fee you should also complete a form and obtain approval for the expenditure in advance of committing your own funds. Permission to travel should be obtained from the Postgraduate Student Office (Debbie/Paul) after your supervisor has given her/his support. Failure to obtain permission to travel may result in any expenses and/or insurance claims being rejected.

Please read the University's most up to date guideance on Safeguarding Work Away | (

All applications for Institute funding whether for Conferences, Workshops, Meetings, Observing or Collaborative visits, will be assessed on merit. Funding for attendance at events which are considered as essential to your PhD project will have been identified at the start of your PhD. Otherwise, we will do our best to help you take advantage of a wide range of opportunities that should help you develop as a researcher. Our budget is, however, finite and full funding may not always be available for trips. The majority of trips will be funded via contributions from multiple sources, including the IoA, student funding/scholarship body, a College, awards from conference/workshop organisers and the Cambridge Philosophical Society.

Conferences, Workshops and Meetings

This is applicable to all students, Home and Overseas, unless your sponsor specifically provides direct funding for conference/workshop attendance.

STFC and some other sponsors provide the Department with a grant to support your research (note that some sponsors will require you to make a specific application before each trip and will reimburse you directly). These funds are intended to cover all the resources, facilities and travel you will require. The IoA pools these grants and dedicates the resultant funds primarily to student travel, thus you do not have a personal travel budget.

Conferences, Meetings and Workshops should normally be chosen to be relevant to your area of research and you will likely be participating, either by giving a talk or presenting a poster. Firstly, you should discuss any opportunities with your Supervisor. Consideration should be given to the relevance to your thesis topic and timing, e.g. would you be better to wait until you have some results to present or is it a suitable time of year in relation to our assessment exercises? If your supervisor is supportive, you should complete the appropriate Permission to Travel Form (see below) and return it to Debbie (or, in her absence, to Carolyn Young). You will need to work out roughly how much the trip will cost, including flights, travel to the airport, accommodation, food, etc., and registration fees for conferences (these can often be paid up-front by the IoA). Each trip will be assessed on its individual merit. You should not make any arrangements before obtaining permission from the Postgraduate Office to attend.

While there is not a hard limit to the total cost of such trips over the course of your studies, our budget is finite. We try to be very flexible but you should also take advantage of other sources of funding or potential contributions from your College, from the organisers of conferences and from other possible sources. If another institution has promised to reimburse part or all of your expenditure it is generally possible to arrange for the IoA to pay the full cost up front and for you to reimburse the Institute when you receive the money.

Please remember that making travel arrangements as soon as your trip is authorised is recommended, the cost and availability of flights and accommodation will change dramatically the closer to the date of travel you leave it. You should not exceed the authorised expenditure amount (see Claiming Expenses)

Research Related Travel for IoA MPhil Students

As an MPhil student, it is unfortunately most unlikely that you will have time to travel to conferences, courses or make collaborative visits during your 10 month period here. The IoA does not have funding available to support such trips.

Arranging Travel

Do not make any arrangements or commitments before discussing the trip with your Supervisor, securing permission from the Postgraduate Office and securing the necessary funding using the process outlined above. Please also refer to the University's Sustainable Business Travel | Sustainability ( guidance when you are planning your travel.

Make sure you check your passport and any visa requirements.

Flights should be booked with Key Travel, the University's preferred travel agent, whenever possible. Consult Debbie Peterson (or Carolyn Young in her absence) before making any arrangements and she will advise and provide the necessary purchase order.


You should generally book your accommodation yourself and claim this back on expenses. If you need any guidance while arranging travel, speak to Debbie who will be happy to advise.

Travel insurance must be obtained through the University. University travel insurance is available free of charge to all staff and postgraduate students travelling on University business. To obtain travel insurance, visit Travel Insurance | Insurance ( Full details of the policy are available on this page. After arranging travel insurance, you should forward the confirmation e-mail to Debbie (

Risk Assessments - you must have completed a risk assessment form and returned it to Debbie before you travel. Failure to do so could invalidate your travel insurance. In most cases a low risk form will be sufficient but if you are unsure please use the Risk Rating Table for further guidance.

Observing Trips

As part of your course, you may be required to visit overseas observatories to collect data and learn to use the facilities. For Home students on STFC funding, STFC will generally pay for at least two nearby (La Palma) or one long-haul (Chile or Hawaii) observing trip.

If you are not a STFC student then funding for observing trips can be more problematic but not impossible. Some other sponsors can be persuaded to contribute but if there is no prospect of other sources of funding, and you have been admitted specifically for an observational project, the IoA will pay for two nearby (La Palma) or one long-haul (Chile or Hawaii) observing trips per student.

If your supervisor suggests you go observing, your first port of call, regardless of who is funding the trip, should be Debbie Peterson or Paul Hewett who will guide you through the practicalities.

Please note that students cannot go observing unaccompanied but are required to work with experienced (non-student) observers.

Collaborative Visits

Collaborative visits are less common than observing trips but occasionally, as part of your course, it may be desirable for you to work for a period of time at another institution. This might happen if your Supervisor is spending time working away from the Institute with a colleague at another institution or if another organisation provides specialised training in data handling or other techniques. If your supervisor suggests you make a collaborative visit, please consult Debbie.

Non-STFC-funded students will need to ascertain whether their funding body is willing to cover the cost of collaborative visits to other institutions.

For Observing Trips and Collaborative Visits,you will be asked to complete a brief application form (available from the holder on the wall beside H06) outlining purpose of visit and costs.

Claiming Expenses

To claim back your expenses, fill in an expense form with all relevant receipts and return to Debbie Peterson [] for approval. You will generally receive the reimbursement within two to three weeks. You should be careful not to exceed the amount authorised when completing your permission to travel form. If you incur unexpected expenses during your trip please ensure that you explain the reasons fully when submitting your expenses claim.

If you do not have enough money to cover the expenses before travelling you may apply for an advance. Talk to David or Susan in the Finance Office (H04) but make sure you apply in good time (i.e. three weeks before you need it).

Other Sources of Funding

Travel and Conferences/workshops:

There are few supplementary sources for travel support, but it is a good idea to join the Cambridge Philosophical Society ( which organises seminars and meetings and provides travel grants. The membership fee is modest for students and certain IoA academics can sign the membership nomination form. Philosophical Society grants are only available if you have been a member for more than 12 months. You may also want to consider joining the Royal Astronomical Society, who have grants for situations not covered by other funding agencies. Membership is just £1 for the first year for students. Most Colleges provide some travel and/or book grants, as does the Institute of Physics if you’re a member. Remember, it never hurts to ask!

Maintenance costs

The University sets the minimum period of study for the PhD degree as three years. Our PhD students are in receipt of funding/scholarship awards with durations from three years up to four years. The IoA does not possess the resources to extend the length of maintenance funding and all students should be engaged on a PhD topic that is achievable within the [known] length of PhD maintenance funding. If, however, you encounter health or other difficulties beyond your control that affect your ability to work effectively full time you should consult the Postgraduate Office (Debbie or Paul) at the earliest opportunity.

Post-thesis submission assistance

Following submission of your Ph.D. thesis you remain a student while "under examination" including a period for completion of any corrections [to your thesis] that the examiners may reommend. For many students an interval following submission and before employment commences is not ideal. In certain circumstances the IoA may be able to help with maintenance costs for a few months after the submission of your thesis. Students will need to be working on an agreed research project, which could be the preparation of a journal paper based on work contained in your thesis, and must be within four years of commencing their PhD study. Students will be provided with information about making an application for such support as they approach the end of their maintenance funding. Members of the Cambridge Philosophical Society can also make applications for post-submission funding support in order to complete a research project.

Undergraduate Teaching

A common way for postgraduate students to earn extra money is through the teaching of undergraduates. There are essentially two ways you can do this; supervising and demonstrating.


Supervising is often known as tutoring at other universities and at Cambridge, supervisions typically take place in small groups of two or three students. Supervisions are a key part of the Cambridge undergraduate teaching system and provide an opportunity for students to go through material covered in lectures and discuss the problem sets (that will typically be set by the lecturers) and past exam questions, as well as discussing extended concepts related to the course material.

Astronomy PhD students would usually supervise students studying the Natural Sciences Tripos (the Cambridge degree that includes all science-based subjects), most often in Physics or Maths.

Usually, each College arranges supervisions for its undergraduates in Parts IA and IB (first and second years). The person in charge of this is the Director of Studies for the subject in question. The Director of Studies in your College is probably the first port of call if you are interested in supervising Part 1A or 1B. You should be able to get their e-mail address from your College website (if you are at a predominately all-postgraduate College such as Wolfson, Hughes Hall, Darwin or Lucy Cavendish, this will be more difficult but see below about supervising in the Department).

The IoA also runs an undergraduate astronomy course in the third year, in Part II of the Natural Sciences Tripos, for which they require supervisors. Contact Cathie Clarke ( at the IoA if you are interested. The Physics Department in the Cavendish Laboratory also need supervisors for their Part II (3rd year) and III (4th year) courses which range from core physics (including relativity and thermodynamics) to more specialised astrophysics courses. If you are interested in supervising for the Physics Department, contact the Teaching Office (

Supervising advanced courses such as Part III (Honours year) Astrophysics can be very challenging, and if you do decide to do this be aware that you could be spending a substantial amount of time trying to complete course problem sets and dealing with tricky questions from your students. It is always a good idea to find somebody who has supervised the course in previous years if you need some help.

It is a requirement that anyone supervising for Astronomy takes the formal training course for supervisors available through the Researcher Development Programme. More information on and how to sign up for these formal training courses can be found at‚Äč If you have already supervised for your Cambridge College, you may be exempt from this requirement. If you are supervising for other departments eg. Maths, you will most likely be required to attend Department-specific training which supersedes the university-wide sessions described above. Please contact Cathie Clarke ( to discuss. We strongly advise that you take the course if you are supervising in other subjects or if you are considering supervising in the future.

Any postgraduate student intending to supervise must obtain the permission of her/his supervisor (at the IoA) to give supervisions. It is also Institute Policy that our students do not undertake more than 6 hours of supervision per week and anyone considering doing more than 4 hours must discuss it with Debbie Peterson before committing, You should provide details of which courses and how many supervisions you wish to undertake to your supervisor at the beginning of the academic year.

It is normally easier for those who were Cambridge undergraduates to get involved with supervising, simply because they already know the system and the people involved. Supervisions are usually organised before the University Term begins, so if you leave it until you arrive it may be too late. You are under no obligation to do any supervising, but it can be a rewarding experience,and a good introduction to teaching from the other side of the desk. You can expect to earn about £25 per hour, which seems like a lot, but remember all the preparation you will have to put in beforehand. Bear in mind that you should not spend too much time supervising—anything more than four hours a week will probably be too much. Cambridge undergraduate terms are eight weeks long, so your minimum commitment will be a couple of hours a week for eight weeks, though for many courses you would be expected to supervise for all three terms, including revision supervisions before the examinations. Also, remember that you will be taking on an obligation to your students, and that you will have to make sure that you understand the course!

Another, more informal, way to get involved with Part II and Part III/MASt students is through the presentation-skills club. The goal of the club, which runs several times per term, is to allow Part II/III students to practice their presentation skill by either giving a presentation on an astrophysical topic they are learning about or discuss a peer-reviewed astronomy paper. The role of the postgraduate student is to moderate presentations/questions, be a mentor/offer advice to the students, set up the A/V system, and set up and clean up refreshments provided by the department. Interested postgraduate students should contact Cathie Clarke (


Demonstrating does not refer to political agitation, but rather to helping out in the undergraduate experimental classes, almost always in Physics. During their first and second years as undergraduates, physics students undertake a fairly lengthy (a half or whole day) experiment every week or so. Each student writes a report on the experiment as they do it, to be handed in at the end of the experiment. The demonstrator’s job is to be on hand to provide advice and assistance as needed during the course of the experiment, and to grade the reports of a set of students after the experiment is finished. You would obviously have to perform the experiment yourself beforehand to make sure you understand the important issues. Unless you have done the exact experiment before, expect this to take you the same amount of time as the undergraduates. This can make demonstrating for your first year very time consuming if a new experiment has to be learned every week. Make sure you know the amount of time required before committing yourself. The plus side is the pay, you can earn as much as £700 in a term, and if you do the same labs the following year you get paid the same and don’t have to do the preparation.

Physics teaching is organised by the Cavendish Laboratory. If you are interested in demonstrating, contact the Teaching Office ( at the Cavendish. They will be very happy to hear from you, as demonstrators are always in short supply! 

Other Resources

Library and Journals

The Library catalogue is now searchable online via iDiscover and is also accessible from the terminals located in the Library.

NASA ADS the first place to search for online journals, many of which are now accessible electronically. Paper is so 20th century, you know.

The astro-ph preprint archive is the first place you will see most new results, so make it your habit, first thing every morning, to check the new listings. You can subscribe to get daily e-mails with the abstracts - your officemates will be able to tell you.

International Astronomy Meetings is, err, a list of international astronomy meetings! Worth checking now and again so you don’t miss something you would benefit from attending.

The University Perspective

The Graduate Union exists to represent the interests of postgraduate students in official University matters, and to dispense advice on legal, financial, academic and welfare matters. Particularly useful is the Graduate Union Handbook and Alternative Prospectus.

The Degree Committee of the Faculty of Physics and Chemistry website contains all you need to know to prepare your PhD probationary report and PhD thesis and links to the Board of Graduate Studies website.

The Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) represents both undergraduate and graduate populations in Cambridge. They produce a substantial number of publications, which should be available either through your College MCR or JCR, or from CUSU at: 1 Old Examination Hall, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF; telephone 01223 333313. Of particular use is their Freshers’ Guide.

Cambridge University Reporter is the University’s official journal. It carries notices of official University business, announcements for events, and, in October, the full year’s Lecture List.

Researcher Development

What is researcher development?

Researcher development provides you with generic skills that can assist you with a broad range of study and researcher employment situations. Examples include verbal and written communication, team working, time management, computing skills and evaluation skills. Over the past year students from the Institute of Astronomy have taken part in a number of activities such as language programmes, public outreach and specific skills development seminars.

Why do I need it?

Researcher development enhances the subject and research specific skills that you acquire during your course, which will help you to manage your own research programme and career path more effectively. Good researcher development training will also enhance your ability to communicate your passion to other astronomers and a much wider lay audience. As astronomers we are often funded by public bodies so it is important to communicate our work to the general public. In addition many of you will also find yourselves working with larger teams of collaborators. Being able to function effectively within such a team is an important skill to develop.

Many astronomy PhD students go on to find employment in the academic research environment but there are those who diversify into related fields utilising their specialist analytical skills. Examples include oceanographers, software developers, meteorologists, teachers, general practitioners, solicitors, and hedge fund analysts. Researcher development training helps expand the opportunities available to you by giving you the confidence and vision to see how your specialist skills can be adapted and expanded.

What is the University’s policy?

It is now a requirement that all PhD students funded by the UK Research Councils, including STFC, participate in 10 days per annum of training in researcher development. The University has since decided that such training should be available for all PhD students irrespective of their source of funding. For IoA students this is funded by the University and by the School of Physical Sciences. Researcher development should be developed alongside your subject/research specific skills and should be monitored using log sheets provided by the department.

How do I fill in my log sheet and what should I do with it?

You are asked to keep a researcher development log sheet each year and submit this before the end of the Easter term to Debbie Peterson. In practice it is probable that you would prefer to use up to 15 days training provision in your first year,10 for the second and 5 for the third or similar. You should take personal responsibility for ensuring that you undertake the required amount of training during the course of your PhD. In practice, fulfilling the required number of days is not difficult as any talks you may give at student seminars, group meetings, attendance of seminars etc count towards them. The completed sheets are then returned to the Office of the School of Physical Sciences to monitor the Researcher Development Development Programme and the information used to help determine future funding.

What training is available?

Internal training

The Institute of Astronomy, being a relatively small department, relies on obtaining the majority of its researcher development training courses from the School of Physical Science and from other courses run by the University. There are, however, some ways of obtaining researcher development skills through the department.

The Induction Programme for first year students incorporates some researcher development training (University Safety Induction Course, Library Tour, Computing courses). Mark Hurn is able to give further bibliographic training if requested. Involvement in outreach activities such as the Institute’s Open Day and public observing evenings is encouraged, and there is a communications skills course held each year by Matt Bothwell.

You will also have the opportunity of becoming a postgraduate supervisor, for which formal training will be organised by the IoA (See section on Teaching).

Internal resources

Researcher Development Programme for information on what is available for postgraduate students from the university.

What training is available?

University of Cambridge Student Registry, Language Centre, the Computing Service, Staff Development, the Health and Safety Division and the Disability Resource Centre. It is worth noting that Staff Development run specific programmes for Contract Research Staff and Postgraduate Students.
School of the Physical Sciences supports postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers to develop their skills during their time at Cambridge. Please see what the other departments within the School offer by accessing their individual websites.

Cambridge University External Affairs and Communications. If you wish to get involved in the local community volunteering or public engagement, visit the Public Engagement site.

Careers Advice: The University’s Careers Service is available for you at any time to help with career planning. Please see the comprehensive facilities available. You can arrange to have a one-to-one discussion with a careers advisor.

External training

The Institute of Astronomy has in the past approved external training courses ranging from Counselling, First-Aid, Scientific Writing for Astronomers (three day course in Belgium), the “Voice of young Science workshop” held in London, the “She is an Astronomer” conference (as part of IYA 2009) and has purchased the equipment for the IoA podcast. If you wish to attend an external course, please email Joy first to see if funding is available.

External resources


Vitae is an excellent resource. Each year the National and Regional “hubs” run residential courses (GRADschools) of between three and four days. Visit their website to learn how constructive and enjoyable these courses are for postgrads. The main objective of the GRADschools is to encourage you to identify the skills you have and how best to market them. UK GRAD also has a section just for postgraduate researchers where you can access tips on how to manage your PhD effectively.

The British Science Association is a registered charity which exists to advance public understanding, accessibility and accountability of sciences and engineering.

Sense About Science is an independent charitable trust whose programme helps research scientists in the early stages of their career to get actively involved in public debates about science. Please visit the STFC and Royal Society websites (depending on your source of funding) to see what courses they have on offer.

Who can I contact?

Debbie Peterson - Postgraduate Administrator - - 66643

Researcher Development Facilitator (School of Physical Sciences and Technology) - Dr Sonja Tomaskovic

Careers advisor for Physical Science  - Dr Sonali Shukla -

Survival Tips for Living and Working in Cambridge

Surviving your PhD

Each person’s experience of a PhD is different, but sooner or later everyone encounters a difficult patch and wonders “why am I doing this?” It is a long road, but there are many steps you can take to make life easier for yourself. For some excellent perspectives on how to handle postgraduate student issues such as managing your time, staying motivated, writing a thesis, and publishing papers, see:

Raymod Huey, “Some Acynical Advice for Graduate Students

Remember if it was easy, someone would have done it already. For a more light-hearted look into the life of a postgraduate student, check out Piled Higher and Deeper comics. Try not to spend all your time reading comics though.


Sometimes the problems you face may turn out to be more serious than the regular bumps in the long thesis road. If you do find the pressures of a PhD are getting to you the most important thing is to seek assistance when you need it. This can come in lots of forms depending on the problem and how you would feel most comfortable. Within the department your supervisor or co-supervisor is a good port of call, particularly if it is a work related problem. Paul Hewett is also a good contact as he oversees all the PhD students. Some matters are also helped by going to see the support staff—particularly for issues with money, Debbie Peterson and David Savidge are often good points of contact.

For pastoral care the best contact point will be your college tutor. If you’re having any issues that you don’t feel you want to voice to the department, a college tutor can often be very helpful. They will normally be very receptive if you drop them an email to arrange a meeting. The best thing to do is not to stay quiet! If you’re having problems, no matter what they are, most people in the department are very approachable and you can turn to anyone who you feel comfortable with.

The University have many departments dedicated to giving help and support to students, please visit the Student Wellbeing website for further information.

Dignity @ Work

Feel like someone’s behaviour is not acceptable?

Or feel someone is not behaving professionally?

Everyone in the University has the right to expect to be treated with respect and professionalism at all times.  If you think there may be a problem and want to talk in confidence to someone in the Department you can contact Cathie Clarke (cclarke at or Angela Macharia (am2730 at, the Department’s own Wellbeing Advocates.

If you contact Cathie or Angela they will do what they can to support you in an informal way.   They may advise you to contact the University’s Dignity @ Work Contacts who provide confidential advice to anyone across the University who might feel that they are experiencing difficult working relationships, including bullying or harassment.

You don’t have to make the local contacts your first port of call – you can raise a concern directly with the University’s Dignity@Work contacts.  If you would like to talk confidentially to a Dignity @ Work Contact, you should call (7)65031 which is a confidential voice-mail number and leave your name and contact details, or email with your name and contact details.


Register with a doctor (Note for Overseas students: called general practitioners (GPs) who work within surgeries, probably known to you as medical practice offices or clinics. ) and a dentist (University Dental Service: 3 Trumpington Street, 01223 332 860). If you live in College they should help you register by suggesting a GP when you arrive. It’s pretty straightforward; overseas students should make sure to bring a passport along with their university ID card to the surgery, then they will ask you to fill out a few forms about your medical history. Although it’s easy, don’t forget to do it since you could run into trouble if you’re not registered and have an emergency. Your GP should be your first point of contact in most circumstances. If you find yourself sick out of surgery hours, there is a national NHS hotline number that you can call to get advice about your medical condition, call 111 for advice. If you find yourself unwell and unhappy with your GP, don’t forget that switching surgery may be helpful. For those of you living near the IoA, the Huntingdon Road Surgery is highly recommended although in town there are a variety of surgeries.

Remember that NHS healthcare in Britain is free at the point of care and nearly perfectly reliable (compared to many other countries). The only thing you’ll normally have to pay for is prescription medications, at £9.35 each. Some types of prescriptions are free, like birth control—for a list of who receives free prescriptions and what is free, visit the NHS Prescription Costs webpage. If you find yourself needing more than 3 prescriptions in 3 months then buying an NHS pre-payment certificate could save you money.

Some colleges in Cambridge also have college nurses for common ailments and health issues. The information is kept in confidence. Check with your college porters or on your college website to see if there is a college nurse and what hours they keep.

The local NHS hospital for Cambridge is Addenbrooke’s, which can be reached from the IoA on the Universal (U)  bus line or from town on the Citi 1, 2, 7, 13a, or Milton/Babraham Park and Ride bus. Addenbrooke’s Accident and Emergency (A & E) is the nearest emergency room, should you need to be seen urgently.

In case of a serious crisis, the emergency services number EU-wide is 112 or, in the UK, 999. This will connect you to a operator who will ask you about the emergency. Stay calm and explain where you are and what’s happened. It is possible to contact the police, the fire service or ambulance service through this number. You can also contact less common services like the coastguard and rescue services. 111 is a new phone number in the UK that can be used for medical help where it is not a severe emergency. Calling this is also useful if you don’t know whether to go to A & E and they will recommend a place for you to go for treatment.

If you are experiencing stress, depression, or anxiety, or particularly want to talk about mental health, you can speak to a nurse or a GP for more information. You can also see the University Counselling Services which is available to both students and staff for free. They offer short sessions of counselling, usually for 6 weeks, and can discuss any mental issues. They also offer group counselling and certain types of training. They are located on Lensfield Road, off Trumpington Street towards the south-east of Cambridge. Their waiting list can be as short as a week but does get a little longer during term time when they are more over-subscribed. Their website has more information on their service and how to apply for an appointment. The NHS also has mental health services and there are several groups in Cambridge for young people, (e.g. Centre 33) which can offer similar services for free but you may find the waiting lists are longer.

If you need to escape from the Cambridge bubble from time to time, remember that London is only an hour away by train, and Stansted airport is even closer! Remember that if your travel is related to the Institute or your course you can speak with the Admin Department about whether you should put in a claim on expenses.



If you are under 25, get a 16-25 Railcard. This saves you 1/3 on all rail tickets and pays for itself if you go to London more than twice in a year. It costs £30 and is available at the Cambridge station service desk or online through National Rail (you will need a passport-sized photograph). Look for coupon codes and other discounts before you purchase, as it is usually possible to save 10% or more. You can also buy a Railcard if you are over 25, but you’ll need proof of your status as a full-time student.

The National Rail website also serves as a good journey planner and will send you to the rail operator’s site to buy tickets. You don’t need to worry about picking the right rail operator, as you can buy any ticket on any website. Occasionally there will be a deal that is only available through the train operator you will be travelling with, but this is the exception rather than the rule. A good tip is to think about getting a PlusBus upgrade to your ticket, giving you free bus travel within your destination city (except London) on the day of arrival. It is often significantly cheaper than a regular day ticket.

A note on travel costs—always check all the options carefully. Return and advance tickets are your great friend, as they generally reduce the price significantly. Open return tickets allow the return journey to be any time up to a month after the outward trip, which allows you to save money even if your return leg is not fully arranged. Be aware of off-peak returns as these allow you to travel back on any train for up to a month after your outward trip, but only on certain trains that are outside of peak times. These tend to be week days 8.00-10.00 am-ish and evenings 16:30-18:30 pm -ish but it can depend. If you get caught out and end up on a peak-time train with an off-peak ticket you are normally forced into buying a peak ticket so it’s best to look ahead to see which times are available to you. Train pricing works in mysterious ways; a day return ticket can sometimes be cheaper than a single fare. What’s even more bizzare, once in a blue moon the first class ticket may be cheaper than standard.

Trains are extremely convenient for travelling to London. An express connection to London King’s Cross operates at high frequency. There is also a marginally cheaper though rather slower connection to London Liverpool Street. The biggest drawback of train travel is that the station is outrageously far away from the city centre—by Cambridge standards that is. Think about 20 minutes walking distance from the city centre (quite a bit further from the IoA). There are also very frequent buses between the train station and the city centre, even quite late in the evening.  Cambridge now has a second station - Cambridge North.

If you are planning on travelling around London regularly, it is worth investing in an Oyster card, which makes paying for public transport in London both cheaper and easier. These are used on buses, the underground, and the overground trains in London. It is very like other metro systems in cities around the world. Your Oyster card can be topped up and then swiped on public transport to pay for a ticket. This is cheaper and easier than paying by cash. It records your journey and will take the cheapest fare possible—just make sure to swipe off at the end of your journey to avoid paying a penalty.


Coaches are often a cheaper alternative to trains and can sometimes be more convenient. The main carrier is National Express. If you plan to use coaches regularly, get the Young Person’s Coach Card for discounted fares. It costs £10, and you can buy it online or at any coach station (Drummer Street in Cambridge). The long distance coach connections depart from and arrive to the east side of Parker’s Piece, which is within a comfortable walking distance from the city centre. There is also the infamous (and painfully slow) X5 line operated by Stagecoach, providing you with the cheapest way of getting to the Other Place (Oxford!). Note that despite being rather more expensive, and involving a fairly long connection on the Underground to get from King’s Cross to Paddington, the train is in fact still faster by at least 30 mins.

Air travel

The natural thing to do when flying is to use the London airports. Prices are approximate.

• Stansted (30 minutes train ride for about £7 with a railcard).

• Luton (1hr coach ride, £12).

• London City Airport (tiny airport actually in London, 2hr train and Tube journey £15 with railcard).

• Heathrow (major international hub, 2hr train and Tube journey £16 with railcard or 2.5hr coach trip £20).

• Gatwick (the furthest of the London airports, 2.5hr train journey £19 with railcard).

For cheap flights within Europe, check out Ryanair, Easyjet, Wizzair, BMI and LastMinute. Ryanair, despite charging you extra for pretty much everything, has the advantage of flying from Stansted. A good website that will give you flexible dates and good travel ideas (as well as quotes from all cheap European airlines) is Skyscanner. Finally, one crucial hint for flying with “cheap” airlines— don’t go over the luggage weight limit as you will soon realize that British Airways would have been cheaper. Make sure your hand luggage also meets their requirements, these can change even between different budget airlines.

Car rental

Most people consider keeping a car in Cambridge hardly worth the effort, as getting around the city is practically impossible with one. If you want to rent one occasionally, Cambridge offers the standard range of big name companies. If you are between 23 and 25, Cambridge Car and Van Rental is one of the few places that will not charge you a young driver surcharge. Also, you get a free day on every 5th rental and a 10% discount for University members.


The main taxi company in Cambridge is Panther Taxis. They are fairly reliable and you can book a taxi on 01223 715715. The department also has an account with Panther Taxis so if you are on university business with the IoA speak with Debbie Peterson or Reception about booking a taxi through the Institute’s account. Uber taxis are also available in Cambridge, usually booked through the Uber app on your phone, sometimes they can be booked online.

Getting around the town

Many people walk or take the bus in order to get to the IoA. As of the time of writing, The Universal (U) bus (and Citi 4 where its route overlaps with the U) going past the department are a pound per ride if you show your university ID.

Still, the Cambridge way to get around is cycling. Some colleges have bike sales at the beginning of the year. These are substantially cheaper than local shops and worth getting to before the undergraduates come back. For a cheap new bike, check out Station Cycles (next to the Grand Arcade car park entrance, in the street behind the Material Sciences department) or the cycle workshop in the narrow alleyway between the Anchor and the Mill (both pubs, if you’re wondering). You can also check out the adverts list on the University forums 113 where people post things they want to sell. Don’t forget when you get your bike to get a good helmet and a good lock. If you live in College housing, you should also register your bike with them so they know not to throw your bike away when you’re away on holiday! You can also register your bike with Immobilise which is a UK wide property register in case your bike is stolen.

If you decide to ride at night, note that you are legally required to have lights: one white light in the front and a red light for the back. You will be fined if you’re caught without them. It is also illegal to ride a bicycle on the pavement except where signs permit it. Otherwise, cycle on the left of the road. In Cambridge there are several roads with designated cycle paths. Note also that bicycles are bound by the rules of the road and must obey all the stop signs and traffic lights just as other vehicles would. That won’t stop many of the cyclists you see around town, but one day they will be caught and ticketed in front of your law-abiding self, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you did The Right Thing.


About This Document

This handbook was originally conceived in the spring of 2000 by the following group of postgraduate students at the Institute of Astronomy: Meghan Gray, Sara Ellison, Colin Frayn, Robert Priddey, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz. Since then more than 50 students have helped update and revise the handbook!

This year, Debbie Peterson, the Postgraduate Student Administrator, has co-ordinated production and any suggestions or amendments should be sent to her at


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