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Course Overview

The Institute offers the opportunity to study for the PhD degree, for which the normal duration of study is three to three and a half years. The format is almost exclusively research based, although students attend a number of short courses during their first year focusing on research-related skills. The typical PhD intake each year is between 10 and 13 students.

PhD projects may be exclusively theoretical or observational but many combine aspects of both and the majority involve sophisticated data-analysis techniques. It is normal for students to attend several relevant conferences/workshops during their period of study. Most students working on observational research projects will undertake observing trips (depending on the requirements of their project) to telescopes overseas. Full funding for Home and some Republic of Ireland and Overeas-fee students is via the award of one of our Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Doctoral Training Partnership or Centre for Doctoral training studenships.  All eligible students, including those with Home- and Overseas-fee status, will be considered automatically for an STFC studentship. 

Several STFC data-intensive science PhD positions will also be available where the full costs of maintenance and fees are also covered. The data-intensive science Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) PhDs are of four years duration, including a six month work placement with a company [with data science activities]. If you might be interested in such a PhD position it would be helpful to indicate that on the application form. 

A number of Overseas-fee PhD students are admitted each year, with scholarships from other sources, including the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Trust and the Gates Cambridge. A few secure funding from organisations in their own country.

You may also be interested in postgraduate research opportunities in Cavendish Astrophysics and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. A separate University application is necessary for each department where you wish to be considered for a PhD place.


Academic Requirements

The University's minimum academic requirement for admission as a Ph.D. student is the equivalent of a good UK 2.1 four-year undergraduate honours degree (five-year from Scottish universities). However, competition for Ph.D. places at the Institute is such that offers of admission are made almost exclusively to students who hold, or are expected to receive a strong first class honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject. If you are studying for a degree overseas and are unsure of its UK equivalent, please contact for advice.

In the United Kingdom students will have completed a four-year undergraduate degree leading to an "integrated" master of science, or similar qualification. In other countries, including the majority of Europe, India and the USA, a three- (or four-) year undergraduate degree followed by a two-year masters degree is necessary. Unfortunately, while not the view of the Institute of Astronomy, the University does not equate a four-year bachelors degree from Australia or New Zealand as equivalent to a UK integrated master of science degree. Formally, a separate master-degree is required to satisfy the Ph.D. admission requirement.

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

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

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