PhD Program in Astronomy and Astrophysics

Our faculty have been at the forefront of astronomy for over a century, shaping its course since the founding of our department by George Ellery Hale in 1892. Hale pioneered the big glass in telescopes that ushered in a new age in astronomy; Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar defined the agenda of theoretical astrophysics for fifty years; Eugene Parker revolutionized our view of the sun and the role of magnetic fields in the cosmos; and David Schramm brought together particle physics and cosmology. Our students have been just as influential. Edwin Hubble solved the puzzle of the nebulae and discovered the expansion of the Universe; Nancy Grace Roman made the Hubble Space Telescope a reality; Carl Sagan advanced our understanding of the solar system and how to share the excitement of what we do with the public; and Jeremiah P. Ostriker’s manifold contributions have made him the leading theorist of his generation.

Today graduate students in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics have multiple opportunities to engage with our pre-eminent faculty and their research groups on short- or long-term projects to complete pre-candidacy requirements and doctoral theses. Research fields span a wide range, with close integration between theory and experiment, and are enhanced by our connections to the Enrico Fermi Institute, the Departments of Physics and the Geophysical Sciences, and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. We have strong partnerships with premiere facilities including Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab, and we are a founding member of the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, the world's largest optical telescope now under construction in the Chilean Andes. 

The PhD in Astrophysics is a year-round, full-time doctoral program on the academic quarter system, which encourages students to explore a range of courses, engage with more faculty, and challenge themselves in a fast-paced and academically rigorous environment. 

Summary of Requirements

  • full-time scholastic residence of at least 300 units of coursework per quarter, including summer
  • completion of required core graduate courses
  • completion of one to three pre-candidacy research projects
  • successful completion of a two-part candidacy exam
  • completion of the teaching practicum
  • identification of a thesis advisor
  • formation of a thesis committee
  • thesis research and preparation
  • final examination


Each admitted student is assigned a mentor who will help the student navigate graduate school by guiding them to achieve academic and professional goals and supporting their well-being and personal development. The mentor can guide students in course selection, assist in navigating difficult situations when they arise, provide coaching when preparing for oral exams, and counsel regarding postdoc placement or other career options. 

Financial Support

Graduate students in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics receive full financial support from a combination of University and departmental fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. Students are also encouraged to seek out external fellowships, as these provide students with both financial support and the flexibility to focus on research goals of individual interest. A two-quarter practicum as a teaching assistant is required of all graduate students, typically in the first year of study. Teaching assignments include instructing lab sections for non-science majors, and collaborative teaching with the faculty instructor of lecture courses in the Major in Astrophysics program.