Astronomy and Planetary Science, Doctor of Philosophy
Department of Astronomy and Planetary Science
College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences
The PhD program in Astronomy and Planetary Science prepares a student to work as an academic, government, or industrial research in astronomy or planetary science. Each student completes an eight-course core curriculum and works on an original research project under the direction of a faculty member. Research work culminates in an oral presentation and a dissertation.
To receive a Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) at Northern Arizona University, you must complete a planned group of courses, from one or more disciplines, ranging from at least 60-109 units of graduate-level courses. Most plans require research, a dissertation, and comprehensive exams. All plans have residency requirements regarding time spent on the Flagstaff campus engaged in full-time study.
The full policy can be viewed here.
In addition to University Requirements:
- At least 60 units of degree requirements
Please note that you may be able to use some courses to meet more than one requirement. Contact your advisor for details.
|Minimum Units for Completion||60|
|Dissertation||Dissertation is required.
|Comprehensive Exam||Comprehensive Exam is required.
|Oral Defense||Oral Defense is required.
|Research||Individualized research is required.
The PhD program in Astronomy and Planetary Sciences is designed to provide students with a broad technical understanding of the dominant physical, chemical, and geological processes that control stellar and planetary systems while requiring students to have and present detailed mastery of their specific research topic within the field of astronomy and planetary science.
The PhD program in Astronomy and Planetary Sciences leverages state-of-the-art resources found in Arizona, and especially one of a kind facilities near Flagstaff, to deliver a unique and distinct graduate education that cannot be found in Arizona’s other state universities. The Department of Physics and Astronomy will partner with Lowell Observatory, United States Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center, United States Naval Observatory, and the Naval Research Laboratory, as well as the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) and the Naval Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI), all in or near Flagstaff. This program also capitalizes on the wide range of nearby geologic environments (including Meteor Crater) to enable terrestrial and analog planetary science investigations
Students will build skills and knowledge through formal class work and an original research project. Core coursework will focus on the development of essential skills PhD astronomers and planetary scientists need upon entering the workforce in an academic or industrial setting (instrument design and fabrication, optical design, computational approaches, big data, remote sensing, and/or techniques of observational astronomy). These courses will focus on advanced topics in astronomy and planetary science that students need for a solid foundation upon which to build their own postdoctoral research (formation and evolution of solar systems, atmospheres, interiors, and surfaces of planetary bodies, astro-chemistry, exoplanet science, and other topics). In addition, students will perform their own original research, write a dissertation, and make an oral, public presentation of their results. In the original research component, students will learn how to collect and analyze data, write up their results, and communicate their results to others in a manner consistent with professional standards in the astronomical and planetary science communities.
Students entering the PhD program in Astronomy and Planetary Sciences typically have an undergraduate degree in physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, or similar field. Upon completing their PhD, students are likely to pursue teaching, research, technical jobs in industry or at research facilities, or similar professional opportunities that require PhD-level knowledge, tools, and experience.
Student Learning Outcomes
The PhD program in Astronomy and Planetary Science is designed to prepare students to carry out original research in the private sector, government facilities, or academia. Learning outcomes for all students include the following technical topics:
- understand the principles of stellar and planetary system formation through high-level problem solving and semester-size research projects
- understand the physical processes in the present day Solar System through high-level problem solving and semester-size research projects
- understand the principles of spectroscopy, including the interactions of light and matter, through developing small-scale research project ideas
- understand chemical interactions in and around stellar and planetary systems through high-level problem solving and semester-size research projects
The following learning outcomes also apply to all students. These outcomes will be achieved both in coursework and through mentoring and opportunities as part of the student’s research activities:
- ability to synthesize and discuss recent publications in Astronomy and Planetary Science
- capability to successfully execute an original and significant research project of publishable quality in Astronomy or Planetary Science
- ability to present to experts a well-designed plan to execute original research.
- ability to present and discuss in oral and written formats original research results in the context of scientific meetings, workshops, and a final dissertation defense
- publication of original research in an Astronomy or Planetary Science journal
- ability to communicate with the public on topics in Astronomy and Planetary Science
Other learning outcomes depend on the research path (and therefore the coursework) taken by the student. Some representative examples are provided here.
For students whose research focuses on the study of planetary surfaces, further learning outcomes include the following:
- gain skills in planetary remote sensing and apply them to open-ended research projects
- gain skills in remote sensing for terrestrial applications and apply them to existing problems
- understand the processes of planetary surface evolution and demonstrate this knowledge through semester-size research projects
- understand the processes of planetary surface physics for exoplanets and demonstrate this knowledge through semester-size research projects
For students whose research focuses on observational astronomy, further learning outcomes include the following:
- gain skills in observational astronomy and demonstrate these skills through analyzing telescope data
- understand the physical principles of optics and demonstrate these skills with a demonstration project
- learn observational astronomy techniques as applied to the study of exoplanets and demonstrate this knowledge through a semester-size research project
- gain computing skills to enable big data analysis of observational datasets and demonstrate these skills through a semester-size research project
For students whose research focuses on laboratory studies in planetary science, further learning outcomes include the following:
- gain optics skills for use in laboratory research settings and demonstrate these skills through an appropriate technical design
- develop knowledge across a range of experimental techniques that are used in research laboratories and demonstrate this knowledge through a technical demonstration
- gain skills to design and control electronics systems used in research laboratories and demonstrate these skills through a technical design project
- understand the fundamental physics of solid materials in the context of laboratory research and demonstrate this knowledge through high-level problem solving
For students whose research focuses on exoplanets and planetary formation, further learning outcomes include the following:
- understand the formation and evolution of exoplanets and present this knowledge in high-level problem solving and a semester-size research project
- gain skills in the use of telescopes to observe exoplanets and employ those skills in designing a research project
- gain computational skills to be used for addressing problems in exoplanet science and create a technical demonstration of those skills
- gain advanced modeling and computational skills to be use for addressing problems in exoplanet science and create a technical demonstration of those skills.
Additional Admission Requirements
- Admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.
- NAU Graduate Online application is required for all programs. Details on admission requirements are included in the online application.
- Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution
- Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.00 (scale is 4.00 = "A"), or the equivalent.
- Admission to many graduate programs is on a competitive basis, and programs may have higher standards than those established by the Graduate College.
- For details on graduate admission policies, please visit the Graduate Admissions Policy
- International applicants have additional admission requirements. Please see the International Graduate Admissions Policy
Individual program admission requirements include:
- A statement of interest describing why you are applying to NAU as well as your professional interests and goals
- A scientific/technical writing sample such as a senior thesis, MS thesis, major class paper or professional report demonstrating your analytical and writing skills
- Three letters of recommendation from people who know you well
- A current Curriculum Vitae
This Doctoral degree requires 60 units distributed as follows:
- Astronomy Common Coursework: 12 units
- Electives in Astronomy, Physics or other appropriate to Research: 33 units
- Dissertation: 15 units
Take the following 60 units:
- AST 501, AST 502, AST 550, AST 570 (12 units)
- Aditional AST, PHY or other graduate coursework appropriate to your research plan and approved in consultation with your coordinator. At least 12 units must be formal graded courses (33 units)
- AST 799 (15 units)
Each student must complete a semester-long (or longer) project by the end of their fourth semester.
You must pass a written and oral exam on your dissertation by the end of your fifth semester.
Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also take. For prerequisite information click on the course or see your advisor.