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How do I Earn an Astronomy PhD?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 August 2018
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To earn a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in astronomy you should begin by receiving a four-year degree such as a bachelor’s degree in a related field, and then go on to work on your post-graduate degree at a graduate school. Depending on the school you wish to attend, you may need to receive a master’s degree in a related field before beginning your work on an astronomy PhD, or you may receive a master’s degree en route to your PhD. During your grad school work you will likely be required to teach undergraduate classes, and may also work with a professor, ultimately researching and writing a doctoral dissertation that you will have to defend as a final examination.

Many people receive a bachelor’s degree in either astronomy or physics before going on to work on an astronomy PhD. Regardless of which area of science you choose to focus on, you should look into grad schools you are interested in and apply during your final year of your four-year degree. You will likely need to take tests such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and you may wish to spend some time studying and preparing for these tests. The physics section of the GRE can be especially difficult and a decent score is often required for admittance to a graduate program, so you should likely spend some time preparing for this exam.

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Once you are accepted into a postgraduate program to begin working on your astronomy PhD, you will likely need to work as a teacher’s assistant and teach classes to undergraduate students. This is in addition to your own coursework, and any seminars and examinations you will have to take as you work toward your PhD. Some schools allow students to work on a master’s degree, then move forward toward a PhD; other programs will have you work toward your astronomy PhD from the beginning and earn a master’s degree along the way.

Your actual coursework may be finished within a few years of beginning your astronomy PhD program, and the remaining years will likely be spent doing research. Many graduate students working on a PhD work as research assistants for professors, while also performing research needed to create their own doctoral dissertations. You will likely need to complete this type of dissertation within a set period of time, and then present and defend your work before a review panel before finally completing your program and receiving an astronomy PhD.

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