III. Ph.D. Degree Requirements

A. Summary of Current Curriculum Requirements

The graduate curriculum consists of eight astronomy and astrophysics courses, including six required core courses and a choice of two elective courses. Students must pass all six required courses by maintaining a grade of B or higher in five of the required courses and receiving a satisfactory grade in ASTR 205. Note that ASTR 205 does not require ABC grading. Students must additionally satisfy three equivalent educational requirements in the form of additional elective courses, research projects, independent study, or reading seminars. These requirements are detailed below. Six core courses are specifically required:

ASTR 202

Astrophysics I


ASTR 204

Astrophysics II


ASTR 205

Introduction to Astronomical Research and Teaching



Stars and Planets I


ASTR 233

Galaxies and Cosmology I


ASTR 257

Observational Astronomy



Elective Courses (choose 2 over first 2 years): 

ASTR 222

Stars and Planets II


ASTR 225

High-Energy Astrophysics


ASTR 230

Diffuse Matter in Space


ASTR 234

Statistical Techniques in Astronomy



Galaxies and Cosmology II


ASTR 260

Instrumentation for Astronomy


ASTR 289

Adaptive Optics and Its Application



Equivalent Educational Requirements (Choose three over first two years):

Equivalent educational requirements (EER) may take one of several forms, and three pre-approved options are listed below. Other equivalent educational requirements may be approved by the department. Students must complete three EERs during their first two years. 


1. EER Option 1: Additional Elective Courses (5 credit course = 1 EER)

        1. Each course listed below will count as 1 EER. Additionally, any graduate course offered by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics in addition to core courses and the two required electives will count as 1 EER.

PHYS 224/ASTR 224

Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology


PHYS 226/ASTR 226

General Relativity


EART 262

Planetary Interiors


EART 265

Order of Magnitude Estimation


EART 264

Planetary Atmospheres


AM 275/EART 275



PHYS 210

Classical Mechanics


PHYS 215

Introduction to Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


PHYS 216

Advanced Topics in Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


PHYS 217

Quantum Field Theory I


PHYS 218

Quantum Field Theory II


2. EER Option 2: Parallel Research Project (1 quarter = 1 EER)

Topic is currently under discussion

A parallel research project is scientific research conducted in parallel to a student’s thesis research, with faculty other than their primary advisor and in an area outside their primary research field. These projects will be designed to broaden the knowledge and skills of the student while increasing collaborative connections within the department. 

3. EER Option 3: Reading Seminar (1 quarter = 1 EER)

A reading seminar is an independent study of the scientific literature or related subject matter, guided by a faculty member. Each quarter students may choose from a department-provided list of faculty who will supervise the seminar and select the course material. The goal is to broaden the knowledge of the students in a field where they do not plan to conduct active research, and a reading seminar in a student’s area of research will not qualify for an EER. Students will be required to meet with the faculty member over a 10 week period to discuss the papers. The evaluation methodology for the course will be an oral exam of the material, administered by the faculty member leading the seminar. The student registers for ASTR 294 for 5 credits when taking this option.


B. Teaching Requirements

Topic is currently under discussion

The department recognizes that teaching and communicating about science are important for a successful career in science and in any profession.  The department has established several requirements with the goal of giving graduate students in our program practical experience in teaching as well as knowledge of best practices. This section collects all the teaching-related requirements. Those requirements are:

          1. Take and receive a passing grade in Astronomy 205.  The learning goals of that class include being an effective TA and leading discussion sections. The content will also include an introduction to teaching pedagogy and best practices.
          2. Successfully complete a teaching professional development opportunity.  The University Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL) will offer a regular series of workshops to the department.  Completing one such workshop series will satisfy this requirement. Other workshops on an approved list to be developed in collaboration with graduate students will also satisfy this requirement.  As part of satisfying this requirement the student will write a draft Teaching Statement of the type normally required for faculty positions. This will be reviewed by the graduate program director or other designated member of the department, and discussed with the student.  This requirement must be completed by the time the student graduates. 
          3. Before they graduate, students must be a Teaching Assistant (TA) for two classes.
            1. They must be a TA at least once during their first three years in the program.
            2. Ideally the student will TA the second time after completing the teaching professional development requirement.
            3. The teaching educational requirement applies to all students, including those with external fellowships or other forms of support.
            4. The department may require students to serve as a TA for more than two quarters as a condition of the student’s financial support during their PhD studies.
            5. More information on TA duties can be found in the Graduate Division’s TA Handbook and in the Funding section.
C. Research Requirements

Topic is currently under discussion

It is expected by the end of winter quarter of their first year, students will have selected a faculty advisor for their first research project. Students must meet with their advisor at least once per quarter. Weekly meetings are encouraged.

        1. As part of the first research project requirement, students are required to submit one lead-author paper to a refereed journal that is based on research conducted at UCSC. 
        2. In years three and above, students are expected to do original research for their thesis, advised by a member of the department, and publish in peer-reviewed journals.
        3. The thesis plan should be structured with attainable milestones. The thesis plan should be agreed on between the student and advisor, then presented and approved when the student advances to candidacy.  If circumstances change such that the milestones are no longer appropriate they should structure the thesis plan in collaboration with their advisor, seeking input from other resources in the department as appropriate.
D. FLASH Talks
FLASH is similar to a colloquium but more informal. Students are encouraged to bring a lunch and listen to research presentations by other Astronomy graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and occasional visitors.
  1. All students must give an hour-long FLASH-style talk on the original research they did in their first graduate project at UC Santa Cruz before the end of their second year. 
  2. The talk should demonstrate understanding of the scientific motivation and astrophysical context of the problem, describe the investigation and present the results. The talk should also demonstrate the ability to communicate research to others.
  3. As part of the self-assessment process for the Department Review, the department will arrange to record the student’s research talk, and the student should re-watch their talk and describe ways the talk was successful and ways to improve future talks. 

E. Obtaining a Master’s Degree

UCSC Astronomy and Astrophysics PhD students are eligible to obtain a non-terminal master’s degree while making progress toward a doctorate once they have completed all required coursework.

  1. Once a student has completed the above requirements, they may contact the Graduate Adviser to begin steps toward obtaining their master’s degree. The steps toward obtaining the degree are outlined as follows.
  2. Contact Graduate Adviser
    1. Graduate Adviser will review student milestones and determine eligibility for master’s degree.
    2. Once Graduate Adviser has determined eligibility, student will complete an application for the master’s degree. The application for the master’s degree can be found here: https://graddiv.ucsc.edu/current-students/pdfs/app_mas.pdf

Students who have obtained a master’s degree while still making progress toward a doctorate are eligible to walk in commencement. If a student misses the deadline to participate in commencement, it is still possible for the student to walk in the next commencement ceremony. Please contact the Graduate Adviser if you wish to participate in commencement.

Commencement information can be found here: https://graddiv.ucsc.edu/events/commencement/index.html

F. Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy
Advance-to-Candidacy Exam (Oral Qualifying Exam)
        1. By the end of the third year, students must complete a qualifying examination that presents and defends a proposed thesis topic.
        2. Qualifying Exam Committee
          1. Students must select four thesis committee members. One member must be outside the department (that is, from another department within UC Santa Cruz, or outside UC Santa Cruz). 
          2. Thesis committee members should be selected at least two months in advance of the qualifying exam.
          3. The student's thesis adviser cannot chair the examination committee unless special permission has been granted by the Department. 
          4. The chair of the committee and the outside member must be tenured members of the Academic Senate (or equivalent).
          5. As an exception, the dean of graduate studies will sometimes approve non-tenured outside members. If the outside member is non-academic, they must provide a CV. 
          6. Faculty from another campus may be from the same or from a different discipline. 
          7. Once committee members have been selected, the student must submit the Committee Nomination for Doctoral Qualifying Exam form at least one month in advance of the qualifying exam: https://graddiv.ucsc.edu/current-students/pdfs/qe_nom.pdf
          8.  If there are issues with the selected committee, students will hear back from the Graduate Division in advance of the qualifying exam date.
          9.  The student is responsible for discussing and setting the date and time of their oral qualifying exam with their committee, ensuring the date works for all.
          10.  Soon after passing the oral qualifying exam, the student’s committee must complete the Report on Qualifying Exam form and submit to the graduate adviser. Students will either pass or fail the QE exam, despite an honors option being listed on the QE Report form.  https://graddiv.ucsc.edu/current-students/pdfs/QE.pdf
          11. Students should also submit the Nominations for Dissertation Reading Committee form along with the Qualifying Exam Report form: https://graddiv.ucsc.edu/current-students/pdfs/drc_nom.pdf
            1. The Dissertation Reading Committee (also known as thesis committee) must have a minimum of three readers, the majority of whom must be members of the Santa Cruz Division of the Academic Senate. A change in the membership of the committee must be approved by the Graduate Dean.
            2. One is not required to have an external committee member on the Dissertation Reading Committee. One is allowed to have an external member on the thesis committee, but this should be at the discretion of the student and their advisor(s).
          12.  Documents should be submitted to the graduate adviser who will duplicate the document, place in the student’s file, and submit to the graduate division.
          13.  Students should initiate a dissertation committee meeting with their committee members at least once annually after the qualifying exam. Please notify the graduate adviser of your meeting date so that dissertation progress can be tracked.

Prior to the 2017-2018 cohort, international students have been encouraged to qualify after their second year in the program as a means of curbing international fees. Until further notice, students in the 2017-2018 cohort and after benefit from the IDRF program through the Graduate Division which waives international fees through the third year in the program. Currently, international students are expected to take their qualifying exam by the end of their third year in the program.

To prepare for the qualifying exam, students should be seeking regular guidance from their faculty advisors. A good outline for the qualifying exam should include the following.

Presentation of:

  • Field in which the thesis is being planned (Context)
  • What work has been done by student
  • Outline of planned thesis work
  • Timeline


  • Committee’s assessment of thesis suitability
  • Feedback on scope and timeline

G. Establishing a Designated Emphasis
Graduate students wishing to obtain a Designated Emphasis (DE) in a related field must notify the graduate adviser of this intention and follow the steps outlined in the following DE policy guide: https://senate.ucsc.edu/committees/gc-graduate-council/policies-and-memoranda%20/DesignatedEmphasisPolicy_revised-April-2012.pdf

H. Dissertation
After passing the Department Review based on the previously mentioned requirements and the qualifying examination, students pursue independent research leading to the doctoral dissertation. 
  1. Upon completion of the doctoral dissertation, students must pass an oral dissertation defense. 
  2. For details about preparing for your dissertation defense, applying for your doctoral degree, setting your defense date/time, and submitting your dissertation and title page, please see the Graduation Procedure section below.

I. Graduation Procedure

Application for PhD

Students who wish to apply to graduate must do so at the beginning of the quarter in which they plan to graduate by submitting the Application for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree form found here: https://graddiv.ucsc.edu/current-students/pdfs/app_phd.pdf 

  • Submitting a Dissertation
        1. A completed draft of the thesis must be submitted to the dissertation committee at least two weeks before the date of the defense, and the defense itself must occur at least two weeks before the campus deadline for thesis submissions in that quarter. Exceptions to this policy will be granted only under exceptional circumstances and must be approved by the department chair, associate chair, and the department graduate advising committee. 

Deadlines for thesis submissions by quarter can be found in the UCSC Academic and Administrative Calendar here: https://registrar.ucsc.edu/calendar/2019-20calendar-two-pages.pdf

  • Dissertation Defense Date
          1. Students should set the date and time for the dissertation defense in collaboration with their thesis committee members, ensuring the date works for all. The public talk portion of the defense should be advertised to the department one week in advance of the defense.
          2. The Department Assistant can reserve a room for your defense. Please email astroadm@ucsc.edu for room reservations. 
  • Dissertation Title Page
        1. On the day of the student’s defense, they must obtain original signatures (no digital signatures) for the Title Page from all faculty on their committee. The signing of the Title Page confirms that all requirements for the doctoral degree have been met.
        2. The Graduate Division requires the submission of the dissertation Title Page prior to the deadline listed in the academic calendar: https://registrar.ucsc.edu/calendar/academiccalendar.html
        3. Title Pages and full dissertations should be submitted to the Graduate Adviser or directly to the Graduate Division. If a student submits these documents directly to the Graduate Division, the student should forward copies of the documents to the Graduate Adviser to be stored in the student’s file.
  • Proquest
        1. It is a requirement that your thesis be submitted to Proquest prior to the last day of the quarter in which you plan to graduate. You can access the Proquest service here: https://www.etdadmin.com/main/home

  • Dissertation & Thesis Checklist
        1. The Graduation Division has created a checklist to help students track their progress on requirements for graduation here: https://graddiv.ucsc.edu/current-students/pdfs/Dissertation_checklist.pdf

  • Exit Interview
          1. All graduating students are asked to participate in an exit interview with the Graduate Adviser and/or Department Manager. Responses are anonymous and help inform program improvements. Exit interview questions cover:
            1. Coursework
            2. Research
            3. Advising
            4. Professional Development
            5. Community
            6. Funding
            7. Overall Experience
            8. Other comments
  • Commencement
        1. Commencement information is posted to the Graduate Division website here
        2. To participate in commencement, you must submit your dissertation and Title Page by the deadline listed in the academic calendar: https://registrar.ucsc.edu/calendar/academiccalendar.html
        3. You must also register for commencement here. Please check the Graduate Division website for updated information about the registration deadline.

  • Degree Timeline
          1. The department has established five years as the normative time to degree. Normative time is the elapsed calendar time, in years, that, under normal circumstances, will be needed to complete all requirements for the Ph.D. 
          2. A one-year extension may be granted if funding is available. Funding support will not, in general, be provided beyond six years. Exceptions for extension beyond six years will be granted only for exceptional extenuating circumstances, and will be decided upon by the department chair, associate chair, and the department graduate advising committee.