Degree Requirements

Summary of Current Requirements

The graduate program is intended for those with a professional interest in the subject. The interests of the faculty embrace a wide range of both theoretical and observational aspects of astronomy. Current research and course offerings include our solar system and other planetary systems, stellar structure and evolution, stellar spectroscopy, the interstellar medium, galactic structure, active galaxies and quasars, cosmology, general relativity and gravitational radiation, the origin of the elements, optical and infrared astronomy, high-energy astrophysics, and advanced astronomical instrumentation.

Graduate students have access to state-of-the-art instrument development and data reduction technology, the UCO/Lick Observatory computer network, and an on-campus supercomputer dedicated to astrophysical computation. Graduate students may conduct supervised research using selected telescopic facilities of the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, 55 miles from Santa Cruz. The 10-meter Keck Telescope in Hawaii, the world’s largest, is administered from the UCSC campus and is used for frontier research by UC astronomers.


Graduate instruction is built upon a two-year cycle of 11 one-quarter courses in astronomy and physics that are required of all students.

Seven core courses are specifically required:

Astronomy 202, Radiative Processes

Astronomy 204, Astrophysical Flows

Astronomy 205, Introduction to Astronomical Research and Teaching

Astronomy 212, Dynamical Astronomy

Astronomy 220A, Stellar Structure and Evolution

Astronomy 230, Diffuse Matter in Space

Astronomy 233, Physical Cosmology


Electives (four required) may be drawn from this list:

Astronomy 207, Future Directions/Future Missions

Astronomy 214, Special Topics in Cosmology

Astronomy 220B, Star Formation

Astronomy 220C, Advanced Stages of Stellar Evolution and Nucleosysthesis

Astronomy 222, Planetary Formation and Evolution

Astronomy 223, Planetary Physics

Astronomy 225, High-Energy Astrophysics

Astronomy 231, Diffuse Gas In and Between Galaxies

Astronomy 235, Numerical Techniques

Astronomy 237, Accretion Processes

Astronomy 240A, Galactic and Extragalactic Stellar Systems

Astronomy 240B, High Redshift Galaxies

Astronomy 257, Modern Astronomical Techniques

Astronomy 260, Instrumentation for Astronomy

Astronomy 289, Adaptive Optics and Its Applications

Physics/Astronomy 224, Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology

Physics/Astronomy 226, General Relativity

Earth Sciences 265, Magnitude Estimation

Earth Sciences 275, Magnetohydrodynamics

Applied Math and Statistics 206, Bayesian Statistics

Applied Math and Statistics 212A, Applied Mathematical Methods I

Applied Math and Statistics 214, Applied Dynamical Systems

Applied Math and Statistics 217, Introduction to Fluid Dynamics

Physics 210, Classical Mechanics

Physics 215, Iintroduction to Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics

Physics 216, Advanced Topics in Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics

Physics 217, Quantum Field Theory I

Physics 218, Quantum Field Theory II

Physics 227, Advanced Fluid Dynamics


In addition, students must fulfill the following requirements:

Students must meet at least quarterly with an assigned adviser.

Each student must also be a teaching assistant for at least two quarters.

By the time of the annual Board Review, which occurs in July, at the end of their second academic year, students must:

  • Complete one quarter of independent study with a faculty member and give a department talk on that work.
  • Pass a preliminary examination based on course material, relevant physics, and general astronomical knowledge.
  • Submit one lead-author paper to a refereed journal that is based on research conducted at UCSC. By the time of the Board Review, second-year students are expected to either (1) have submitted a paper for publication to a refereed journal; or (2) submit to the Board Review a complete first draft of such a paper and a detailed plan for completion. If the student pursues option (2), he or she is expected to submit the paper for publication by the first day of the fall quarter, and provide the electronic submission acknowledgement for the paper to the chair of the graduate advising committee. If the student does not complete this requirement, he or she will meet with his or her advisor, the graduate advising committee chair, and the department chair before the first faculty meeting of the fall quarter, in order to discuss the status of the paper. The faculty at that meeting will then make a recommendation whether the student should be granted an extension to the next Board Review, and the full faculty will then vote on whether to grant an extension.

By the end of the third year, students must complete a qualifying examination that presents and defends a proposed thesis topic.

After passing the board review based on the above-mentioned requirements and the qualifying examination, students pursue independent research leading to the doctoral dissertation. Upon completion of the Ph.D. dissertation, students must pass an oral dissertation defense. 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.

The department has established five years as the normative time to degree. Normative times is the elapsed calendar time, in years, that, under normal circumstances, will be needed to complete all requirements for the Ph.D. 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.


Archive of Past Degree Requirements