ANU Course Code 9670 - Doctor of Philosophy (Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics)

Since the 1950s, the work of the Observatories has included an outstandingly successful graduate program. RSAA currently has about 30 PhD students; over one third of them international students. Stromlo graduates found in many of the world's major astronomical centres.

The PhD program offers students access to state-of-the-art optical, infra-red, radio, and computational facilities and draws on the expertise of some 40 RSAA astronomers, as well as researchers at CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility, the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and collaborators around the world.

The main research interests at RSAA include:
  • Observational and theoretical aspects of extra-solar planets
  • Stellar atmospheres and evolution
  • The interstellar medium
  • Galactic structure and stellar populations
  • The Magellanic Clouds and dwarf galaxies
  • The formation and evolution of galaxies
  • Supernovae and gamma-ray bursts
  • Cosmology

Theoretical work is currently being done in the fields of plasma and high energy astrophysics, stellar atmospheres, stellar and galactic evolution, galactic dynamics, and n-body simulation. RSAA also offers a PhD topics in astronomical instrumentation associated with instrumentation for optical and infrared telescopes. The RSAA is leading Australia's involvement in the Giant Magellan Telescope and developing an integral-field spectrograph and adaptive-optics solutions for the project.

RSAA operates the ANU 2.3m telescope at Siding Spring Observatory which is equipped with instrumentation for low- and high-resolution spectroscopy, and faint object imaging from near ultraviolet to infra-red wavelengths. The 1.3m SkyMapper telescope has been constructed at Siding Spring Observatory and will conduct an automated all-sky imaging survey of the southern sky.

Students at RSAA also have access to the 3.9-m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), the Parkes Radio Telescope, and the Australia Telescope Compact Array operated by CSIRO, in addition to international facilities such as the Gemini Observatory and Magellan telesopes. Powerful computing facilities are available for data acquisition and analysis, and theoretical model building.

Careers for PhD graduates in astronomy and astrophysics

The graduate program provides an excellent training for a career in many fields. Foremost, it is a preparation for research work in the discipline of astronomy itself. Most of the program's graduates proceed initially to a postdoctoral position (nearly always overseas) which broadens their range of research experience. After four to six years of postdoctoral work at a number of different places, it is quite usual for graduates to obtain a more permanent position, either at an observatory where the work is entirely research based, or at a university with the traditional mix of research and lecturing responsibilities.

The technological expertise acquired in the program is very marketable in other careers as well. A training in image processing, in instrument and computer applications, and in high-level problem solving, is widely applicable and highly valued in business and industry. Graduates of the program are found in meteorology, computer management, the chemical industry, business consultancy, banking and finance, and secondary school teaching.

CRICOS Code 048378C


A list of available graduate student research projects is shown on the potential projects section. You can also filter the list to view other projects that are being undertaken by current students, or view projects related to particular research themes

There are also many possible projects that are not listed here and students who are interested in a particular topic or supervisor should discuss potential projects with our researchers directly. 


The graduate program in astronomy and astrophysics at RSAA offers students access to some of the most advanced facilities in the field. The program draws on the expertise of some 40 RSAA astronomers as well as researchers working in the Departments of Mathematics and Physics and Theoretical Physics, and the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), and the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF).

The astronomy and astrophysics PhD program is a full-time program of up to a maximum of four years duration.   As both ANU PhD scholarships and Australian Postgraduate Awards (APAs) run for up to a maximum of three and a half years, the expectation is that students will complete and submit their theses within three and a half years.

The first three months of the program are usually spent on a small research project, chosen by the student in consultation with the supervisor or program convenor, and on acquiring sufficient background knowledge to develop a viable thesis proposal by the end of this period, or shortly thereafter. The initial project is intended to extend the student's knowledge of current research topics as well as develop their knowledge of the theory and the techniques used by professional astronomers to conduct research. Students must do a substantial amount of guided reading. Students are also expected to attend Observatory colloquia given by staff, students and visiting astronomers.

Depending on their previous history of formal study in astronomy and astrophysics, students may be required to attend lecture courses given by members of the program and to submit the required course work during their first two years. Students without any previous formal astronomy study would be expected to attend and be assessed on four of the six offered courses. The number and nature of the courses required will be determined by the supervisor or program convenor in consultation with the student.

RSAA PhD students must adhere to the following timeline.

Stage of candidature Requirement for full-time PhD candidature
Year 1
1-3 months Enrolment, small research project
Class-work as agreed with Convenors
3-9 months Preparation for, and commencing, thesis: Thesis proposal and confirmation of Supervisory Panel membership.
Class-work as agreed with Convenors
9-12 months Submission of Annual Research Progress Report and Annual Research Plan
Year 2
18-24 months Completion of Mid Term Review
21-24 months Submission of 2nd Annual Research Progress Report and Annual Research Plan
Year 3
33-36 months Submission of 3rd Annual Research Progress Report and Annual Research Plan
Year 4
36-42 months Notification of Intent to Submit thesis, and submission of thesis
45-48 months Submission of 4th Annual Research Progress Report and Annual Research Plan (If thesis not already submitted)

Supervisory panels

A supervisory panel consists of at least three members including at least one supervisor and two other members who may be supervisors or advisors. During the first six months of a course the convenor of the program chairs the supervisory panel for all PhD students. Subsequently, a tenured or senior non-tenured member of the program staff is appointed as main supervisor and chairs the panel. From time to time, depending on the topic approved for the PhD thesis, additional supervisors may also be appointed from other observatories in Australia (eg the Anglo-Australian Observatory and the Australia Telescope National Facility). For more information on supervisory panels please visit the CEDAM research supervision website.

Thesis projects

Thesis projects are offered in all the areas of astronomy and astrophysics within the current research interests of academic staff, although some topics may not be on offer on every occasion. A number of staff members have expertise in the design of astronomical instrumentation, and there may be opportunities for students to include instrumental development as a substantial part of their thesis work, although not usually to the complete exclusion of undertaking some astronomical research with the instrumentation concerned.

Overseas work

It is possible for a student to spend some time undertaking research related to their thesis at another institution in Australia or overseas. A period of overseas work at a specific facility or attendance at an overseas conference is not unusual, if a good case can be made.


The courses offered to graduate students at RSAA are outlined below. Note that it is strongly recommended that students who have not completed the RSAA honours program undertake these courses.

ASTR3007: From stars to galaxies  (6CP)

Offered in: 1st Semester

Syllabus: This course will introduce star formation, structure, evolution, element production and thermonuclear reactions, and pulsating stars. The galaxy component will cover, galaxy formation theory, classification, star formation, galaxy interactions, dark matter, black holes and large-scale structure of the Universe.

ASTR3002: Black holes and cosmology (6CP)

Offered in: 2nd Semester

Syllabus: This course covers the theory of general relativity with applications to black holes and cosmology. Topics include the following. Metrics and Riemannian tensors. The calculus of variations and Lagrangians. Spaces and space-times of general relativity. The Schwarzschild metric and black holes. Photon and particle orbits.  Theoretical cosmology: Universe models.  Dark matter and dark energy.  Observational Cosmology: historical observations, distances, accelerating Universe and the cosmic background radiation.

Astrophysical gas dynamics (6CP)

Syllabus: Topics in astrophysical fluid dynamics and magnetohydrodynamics, including fluids and kinetic theory, MHD kinetic theory, shocks, winds and relativistic fluids.

Observational techniques - 3CP

Syllabus: The course covers basic techniques required to obtain and analyse astronomical observations: including photometric systems, measurement errors, optics, telescope and instrument optics and detector systems, spectroscopy and imaging systems.

Diffuse matter in the Universe - 3CP

Planetary science - EMSC3022 (6CP)

Syllabus: This course provides an introduction to planetary geology with a view to understanding what makes planet Earth so special in a galactic context. We will explore the solar system and humans' place in it. We will examine the essential ingredients for life on planets and how the planets come by them. We will step back in time to examine the earliest solar system, going back to the origin of the elements themselves and the processes that have occurred in carrying matter from where it formed to where it can build new solar systems. The conditions on individual planets appears to be the result of many stochastic processes and it can be concluded that our solar system is the end-product of many accidental and chance events, leading to a philosophical discussion of whether planets similar to Earth will be discovered elsewhere in the universe.

How to apply

Please see the CMBE-CPMS website for details of application for admission to the graduate research program at ANU.

Deadlines for entry to the PhD program

International students - pre-applications for program commencement in semester 2 (August) are due December 15 each year, while  applications for commencement in semester 1 (February) of the following year are due August 31 each year.

Australian and New Zealand students - For semester 1 commencement the deadline is 31 October of the preceding year. Students seeking semester 2 commencement should follow the pre-application deadline.

RSAA contacts

Professor Gary Da Costa
Graduate program co-convenor
T 61 2 6125 8913
F 61 2 6125 0233

RSAA student administrator & HDR student coordinator

Prospective student enquiries

Research highlights

Movie of a 3-D galactic jet simulation

3-D relativistic galactic jet simulation

This is a movie rendered in three dimensions of a supercomputer simulation of a powerful relativistic jet interacting with dense clouds surrounding...

Student profiles

Wolfgang Kerzendorf

PhD candidate, 2008
A team of Australian astronomers is looking for the trigger of a cosmic explosion discovered by Dutch astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1572. It is still...

Updated:  24 March 2017/Responsible Officer:  RSAA Director/Page Contact:  Webmaster