International students

Welcome to the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics!

The Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA) is part of The Australian National University.  The Australian National University is Australia's premier university.  The RSAA is in the top 10 Astronomy & Astrophysics departments in the world ranking by Space Science.  Our astronomers have won the Nobel Prize, the Prime Minister's Science Prize, and Australian Research Council Laureate, Federation, and Future Fellowships.  RSAA astronomers are members of the National Academies of Science in Australia, the USA, the UK, the Netherlands, and Spain.  Our graduating students regularly achieve prestigious international fellowships including Fulbright, Zonta, Hubble, CfA, ESO, Magellan, and Jansky Fellowships.

Our mission is to:

  • Train outstanding young scientists to lead ground-breaking research projects in astronomy, astrophysics, and instrumentation
  • Advance the observational and theoretical frontiers of astronomy and astrophysics, and their enabling technologies
  • Provide national and international scientific leadership

The program at RSAA focuses on four main areas of research:

  1. Galactic archaeology - the study of the content, dynamics and evolution of galaxies.
  2. Galaxy Evolution and Cosmology - the study of the contents and evolution of the Universe as a whole.
  3. Stellar and Planetary science - the study of the formation and evolution of the stars and planets.
  4. Black hole phenomena - the discovery of the locations of black holes and the study of their interactions with their environments.

PhD research projects on offer are at the cutting-edge of astrophysics, and include observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Gemini 8m telescope, the Keck 10m telescope, and new theoretical simulations with ANU and the National Supercomputer facilities.

Location:  Nature and Culture in one City

The Australian National University is located in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.  Canberra is one of the few capital cities where nature reserves and parkland are integral to the city plan.  Canberra has extensive walking and bike trails.  The Research School for Astronomy & Astrophysics is located at Mount Stromlo, within the Stromlo Forest Park.  The Stromlo Forest Park includes a world-class mountain-biking trail, the Robert de Castella cross-country running track, the Stephen Hodge Criterium cycling circuit, and extensive equestrian and hiking trails. 

Canberra hosts the National Art Gallery, the National Museum, the National Library of Australia, and the National Film and Sound Archive. Canberra also has a vibrant and dynamic music scene and has the highest per capita attendance at music events in Australia. Numerous music events are held year-round by ANU School of Music, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, local choirs & bands, the annual National Folk Festival, the annual Canberra International Music Festival, touring Australian and international acts, rock festivals, live jazz, bands and DJs.

Our International PhD Program:

The Research School for Astronomy & Astrophysics (RSAA) at the Australian National University invites applications from outstanding undergraduate students of all nationalities for fully-funded PhD scholarships. Students with previous research experience in astrophysics or related fields (including undergraduate research projects and/or a research-based Masters degree) are particularly encouraged to apply.

Solid Course Foundation: The RSAA PhD Program includes 6 months of innovative winter-school style astrophysics courses taught by some of the world's preeminent astrophysicists, including Nobel Prize Winner Brian Schmidt, and Prime Minister's Science Prize Winner Ken Freeman.  These courses aim to provide students with a broad and deep understanding of the major current fields in astrophysics including cosmology, galaxy formation & evolution, stellar evolution & atmospheres, planetary science, high energy astrophysics, and the physics of the interstellar medium.  We also offer applications courses in astrophysical computer programming, observation techniques and data analysis, and scientific publication writing.  Our courses allow students to hit-the-ground running when beginning their PhD research.  International students who have already taken equivalent graduate-level courses at their previous institution may receive credit for those courses.

Early Research Opportunity:  We believe that students benefit from research experience early.  At the end of first semester, you will choose your PhD research topic.  This timing allows you to have completed your courses and you will have gained a broad and deep understanding of the different research topics in astronomy.  This breadth of knowledge allows you to choose a research topic that matches your research interests and that matches your research strengths and skills.  From your second semester, you will start work on your PhD research program.  Our PhD programs are typically 3.5 years in length.  This allows you to enter the international job market at a younger age than in many other countries.

International Scholarships: Successful PhD applicants are fully supported with a generous tax-free scholarship plus an RSAA top-up scholarship, with a recommendation to waive tuition fees. PhD students may apply for a named top-up scholarship for outstanding research. PhD students may also access internal research funds and fellowships to cover travel and other research expenses, including international conferences and telescope observing.

Strong international support:  Our research staff come from more than 7 countries across the globe.  Approximately 1/3 of our PhD class are international students from all over the world.  Our international students receive the same research opportunities and scholarship support as local students.  ANU offers a relocation allowance to Canberra, and a friendly and collaborative research environment.  In addition, ANU international office provides mentoring, international student events, and information to help with your relocation to and living in Canberra.

Alumni and Success Rate: The RSAA has a long history of successful PhDs.  We have a selective PhD program, and our PhD success rate is extremely high; if we accept you into our program we have the expectation that you will complete your PhD in a reasonable time and move successfully to the next stage of an astronomical career.  Our PhD students regularly receive prestigious international scholarships and fellowships, and our alumni are now employed in astronomy all over the world, including ANU, Arecibo, Cambridge, Caltech, Columbia, the European Southern Observatory, Harvard,  Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Leiden University, Max Planck Institut fur Astrophysics, MIT, Princeton, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the University of California, University of Amsterdam, Yale, and Yonsei University Observatory.

Our Facilities

RSAA has a long history of technical research and development, and is equipped with specialised engineering facilities for astronomical instrumentation. These facilities include a mechanical engineering design office and sophisticated mechanical workshop, an electronic design and manufacturing group, optics design and manufacturing laboratories, and a software group that develops and implements control systems for telescopes, instruments, and data processing.

This tradition of expertise and development of advanced instrumentation has culminated in the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre (AITC), a world-class facility for developing and testing astronomical instrumentation, small satellites, and space payloads.

The RSAA is leading Australia’s involvement in the design and construction of the international, billion-dollar Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), the world's largest and most powerful telescope. With a primary mirror the equivalent of 24.5 metres in diameter, the GMT will produce astronomical images up to 30 times sharper than existing ground-based telescopes. Using techniques currently being prototyped, this giant eye on the sky will become the platform for unprecedented discovery and insight into the evolution of the universe, galaxies, and planetary systems other than our own. It is scheduled to go into operation in 2020.

Our Faculty

Our distinguished faculty and research staff consists of over 40 PhD astronomers from around the world.  With more faculty than PhD students, you are assured of close attention at all stages of your career.  Research projects and supervisors are available in all four of our main areas of research: Galactic Archaeology, Galaxy Evolution and Cosmology, Planetary Science, and Black Hole Phenomena.  We also offer PhD projects in instrumentation research and development, particularly in laser-guided adaptive optics and infrared instrumentation development.

Our researchers include:

  • Professor Martin Asplund, 2011 ARC Laureate Fellow: Until 2011, Martin was director of Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, one of the leading centers of astronomy in Europe, when he was recruited by RSAA.  Martin and his research group use supercomputers and the world's largest telescopes to study stars and how they produce the starlight we see. His work on measuring the chemical makeup of the Sun, a fundamental yardstick of astronomy, has had a dramatic influence on most areas of modern astronomy. His current work is aimed at understanding the history of the Milky Way, discovering the first stars born after the Big Bang and finding tell-tale signatures of extra-solar planets in the chemistry of the stars.
  • Professor Matthew Colless, Director RSAA: Prior to becoming the director at the RSAA, Matthew was the Director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), Australia's national optical observatory.  Matthew's research uses large redshift surveys of galaxies to understand their evolution and the large-scale structures they form.  Matthew led the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey, which provided the first precise measurements of the total density of matter in the universe and established the relative densities of dark matter, baryons and neutrinos. He is currently leading the 6dF Galaxy Survey to map the motions as well as the positions of galaxies. He also plays a leading role in the WiggleZ survey, which probes the nature of the mysterious 'dark energy'. Prof. Colless is an ISI Citation Laureate and Highly-Cited Researcher, a Vice-President of the International Astronomical Union, and Vice-Chair of the Board of the Giant Magellan Telescope.
  • Professor Ken Freeman, 2012 recipient of the Prime Minister's Prize for Science.  Ken was one of the first to discover that most of the mass of spiral galaxies is invisible. This is now called ‘dark matter’, and makes up more than 95% of the mass of galaxies like the Milky Way.  Ken works on galaxies, star clusters, our galaxy and dark matter. He and a colleague from AAO, Joss Bland-Hawthorn, started the new research field of Galactic Archaeology in 2002, and they are both leaders of a massive galactic archaeology survey of a million stars using the new HERMES instrument on the AAT, which will start in 2013.  Ken Freeman recently won the American Astronomical Society's top prize for astronomical research: the 2013 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship
  • Professor Lisa Kewley, 2015 Australian Research Council Laureate FellowLisa uses massive clusters of galaxies to create the largest telescopes in the universe, to observe galaxies when the universe was only a tenth of its current age. In using this novel technique, Lisa analyses spectral signatures of oxygen in thousands of galaxies to measure how the amount of oxygen in galaxies has changed over time. By comparing galaxies at different distances, she has calculated that most of the oxygen in the universe formed between 5 billion and 12 billion years ago.  Lisa has won the American Astronomical Society's Annie Jump Cannon Award, the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize, the National Science Foundation Early Career Award, and was named one of Astronomy Magazine's Top 10 Rising Stars of Astronomy.
  • Associate Professor Charley Lineweaver:  Educated at Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität in Munich, where he was awarded highest honours in physics, Charley earned a PhD in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1994. A member of the editorial board of Astrobiology Magazine, he is the author of more than sixty papers published in scientific journals or in volumes of collected works.  His research involves analysis of the statistical distribution of exoplanets, the cosmic microwave background radiation, and cosmological pre-requisites for the formation of terrestrial planets and life.
  • Professor Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Laureate for Physics: In 1994, Brian formed the HighZ SN Search team, a group of 20 astronomers who used distant exploding stars to trace the expansion of the Universe.  Brian is continuing his work using exploding stars to study the Universe, and is leading Mt Stromlo’s effort to build the SkyMapper telescope, a new facility that will provide a comprehensive digital map of the southern sky from ultraviolet through near infrared wavelengths. He was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the accelerating universe.

How to apply?

The scholarship pre-application deadline is Feb 26, 2016 for 2016 entry. Start dates between July and February of the following year are possible.

No applications will be considered prior to the deadline.

Admission Requirements:  We are seeking outstanding students from around the world.  Students should normally have a strong background in physics, including classical mechanics, statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, optics, thermodynamics, special relativity, quantum mechanics, and nuclear physics.  Courses in mathematics through differential equations are also required.  An undergraduate course in introductory astronomy is recommended.  Students with previous research experience in astrophysics (as an undergraduate or as a Masters student) are strongly encouraged to apply.

A grade point average of >80% is a minimum (but not the only) requirement for consideration for our program.  In selecting scholarship candidates, we consider academic achievement, the letters of recommendation, and independent research ability and experience. 

Submitting your pre-application:

To be considered for our international program, please email your Curriculum Vitae, your Personal Statement, your GRE scores (if available) in a single pdf file to rsaa.international@anu.edu.au by the pre-application deadline.  You should also arrange to have 3 letters of reference arrive at rsaa.international@anu.edu.au by the deadline.  Complete pre-applications received by the deadline will receive full consideration.  Applicants are encouraged to contact RSAA faculty about potential research projects in the applicant's areas of interest prior to the application deadline.

  • Personal Statement

    In 2 pages or less, describe your experience, your research interests, your goals, your achievements, and any other information that you think might be relevant to your application.

  • Reference Letters

    Referee report forms and accompanying letters of recommendation should be submitted by three faculty members or other people who are familiar with your work.  Letters which address your research potential are generally more helpful than letters that describe your performance in coursework alone.

  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

    Applications that include results from the general (verbal, quantitative, and analytic) Graduate Record Examination (GRE), as well as the physics subject GRE are particularly encouraged, but are not essential for a successful application.  We do not have minimum GRE scores but a student with very low scores (<50th percentile) on the physics GRE needs to present a compelling case on other grounds (such as research experience) for entry into our program.

  • English Requirements

    Successful pre-applicants will be required to satisfy ANU english language requirements. It is not necessary to satisfy these requirements prior to the pre-application deadline.

If you have any other questions regarding the RSAA or our graduate program, please do not hesitate to contact us on rsaa.sa@anu.edu.au

CRICOS Code 048378C

Updated:  28 June 2016/Responsible Officer:  RSAA Director/Page Contact:  Webmaster