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 Government Research Training Program (AGRTP) Stipend Scholarships 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.