Courses

Requirements

Candidates for a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics should complete one core course in astronomy, at least five electives from a list designated by the department, and one course in another scientific discipline. Details follow.

1. Each student must receive a satisfactory grade (B- or higher) or pass an oral examination in one core course: Astronomy 200 (Radiative Astrophysics)

2. Each student must receive a satisfactory grade (B- or higher) in at least five electives chosen from the list below:  

  • Astronomy 201: Astrophysical Fluids & Plasmas
  • Astronomy 202a: Extragalactic Astronomy & Cosmology I
  • Astronomy 202b: Extragalactic Astronomy & Cosmology II
  • Astronomy 203: Interstellar Medium & Star Formation
  • Astronomy 204: Stellar Astrophysics
  • Astronomy 209: Exoplanet Systems
  • Astronomy 214: Observational Astronomy
  • Physics 210: General Relativity*
  • Data Analysis (Physics 201 or Applied Math 207 but not both)

3. Each student is expected to complete for credit one 200-level course outside the department. Known as the Practical Elective, this course ideally would pertain to a student’s research field of interest or assist the student in furthering research skills in such areas as data analysis, engineering, geology, chemistry or biology.  [Note: Any one of the three non-Astronomy courses listed as electives can be used as the Practical Elective but taking one course cannot be used to meet two requirements.]  Your advisor must approve your choice of the Practical Elective.

4. The Graduate School requires 32 units of "residency" for the PhD degree.  Students are allowed 4 units of Astronomy 300 to make up this total. 

*Note from the instructor for Physics 210:  Students interested in taking this course should have a very strong background in vector calculus, linear algebra, analytical mechanics, and electromagnetism and be able to devote a substantial amount of time to problem sets.

Study Plans

At the beginning of the fall semester, first and second year student are expected to discuss their proposed study and research schedule with their advisor and to submit a Study Plan for review by the Committee on Academic Studies. First year students should make an appointment to go over their Study Plan with their advisor.  Study Plan forms are available here.   Ideal timelines are just that.  But in general the CAS would like course requirements to be completed at the end of year 2 and research exams by the beginning of year 3.  Completing your teaching by the end of year 3 is preferred.  Please note that the Practical Elective requires advisor sign-off which is accomplished most easily via the Study Plan.

First-Year Study Plan

This Study Plan summarizes the course requirements and lists when individual courses are offered as well as providing useful background on your undergraduate training.   Advisors must sign off on this plan and it is due in the Department office by September 10 of each year.

Second-year Study Plan

This Study Plan helps update the CAS on your progress to date and make certain that your research is well under way.  Advisors must sign off on this document which is due in the Department office by September 10. 

Course Exemptions Process and Policy
1. For students who matriculate at Harvard with a "normal" undergraduate transcript, and may have taken one or a few graduate courses, the only exemption that will be considered is for Radiative.  In other words, if a student has taken a graduate radiative course, they should not need to repeat Astro 200 for credit.  No additional exemptions should be allowed.
2. For students who arrive with a full Masters in Astrophysics (at least 6-8 graduate courses), they will need to sit down with the Coordinator, go through their transcripts and document the correspondence between our 9 listed courses and those already taken.  Those that match could count towards the total number of courses required at Harvard.  Note that for exemptions to be approved, the student will need to speak to the instructor of the course in question and perhaps take the final exam. 
3. For students who arrive with a Masters in pure Physics or other science, an exemption of one elective could perhaps be made, but not for the required elective taken outside the department.
4. Graduate students who wish to apply for a Masters in Passing degree must have completed a full 7 courses at Harvard for letter-grade credit as stipulated in the PhD requirements that appear earlier on this page.