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Higher Education [Q&A]

– Vinay

Atul from Canara College asks what is the typical career path that will lead to a Ph.D. in Astronomy from an American, Canadian, or British University?

I am not familiar with how the British system works, but in the USA (and to a large extent in Canada), you need to demonstrate an aptitude for the subject and should have the scholastic record to back it up. Typically, after a Physics-based B.Sc. course, you should do an M.Sc. Physics course. All during this time, also do internships (often unpaid) during the summer at local research institutions. The scientists there usually have plenty of projects and would be happy to mentor an eager student. Some places like TIFR have official fully supported summer research programs that can lead in to their own Ph.D. programs. This kind of thing is necessary to demonstrate both an aptitude and a willingness to do research. Having papers published in refereed journals is a major plus. After that, take the general and Physics GREs and do reasonably well in them. A significant component of your application will be the letters of recommendation from scientists who know you and your work. You can apply to both Physics and Astrophysics programs — neither precludes your working in Astrophysics later, though if you join the latter, it is quite difficult to do a Physics thesis. Typically, about a year after joining the program, you will have to take a candidacy exam that is the final barrier to being admitted in full to the program.

A Physics graduate education is an extremely useful foundation for an Astrophysics Ph.D.

I should caution that one should never try to do a Ph.D. unless one is absolutely motivated to do so. It is not like other courses, where one takes classes and sits for an exam. No, it requires tremendous dedication, stubbornness, aptitude, and inventiveness to get through, and it shouldn’t ever be taken up lightly.