Academic rules

Academic Roadmap

Students keep track of the many components involved in completion of the Astronomy Ph.D. degree using the Academic Roadmap.

Academic Roadmap - Years 1/2 (docx file)

Academic Roadmap - Years 3/4 (docx file)

Academic Roadmap - Years 5/6 (docx file)

Students beginning their 1st, 3rd and 5th years will fill out a new Academic Roadmap. Students beginning all other semesters must get their existing Academic Roadmap from Amber. The Roadmap should be filled in with:

  1. Classes being taken that semester (if any)
  2. Professor for whom the student is GSRing (if any)
  3. Class for which the student is GSIing (if any)
  4. Funding confirmation: This could be a chartstring or just a checkmark from your advisor indicating that you are covered. If you are supported by a fellowship, you can write that.

After completion of the Academic Roadmap, the student must get a sign-off from their research advisor (if they have one), their academic advisor, and the head graduate advisor. If you need help remembering who your advisors are take a look here.

Once the student has completed their form for the semester, the form must be handed in to Amber or the mailbox of the head graduate advisor for storage until it is needed for the next semester.

Degree Requirements

Doctorate Degree

The requirements for the Astronomy Ph.D. degree are the following:

    1. Astronomy 290AB (a seminar)
    2. A total of 6 graduate (or equivalent) courses, 3 of which are from the Astronomy Dept.
  1. Teaching
    1. Two semesters
  2. Exams (Preliminary and Qualifying)
  3. Thesis (signed by committee)
  4. University Registration
PhD Courses

A Ph. D. student is expected to complete six classes at the graduate level or their equivalent. At least three of these classes must be taken in the department. This is in addition to the research seminar 290AB. See below for details. It is suggested this requirement be fulfilled within the first two years.


All candidates for the Ph.D. in Astronomy must acquire two semesters of teaching experience during their graduate career, whether or not compensated.

It is desirable that this requirement be satisfied early in the graduate career (within the first two years), but it may be delayed for those international students who have not acquired adequate command of English, or other reasons, at the discretion of the Chairperson. The requirement may be waived for transfer students who have acquired similar teaching experience elsewhere.


All candidates must pass two oral examinations administered by the faculty. The preliminary examination should be completed by the end of the second academic year of study and focuses on basic competency in three subfields selected by the student. The qualifying examination should be completed by the end of the fourth academic year of study and is composed of a review of a thesis topic and an examination of a student's competency in his or her research subfield. Students entering with a Master's Degree or its equivalent may have the preliminary examination requirement waived subject to the discretion of the Chair.


The thesis is an original piece of research carried out by the candidate under the supervision of a thesis adviser and two other faculty members (one of whom must be from another discipline). The Graduate Division has published guidelines for dissertations and theses.

University Registration

Registration is required of all students making any use of University facilities, including access to faculty. A student is required to be registered, or pay the filing fee, whichever is applicable for the semester in which the degree is conferred. To be eligible for filing fee status the student must have been continuously registered since entering (allowing for one year of approved withdrawal), and registered in the term immediately preceding the one in which the Filing Fee is requested. You must register each semester before the end of the third week of classes.

Master's Degree

Students are required to pass the Preliminary Exam and must satisfy a somewhat confusing array of requirements. Here are Dexter's official words:

  1. Our students are under plan II which requires at least 24 units of upper division and graduate courses.
  2. At least 12 units must be in graduate courses in the student's major subject (e.g. Radiation, Fluids, Stars, OOM, Galaxies, Cosmology, etc.). You can use any physics graduate courses that you might take, as long as they are letter-graded.
  3. Courses in the 300 series do not count in the unit requirements. A maximum of 6 units of 299 can be used.
  4. For master's degrees, two-thirds of all course work (not just those courses that you list on the master's candidacy form) must be letter-graded.

This covers the department and University requirements towards the Master of Art degree in Astrophysics. Students are normally not admitted for the Master's Degree only, but may find it worthwhile to add to their record en route to the Ph.D. Once these requirements have been fulfilled, the student should see the Student Affairs Officer to obtain an Application for Candidacy for the Master's Degree.


Core Classes

All students are encouraged to prepare themselves for the preliminary and specific research work by engaging in a program of courses. It is strongly recommended that these be drawn from the following basic courses:

  • Astronomy 201 Radiative Processes in Astronomy
  • Astronomy 202 Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
  • Astronomy 203 Astrophysical Techniques
  • Astronomy 204 Numerical Techniques in Astronomy
  • Astronomy 216 Interstellar Matter
  • Astronomy 217 Radiative Astrophysics: Stars, Disks, and Winds
  • Astronomy 218 Stellar Dynamics and Galactic Structure
  • Astronomy C228 Extragalactic Astronomy and Physical Cosmology
  • Astronomy C249 Solar System Astrophysics
  • Astronomy 252 Stellar Structure and Evolution
  • Astronomy C254 High Energy Astrophysics
  • Astronomy 255 Computational Astrophysics
  • Astronomy 267 Plasma Astrophysics
  • Astronomy 290AB – The Introduction to Current Research seminar is required of all students in their first year. This consists of weekly lectures by different faculty members and research staff, and introduces the student to current research being carried out in the Department and nearby Labs. (This course is not a prelim topic.)
  • Astronomy 298 – Tutorials are recommended for all students at times until the Qualifying Examination has been passed. Depending on the time commitment, students may sign up for one or two units per semester. This, along with participation in seminars, can be a primary mechanism for advancing your knowledge and developing skills. It depends on Faculty availability.
  • Astronomy 300 – Instruction Techniques in General Astronomy is normally taken concurrently with Graduate Student Instructor duties in Astronomy 7 or 10. This allows the student to take credits for acting as a GSI.

Outside Course Option

A formal requirement no longer exists for courses outside the Department. Nonetheless, the Dept. still feels it would be valuable to take up to two outside courses at the advanced graduate level (200 level and above). These courses should form a cohesive group to provide depth in a particular area. Up to four courses could be taken instead on the 100-200 level (these count for half a graduate course in the course requirement). The lower division course option should be chosen if it is advisable to complement the student's background and provide a broad base for future work. These courses count towards the overall course requirement (up to 3 full courses). Each student's course list must be approved by a Graduate Adviser. There is no specific list of allowable courses; the full variety of offerings should be used to greatest advantage. For students who do not yet have definite ideas, this list can be used as a starting point; it includes the basic ``bread-and-butter'' courses for a student in any physical science. However, the list should not be regarded as restrictive.


Preliminary Examination

The Prelim is an oral examination conducted by three members of the Department appropriate for the fields in which the student will be examined. The Exam may be taken at any time the student chooses within their first two years, subject to the regulations listed on the Prelim Page. In setting the time of the Exam the student should consult the Department Chair at least one month in advance of the proposed date concerning the topics and the Prelim Committee.

Qualifying Examination

The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to show that the student is ready to begin thesis work. The “qual” is an oral examination at which a Committee of four faculty members examines the student in depth on three topics pertinent to the student's intended thesis topic. The customary format is that the student speaks for 40 min on the three topics. This presentation is typically interrupted by questions, and is followed by general knowledge questioning. The three topics are often chosen to lead the discussion from a broad subject foundation to the specific area of investigation in proposed research. One intent of the exam is to explore the student's readiness to tackle a thesis and the feasibility of the proposed research as to definition of questions and methods and as to time for completion. The exam also has a broader goal concerning the student's mastery of topics and ability to present the material concisely and coherently including responding to probing questions.

One member of the Committee (the “outside member”) must be on the regular Berkeley faculty (i.e., a member of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate) with NO appointment in the Astronomy Department. The Chair, or designated Head Graduate Advisor, and the student's thesis supervisor can aid in the selection of the outside member. The student's thesis supervisor cannot serve as Chair of the Committee. The Committee Chair is selected by the Department Chair/Head Graduate Advisor. The Committee Chair's role is supervisory during the exam. The Qualifying Exam is required by the University in order to get the Ph.D. degree - no exceptions are allowed! Department policy is that the Qualifying Exam must be taken no later than the end of four calendar years of graduate study, unless a specific exemption is granted by the Chair/Head Graduate Advisor. If not passed on the first try, a second attempt must be made within six months. Graduate division policy is outlined in 1992 document here. See also a letter in 2002 here.

The Qualifying Exam is required by the University in order to get the Ph.D. degree - no exceptions are allowed! Note that the student must submit an application to the Graduate Division at least one month in advance of the proposed date of the exam. See the Student Affairs Officer for an application form.

Department policy is that the Qualifying Exam must be taken no later than the end of four calendar years of graduate study, unless a specific exemption is granted by the Head Graduate Adviser. If not passed on the first try, a second attempt must be made within six months.


Upon completion of the Qualifying Examination and all other requirements, except the thesis, a student should file immediately for advancement to candidacy, bearing in mind the filing fee regulations discussed under the registration requirements.

Normative Time to Degree

The Department has established six years as the Normative Time to Degree. Normative Time is the elapsed calendar time in years that under normal circumstances will be needed to complete all requirements for the Ph.D., assuming a student who enters without deficiencies, who is engaged in full-time uninterrupted study, and who is making desirable progress toward the degree.

After Advancement to Candidacy, the student is eligible for a Fee Offset Grant, for which the student must apply to the Graduate Division. Rules regarding this may be obtained from the Graduate Division or the Student Affairs Officer.


The Chair will act as adviser for first year graduate students. After the first year students will be assigned a faculty member to act as an adviser. This adviser is typically the primary research supervisor of the graduate student. Students and advisers will meet at least once per year until the Qualifying Examination has been passed. Once a thesis topic has been found, a Thesis Committee with 4 members (including one outside the Dept.) is formed by the student. This is typically the same as the Qualifying Examination committee.