Academic rules

Graduate Student Handbook

For all mentions of policy in this page, please refer to the Graduate Student Handbook for official and up-to-date policies. Discuss any questions or concerns with the Head Graduate Advisor.

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 290A and 290B (first-year seminar)
    2. A total of 6 graduate (or equivalent) courses. Take courses relevant to a student from other departments is permitted, but the student should discuss these plans with the Head Graduate Advisor.
  1. Teaching
    1. Two semesters, with the normal teaching load being a 50% appointment (~20 hours per week expected).
    2. During their first semester teaching, students enroll in AY375 (or equivalent, with permission), a 1-unit pedagogy course led by graduate students.
  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. Students are permitted to take courses outside of the Astronomy Dept. to fulfill this requirement, but should discuss these plans with the Head Graduate Advisor. These six courses are in addition to the first-year research seminar 290A and 290B. 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.

It is recommended that this requirement be satisfied within the first two years.


All candidates must pass two oral examinations administered by the faculty. The preliminary examination must be attempted by the end of the summer after the second academic year of study and focuses on basic competency in three subfields selected by the student. The qualifying examination must be attempted by the end of the summer after 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 their research subfield. Students entering with a Master's Degree or its equivalent may have the preliminary examination requirement waived subject to the approval of the department. Talk to the Head Graduate Advisor if you have questions.


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. 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 may elect to receive an optional Master's Degree if they have:

  1. Successfully passed their Preliminary Exam.
  2. Completed at least 24 units of coursework, including 12 units of lecture courses (i.e. not research, seminar, etc.).
  3. Maintained a 3.0 cumulative GPA on the basis of all upper division (if any are taken during graduate schools) and graduate courses
  4. Two-thirds of all course work must be letter-graded.

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 Grad Student Affairs Officer will update will update the successful completion of the student’s Preliminary Exam capstone milestone. Grad Div advisors confer Master’s degrees once a semester and will update CalCentral when all requirements have been satisfied.


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 203 Astrophysical Techniques
  • Astronomy 218 Stellar Dynamics and Galactic Structure
  • Astronomy C202 Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
  • Astronomy C207 Radiative Processes in Astronomy
  • Astronomy C228 Extragalactic Astronomy and Physical Cosmology
  • Astronomy C249 Planetary Astrophysics
  • Astronomy C252 Stellar Structure and Evolution
  • Astronomy C254 High Energy Astrophysics
  • Astronomy 255 Computational Astrophysics
  • Astronomy 256 Astronomy Data Lab
  • 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.)


Here is an example of how the Department course offerings might look:

Sample 3 Year Schedule

Fall 1 Spring 1 Fall 2 Spring 2 Fall 3 Spring 3
Radiation Fluids Radiation Fluids Radiation Fluids
High Energy Cosmology Galaxies Stars High Energy Cosmology
Planets Data Lab Data Lab Planets

Outside Course Option

In some cases, it may be beneficial for students to take classes outside the Astronomy Department. Some general examples include engineering classes that may help with instrument development, data science classes to help develop data analysis techniques, or a range of classes in the physics or earth & planetary sciences departments. Students should feel encouraged to explore these options as a means of broadening their horizons and obtaining skills that may enhance their research. In general, the department will consider counting degree relevant upper level undergraduate or graduate level classes offered by other departments toward the 24 unit requirement. Students considering this option should consult with the HGA.

Some examples are:

  • Computer Science 289A Introduction to Machine Learning
  • Computer Science 281A Statistical Learning Theory (like above but better because there are no undergrads)
  • Physics 288 Bayesian Data Analysis and Machine Learning for Physical Sciences
  • Physics 242A Theoretical Plasma Physics
  • Physics 231 General Relativity


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 Prelim Exam may be taken at any time the student chooses within their first two years, subject to the regulations listed in the Graduate Student Handbook (also on Prelim Page). The choice of topics and Prelim Committee members must be approved by the HGA at least 3 weeks in advance of the proposed date of the exam. It is recommended that students begin planning for their Prelim (e.g., asking committee members to serve) 1 semester in advance of their planned exam date.

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 or five 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 presents (usually with slides) for ~45 min on the three topics related to their research. This is usually papers written by the student, work in progress coupled with framing of the broader astrophysical context. 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. Students should plan for the Qual to take up to 3 hours, which allows ample time for presentation, questions, and discussion.

Refer to the Graduate Student Handbook for instructions on how to form a Qual committee. In particular, it is also possible to petition to have one non-academic senate member (e.g., adjunct professor or staff member at Berkeley/LBNL/SSL, professor/staff from another institution) serve on the committee. This requires a special approval process and is outlined in the Graduate Student Handbook.

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 three weeks 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 the summer after four academic years of graduate study, unless a specific exemption is granted by the Head Graduate Adviser and Department Chair. 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

Normative Time refers to the elapsed time (calculated to the nearest semester) that students would need to complete all requirements for the doctorate. The Astronomy Department has established 12 semesters as the Normative Time to Degree. Students who anticipate exceeding the normative time may only do so with approval of the Head Graduate Advisor and Department Chair.


The Head Graduate Advisor will act as adviser for first-year graduate students. At the beginning of their second year, students will be assigned an academic advisor, who is a faculty member that is not involved in the students research. The purpose of the academic advisor is to provide a resource for answering questions, addressing concerns, and serving as a sounding board external to the students research environment. If they wish, students can select a different faculty academic advisor, if the new advisor agrees. Students should consult the HGA about changing academic advisors.