University policy requires that graduate degree recipients spend at least two semesters as a registered, full-time student engaged in academic work at the University Park Campus (or Hershey or Harrisburg campuses) during a twelve-month period. In addition, the student must register continuously for each fall and spring semester (beginning with the first semester after the two semester residence requirement has been met) until the PhD thesis is accepted and approved by the doctoral committee; this includes payment of appropriate tuition each semester. Note that tuition is substantially reduced after the Comprehensive Exam is passed.
A written dissertation of thesis work must be produced in accordance with the rules established by the Penn State Thesis Office. Each student must defend the thesis orally before a Doctoral Committee and secure the Committee’s approval of the written dissertation following the rules established by the Graduate School. The final oral examination, or Thesis defense, must be scheduled in advance by the Graduate School. Students should contact Committee members to find a satisfactory date and make arrangements with the Associate Department Head for the examination. The Thesis must be provided to the Doctoral Committee at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled defense.
5.10 Master’s Degree Requirements
The MS degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics is awarded according to the following Departmental requirements and procedures.
The candidate must satisfy all Graduate School requirements for the MS degree given in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin. These include 30 credits which have two restrictions: 18 credits must be at the 500- or 600-level; and 12 credits must be from the Department’s offerings. If the student elects to submit a thesis, at least 6 credits of ASTRO 600 or 610 must be included. Up to 4 total credits for ASTRO 602, Supervised Experience in College Teaching may be applied toward meeting the 30 credit requirement, but no more than one credit per semester will apply. The Associate Head will certify completion of the University course requirements.
A minimum GPA of 3.00 is required for work done at the University, as well as minimum credit requirements for coursework and research.
An ad hoc Master’s Committee, consisting of at least three Graduate Faculty members, will be appointed by the Associate Head for the Graduate Program to provide guidance to the Master’s candidate and clarify the expectations. If the thesis option is chosen (following appropriate faculty consultation), one member of the committee will normally be the supervisor of the thesis.
The student must prepare a suitable thesis, essay, or paper. The nature of this paper will be decided by the Master’s Committee in consultation with the Associate Head. The Committee will decide by majority vote whether the thesis, essay, or paper is of acceptable quality.
5.11 Dual-Title Degree in Astrobiology
Astronomy and Astrophysics PhD students have the opportunity to obtain an interdisciplinary Dual-Title Graduate Degree in Astrobiology (ABIOL). Students must notify the department accordingly and apply for this program by the middle of the spring semester of the student’s first academic year.
Administered by the Department of Geosciences, this program is devoted to the exploration of life outside of Earth and to the investigation of the origin and early evolution of life on Earth. Students must take ABIOL 574 (Planetary Habitability, 3 credits), ABIOL 590 (Astrobiology Seminar, 2 credits), ABIOL 570 (Astrobiology Field Experience, 2 credits), and at least 2 credits of 400- or 500-level course work outside of the student’s major program in an area relevant to Astrobiology. ABIOL 574 can count towards the ASTRO course requirement of the Astronomy & Astrophysics graduate degrees. Astrobiology must be included in the Candidacy and Comprehensive Examinations. The successful student will obtain a PhD in “Astronomy and Astrophysics and Astrobiology.”
5.12 Graduate Minor in Computational Science
Astronomy and Astrophysics PhD students have the opportunity to obtain an interdisciplinary Graduate Minor in Computational Science. Computational science focuses on scientific or engineering problems and draws from computer science and mathematics to gain an improved understanding of the problem. A computational scientist must have expertise in an applied discipline and must also be familiar with leading-edge computer architectures and the data structures issues associated with those architectures. A computational scientist must also have a good understanding of both the analysis and implementation of numerical algorithms and the ways that algorithms map to data structures and computer architectures. Additionally, a computational scientist must be comfortable with networking technologies that permit access to remote computers, massive databases, and visualization facilities. Recently, scientific visualization has become an essential tool of the computational scientist for the preprocessing of data sets and the interrogation of massive amounts of computational results. In summary, a computational scientist, using networking and visualization tools, works at the intersection of 1) an applied science or engineering discipline; 2) computer science; and 3) mathematics. This multi-disciplinary activity has given rise to a new way of conducting research.
6. Your Path Through Graduate School
In this section, the typical path through the PhD program in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is described in detail with the various milestones discussed sequentially.
6.1 Summer Prior to the First Year
After accepting admission to the Department, students occasionally make arrangements with a faculty member for research employment during the summer. This has no formal impact on your academic progress, but is valuable experience.