PhD in Astronomy


Program Description

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northern Arizona University (NAU) will launch a new Ph.D. program in Astronomy and Planetary Science in the Fall of 2016. The Department is now recruiting new faculty members and Ph.D. students.

Current and Future Faculty Expertise

Current faculty members use ground-based and space-based telescopes to study small bodies in the Solar System and the formation and evolution of other planetary systems; spacecraft imagery to study planetary surfaces; and a state-of-the-art laboratory to study astrophysical ice analogs. NAU faculty members have close research collaborations with scientists at local institutions including Lowell Observatory, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center, and the United States Naval Observatory. In the next few years, the Department will hire tenure-track faculty members with expertise in exoplanet science, astrochemistry, astroinformatics, astronomical instrumentation, and observational astronomy specializing in Solar System objects, exoplanets, or related topics.

Superb Access To Large Telescopes

Faculty members and their Ph.D. students have full competitive access to facilities run by the University of Arizona including the 2 x 8.4-meter Large Binocular Telescope, 6.5-meter Magellan Telescopes, 6.5-meter MMT telescope, 2.3-meter Bok telescope 1.8-meter Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, and the 1.5-meter Kuiper Telescope. NAU researchers have access to the 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope, 1.8 Perkins telescope, and 0.8-meter NURO telescope through partnerships with Lowell Observatory. Faculty and students also have access to the 0.5-meter Lutz telescope on the NAU campus.


Ph.D. students in the program will build skills and knowledge through formal class work and an original research project. Students will take ten core classes during their first two years in the program. Five of the core classes will focus on the development of essential skills Ph.D. astronomers and planetary scientists need upon entering the workforce in an academic or industrial setting (instrument design and fabrication, optical design, computational physics, big data, and techniques of observational astronomy). Five classes will focus on advanced topics in astronomy and planetary science that students need for a solid foundation upon which to build their own postdoctoral research (formation and evolution of solar systems, atmospheres, interiors, and surfaces of planetary bodies, astrochemistry, exoplanet science, and special topics). Students will perform their own original research, write a dissertation, and make an oral, public presentation of their results. In the original research component, students will learn how to collect and analyze data, write up their results, and communicate their results to others in a manner consistent with professional standards in the astronomical and planetary science communities.

Financial Support

All students in the program will receive full-tuition waivers, a stipend as either a graduate teaching assistant or a graduate research assistant, and health insurance. Generally, students will be supported as teaching assistants in introductory physics and/or astronomy labs during their first two years as then as research assistants after advancing to Ph.D. candidacy.


Northern Arizona University is a 26,000-student institution with its main campus in Flagstaff, a four-season community of about 67,000 at an elevation of 7,000 ft at the base of the majestic San Francisco Peaks. Opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, rock climbing, skiing, and snowboarding abound.

Admission Requirements and Procedure

To be considered for admission, students must complete and submit the online application form at the Graduate College Admissions website and click on the Apply Now link. Please follow the directions and submit all materials online. Be sure to select Doctoral Degree and Astronomy and Planetary Science. Your online application must include:

  • A statement of interest describing why you are applying to NAU as well as your professional interests and goals;
  • A scientific/technical writing sample such as a senior thesis, MS thesis, major class paper or professional report demonstrating your analytical and writing skills;
  • Three letters of recommendation of which two should be from faculty members.
  • Scores from the general GRE are required; the Physics GRE is recommended.
  • All materials should be submitted through the online application site.

Please note that this program does not appear in the current (2015-2016) academic catalog. But if you start an application to the Graduate College, it will appear as an option.

Successful applicants will usually have a bachelor's or Master's degree in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, or a related field with a 3.0 GPA or above. Evaluation of applications for Fall admission will begin after January 15 of that year. Financial aid awards in the form of Graduate Teaching Assistantships will be selected in April.

Last updated Sep 2020

About the School

Northern Arizona University is a public university offering undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees of high quality and societal value. As a student, you are at the center of the NAU experi ... Read More

Northern Arizona University is a public university offering undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees of high quality and societal value. As a student, you are at the center of the NAU experience, which is guided by a dedicated and distinguished faculty committed to teaching, individual engagement, and research excellence. Read less