PhD in Astrophysical Sciences and Technology


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Program Description

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There has never been a more exciting time to study the universe beyond the confines of the Earth. A new generation of advanced ground-based and space-borne telescopes and enormous increases in computing power are enabling a golden age of astrophysics.

The doctoral program in astrophysical sciences and technology focuses on the underlying physics of phenomena beyond the Earth and on the development of the technologies, instruments, data analysis, and modeling techniques that will enable the next major strides in the field. The program's multidisciplinary emphasis sets it apart from conventional astrophysics graduate programs at traditional research universities.

The program offers tracks in Astrophysics (including Observational and Theoretical Astrophysics), Computational and Gravitational Astrophysics (including Numerical Relativity, Gravitational Wave Astronomy), and Astronomical Technology (including detector and instrumentation research and development). Students can pursue research interests in a wide range of topics, including design and development of novel detectors, multiwavelength studies of proto-stars, active galactic nuclei and galaxy clusters, gravitational wave data analysis, and theoretical and computational modeling of astrophysical systems including galaxies and compact objects such as binary black holes. Depending on research interests, students may participate in one of three research centers: the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation (Video), the Center for Detectors, or the Laboratory for Multi-wavelength Astrophysics.

Plan of study

Students complete a minimum of 60 credit hours of study, consisting of at least 24 credit hours of course work and at least 24 credit hours of research. Students may choose to follow one of three tracks: astrophysics, astro-informatics and computational astrophysics (with the option of a concentration in general relativity), or astronomical instrumentation. All students must complete four core courses with grades of B or better, as well as two semesters of a graduate seminar. Core course grades below B must be remediated by taking and passing a comprehensive exam on the core course subject matter prior to receiving the doctoral degree. The remaining course credits are made up of specialty track courses and electives. Students must pass a qualifying examination, which consists of completing and defending a masters-level research project, prior to embarking on the dissertation research project.


Electives include additional courses in astrophysics and a wide selection of courses offered in other RIT graduate programs (e.g., imaging science, computer science, engineering), including detector development, digital image processing, computational techniques, optics, and entrepreneurship, among others.

Ph.D. qualification requirements: Master's-level research project

During the first year of the program, most doctoral candidates begin a masters-level research project under the guidance of a faculty member. The project gains momentum during the second year after the core courses have been completed. The masters-level research topic may be different from the eventual doctoral dissertation topic, and the supervising faculty member will not necessarily serve as the dissertation research adviser.

The doctoral qualification requirements consist of a combination of a publication-quality masters-level project report, which may be in the form of a thesis (if the student so chooses) and an oral presentation and defense of the masters-level project. This qualification process, which must be completed by the beginning of the third year of full-time study or its equivalent, is designed to ensure the student has the necessary background knowledge and intellectual skills to carry out doctoral-level research in the subject areas of astrophysical sciences and technology. A director-approved committee consisting of the student's masters-level project research adviser and two additional faculty members will assess the student's project report and defense.

Dissertation research adviser

After passing the qualifying examination, students are guided by a dissertation research adviser who is approved by the program director. The choice of the adviser is based on the student's research interests, faculty research interests, and available research funding.

Research committee

After passing the qualifying examination, a dissertation committee is appointed for the duration of the student's tenure in the program. The committee chair is appointed by the dean of graduate education and must be a faculty member in a program other than astrophysical sciences and technology. The committee chair acts as the institutional representative in the final dissertation examination. The committee comprises at least four members and in addition to the chair, must also include the student's dissertation research adviser and at least one other member of the program's faculty. The fourth member may be an RIT faculty member, a professional affiliated in industry, or a representative from another institution. The program director must approve committee members who are not RIT faculty.

Ph.D. proposal review (candidacy exam)

Within six months of the appointment of the dissertation committee, students must prepare a Ph.D. research project proposal and present it to the committee for review. The student provides a written research proposal and gives an oral presentation to the committee, who provides constructive feedback on the project plan. The review must take place at least six months prior to the dissertation defense.

Annual review

Each fall, students provide an annual report in the form of an oral presentation, which summarizes progress made during the preceding year. The program director also monitors student's progress toward meeting the requirements for either the qualifying examination (during the first two years) or the Ph.D. (after passing the qualifying examination). Students may be interviewed, as necessary, to explore any concerns that emerge during the review and to discuss remedial actions.

Final examination of the dissertation

Once the dissertation is written, distributed to the dissertation committee, and the committee agrees to administer the final examination, the doctoral candidate may schedule the final examination. The candidate must distribute a copy of the dissertation to the committee and make the dissertation available to interested faculty at least four weeks prior to the dissertation defense.

The final examination of the dissertation is open to the public and is primarily a defense of the dissertation research. The examination consists of an oral presentation by the student, followed by questions from the audience. The dissertation committee privately questions the candidate following the presentation. The dissertation committee caucuses immediately following the examination and thereafter notifies the candidate and the program director of the results.

Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program in astrophysical sciences and technology, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Complete a graduate application.
  • Hold a baccalaureate degree (or equivalent) from an accredited university or college in the physical sciences, mathematics, computer science, or engineering.
  • Submit official transcripts (in English) of all previously completed undergraduate and graduate course work.
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2 (or equivalent) in course work in mathematical, science, engineering, and computing subject areas.
  • Submit scores from the GRE.
  • Submit a personal statement of educational objectives.
  • Submit a current resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Submit two letters of recommendation from academic or professional sources directly to RIT. These must be confidential.
  • International applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. A minimum TOEFL score of 79 (internet-based) is required. A minimum IELTS score of 6.5 is required. The English language test score requirement is waived for native speakers of English or for those submitting transcripts from degrees earned at American institutions.

Additional Info


All students in the program must spend at least one year (summer term excluded) in residence as full-time students to be eligible to receive the doctorate degree.

Time limitations

All doctoral candidates must maintain continuous enrollment during the research phase of the program. Normally, full-time students complete the course of study in approximately four to five years. A total of seven years is allowed to complete the requirements after first attempting the qualifying examination.

MS to Ph.D. transfer

Depending on each student's progress in their course work and the research project, students enrolled in the astrophysical sciences and technology MS program may seek program approval to have their MS thesis and thesis defense serve as the Ph.D. qualifying examination. Upon successfully qualifying, students may choose to proceed to Ph.D. candidacy rather than accepting a terminal master of science degree. This transition is contingent on the availability of an adviser and research funding.

Last updated May 2020

About the School

With more than 80 graduate programs in high-paying, in-demand fields and scholarships, assistantships and fellowships available, we invite you to take a closer look at RIT. Don't be fooled by the word ... Read More

With more than 80 graduate programs in high-paying, in-demand fields and scholarships, assistantships and fellowships available, we invite you to take a closer look at RIT. Don't be fooled by the word "technology" in our name. At RIT, you will discover a university of artists and designers on the one hand, and scientists, engineers, and business leaders on the other – a collision of the right brain and the left brain. Read less