PhD Guides

Behold, the AstroMundus PhD Guide! The guide covers everything from the application process in different countries to interview advice. Credit is also due to the IAYC Alumni who helped a lot.

For the US and Canada, here is an incredibly useful list of all the universities which do and do not require the GRE.

Astrobites have some good articles on graduate school preparations and submitting your application.

Duncan Forgan has written 7 guides beginning with choosing the PhD itself and ending with the viva.

I also found these articles by Dalcash Dvinsky to be rather good. There is one about conferences, and another is a guide on writing a PhD Thesis.

If you think that a PhD might not be for you, you might also want to think about getting a job in astronomy without a PhD.

5 thoughts on “PhD Guides

  1. Anonymous

    Found your blog by chance. You have many resources that I was searching for, thank you. I’m someone interested in Astrophysics and Astronomy too. For me Astrophysics was all about finding the ultimate answers. I got excited about space documentaries and dreamt of making one some day. However I didn’t think I’d make it as an Astrophysicist so I took up a degree programme in Nanotechnology instead (if you can’t do the very big, you should do the very small! hehe).
    However, I realized I didn’t love it, I was still yearning for Physics. I took a break after college and decided to study Physics on my own.

    I have been applying at many places since last two years, but I have trouble with arranging recommendation letters most of all. As I am not employed since last two years (working solely on my website and studying), I virtually don’t have a scientific/technical person I could ask and my college lecturers do not think of me as a suitable candidate (because I should be doing Nanotechnology), I find the application process a lot daunting than it should be. I am from India and I cleared all National Eligibility Exams(mandatory here after MSc. in Physics) but I’m yet to secure something solid.

    I want to know if the programmes in European countries also require recommendations/reference letters? Can’t I apply without them?

    1. Hey, thanks for writing. 🙂
      I don’t think it should be a hindrance that you’ve studied something different before, it should be the opposite. Having a breadth of knowledge is a wonderful thing to have, and should enhance your education as you go further. It’s also more than possible to start a PhD with very little background knowledge in your field, and I know of quite a few people who have done so before, from engineering backgrounds and such-like.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know of anywhere that doesn’t require a reference letter. However, a reference letter is not supposed to be subject specific, it’s more of a way of saying that you are a good student no matter what you are studying. So it wouldn’t be a problem if your references came from someone in a different field. (Have you really tried asking them and they’ve said no?)

      Otherwise, I’d try approaching some local astrophysicists and ask if you can do an internship with them. That way you get more experience, you are showing true dedication and making a stronger application, you’ll have more of an idea of which field of astro you’d be interested in, and you’ll have someone who can give you a reference. Bonuses all around. 🙂
      If you struggle finding someone for this, you could get your foot in the door by going to a conference (you could ask to volunteer to get in for free/cheaply) and talk to people face to face which helps a lot. As well as getting a feel for who you’d like to work with.
      Good luck!

      P.S. If all of this fails, doing another Masters in Europe doesn’t hurt, and finding a PhD becomes significantly easier.

      1. Anonymous

        Thank you for your response. I agree, a reference letter shouldn’t be subject specific but an assessment of your potential as a student and researcher. I’m currently looking for a local opportunity. In the meanwhile I’ve joined some citizen science projects on zooniverse related to Planet 9 and LIGO data. I don’t know how much of that would help me in actual research but I figured it is good to have at least some idea how data works in the field of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
        On another note, if you don’t mind me asking, how do you decide on a broad field of research? I know I am interested in Astrophysics but it is a vast subject and I want to narrow down my interest so as to have a better idea of whom I should contact. I know about some hot topics like dark matter, neutrino oscillations, gravitational waves, cosmic inflation studies, gamma ray bursts and muon magnetic moment but I don’t know how to narrow it down further. Also I am a bit nervous about the math. If I decide to pursue cosmology there’d be a lot of advanced maths right? I’m familiar with some concepts (ordinary and partial differential equations, vector calculus, complex integration, infinite series, numerical methods etc.) all to the level of a typical M.Sc.(Physics) in my country but I’m afraid it won’t be enough.

    2. Yes, that’s great that you’re getting involved in those things. As to deciding which field of research, that’s a very difficult question and it depends on many different things. It’s different for everyone. I did very different things for my Bachelor thesis, Master thesis, and now PhD too. I like the variety, and I still have no idea what it is exactly that I’m interested in (and I’m not sure that I ever will). I’ve always prioritised my choice by deciding who I want to work with, someone who I understand well when he explains things to me, someone I’m not afraid to ask “stupid” questions, and someone who I know I will really want to work hard for. The topic for me comes second, and anyway, I’m interested in all that astrophysics has to offer, and enjoy doing as many different things as possible. I’d contact a bunch of different people and see how they respond, some will not respond at all, whereas others might respond at length and be very helpful, which is a good place to start.

      Again, I’d say that a Master’s in Astrophysics would help tremendously, you’d have a better idea of all of the different fields and what you like/dislike, as well as getting to meet the different people you might like to work with in the future. The Master’s will also provide you with an idea of the Maths that you need for Cosmology and suchlike (tensors, lots and lots of tensors!). On the other hand, with a lot of hard work you can pick up what you need to know during the PhD by attending classes. It will probably be quite stressful as a result, but still doable.

      1. Anonymous

        Ah tensors! I need to study that and some group theory (I found it in MS syllabus here). I have tried to bridge the gap by taking some online courses in Astrophysics such as the one offered by Australian National University and University of Arizona but I’m running a bit behind..I guess I need to complete them first asap. They claim to have covered the first year equivalent of an MS in Astrophysics, but I wouldn’t mind if I get to learn more officially. I’ll look into MS options as well.

        As for deciding the subject, I was thinking the other way. I don’t know much about the scientists yet because I haven’t met anyone (can’t unless I clear the interview first) but I can certainly mail them and read up their research a bit. I’m gonna do that, see how they respond.
        I really appreciate your help. Thank you so much! 🙂

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