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Astrophysical Sciences and Technology Ph.D.

Program overview

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 doctorate 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 multidisciplinary emphasis of this program sets it apart from conventional astrophysics graduate programs at traditional research universities.


Students must complete a minimum of 60 semester credit hours of study, consisting of at least 27 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), and astronomical instrumentation. All students must complete 4 core courses and two semesters of graduate seminar. The remaining course credits are made up from specialty track courses and electives. Students must successfully complete a master's-level research project and pass a written qualifying examination prior to embarking on the dissertation research project.

Astrophysical sciences and technology, Ph.D. degree, typical course sequence

CourseSem. Cr. Hrs.
First Year
ASTP-613 Astronomical Observational Techniques and Instrumentation  3
ASTP-617 Astrophysical Dynamics  3
  Elective or Specialty track course  3
ASTP-601 Graduate Seminar I  1
ASTP-615 Radiative Processes for Astrophysical Sciences  3
Choose one of the following:  3
   ASTP-610    Mathematical Methods for the Astrophysical Sciences  
   ASTP-611    Statistical Methods for Astrophysics  
  Specialty track course  3
ASTP-602 Graduate Seminar II  1
Second Year
  Specialty track course  3
  Elective  3
ASTP-890  Research and Thesis  4
  Specialty track course  3
  Elective or Specialty track course  3
ASTP-890 Research and Thesis  4
Third Year
ASTP-890 Research and Thesis  5
ASTP-890 Research and Thesis  5
Fourth Year
ASTP-890 Research and Thesis  5
ASTP-890 Research and Thesis  5
Total Semester Credit Hours 60


CourseSem. Cr. Hrs.
ASTP-730 Stellar Structure and Atmospheres 3
ASTP-740 Galactic Astrophysics 3
ASTP-750 Extragalactic Astrophysics 3
Astro-informatics and computational astrophysics
CourseSem. Cr. Hrs.
ASTP-611 Statistical Methods for Astrophysics 3
ASTP-720 Computational Methods for Astrophysics 3
Astro-informatics and computational astrophysics—general relativity concentration
CourseSem. Cr. Hrs.
Choose one of the following: 3
   ASTP-611    Statistical Methods for Astrophysics  
   ASTP-720    Computational Methods for Astrophysics  
ASTP-760 Introduction to Relativity and Gravitation 3
ASTP-861 Advanced Relativity and Gravitation 3
PHYS-611 Classical Electrodynamics I 3
PHYS-612 Classical Electrodynamics II 3
Astronomical instrumentation
CourseSem. Cr. Hrs.
IMGS-739 Principles of Solid State Imaging 3
IMGS-742 Testing of Focal Plane Arrays 3
IMGS-728 Design and Fabrication of Solid State Camera 3


Electives include additional courses in astrophysics, detector development, digital image processing, computational techniques, optics, and entrepreneurship, among others. Many additional elective courses offered in other RIT graduate programs (e.g. imaging science, computer science, engineering) are available.

Master's level research project

Typically following the first year, but sometimes initiated during the first year for well prepared students, candidates will begin a master's level research project under the guidance of a faculty member who will not necessarily be the dissertation research adviser. The topic will frequently be different from the dissertation topic. Assessment will be based on a combination of a written project report and an oral presentation.

Admission to candidacy

Students must pass a qualifying examination after completing the core curriculum and prior to embarking on the Ph.D. dissertation project. The purpose of the examination is 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. The examination consists of two parts: a written examination based on the core courses and an oral examination based on a research portfolio consisting of a written report on the master's-level research project and a record of graduate research seminar activities.

A committee chaired by the astrophysical sciences and technology director, which includes the student's research adviser and two additional faculty members, will assess the student's overall qualifications. Students must pass the qualification examination by the beginning of the third year of full-time study or its equivalent, to continue in the program. Students are permitted two attempts to pass the exams.

Dissertation research adviser

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

Research committee

After passing the qualifying examination, a four-member dissertation committee is appointed for the duration of the student's tenure in the program. One of the committee members must be a faculty member in a program other than astrophysical sciences and technology. This committee member, who is approved by the dean of graduate studies, acts as the institutional chair of the final dissertation examination. The committee 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 or staff 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. project validation

Within six months of the appointment of the dissertation committee, the student will give an oral defense of their chosen research project to faculty, who will provide constructive feedback on the project plan.

Annual review

The program director will conduct an annual review to ascertain the progress of the student's work. Students are interviewed, concerns (if any) are raised, and progress is reported on the student's work toward meeting the requirements for either the qualifying examination (during the first two years), or the Ph.D. (after passing the qualifying examination).

In addition, as part of the Graduate Research Seminar, the student will give an annual presentation summarizing progress made during the preceding year.

Final examination of the dissertation

Once the dissertation has been written, distributed to the dissertation committee, and the committee agrees to administer the final examination, the doctoral candidate can 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 will privately question the candidate following the presentation. The dissertation committee will caucus immediately following the examination and thereafter notify 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:

Additional information


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 candidates for the Ph.D. must maintain continuous enrollment during the research phase of the program. Normally, full-time students complete the course of study for the doctorate 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 be allowed to attempt the Ph.D. qualifying examination. On successfully passing the exam, students may choose to proceed to Ph.D. candidacy rather than accepting a terminal master of science degree. This is contingent on the availability of an adviser and research funding.

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