Guide to Graduate School

Editors: Dan Gifford, Nathan Sanders

Each link will take you to an Astrobite written about graduate school. With a growing list of authors we will provide more and more material about the adventures that await you following your undergrad experience.

Artist's Conception of a Super-Earth

Credit: Elizabeth Lagana &


If you are entering your final year of college, chances are you are doing a fair bit of thinking about your future. Do you want to make the move out of academia and find a position in industry? As an astronomer/physicist you automatically qualify for many high level positions in the job market even outside the sciences. An article appearing in a AAS Newsletter features profiles of astronomers who have chosen different career paths. Check it out!

By far the more traditional route for astronomers is to apply for graduate school. Graduate school in astronomy is typically a 5-7 year venture into the depths of research, so making sure the commitment is really what you want is important. You can also do a masters program which is shorter and involves less research.

The application process begins in Fall (see also this Chembite), and are due in early Winter. There are many things you can do even before your last year of college to improve your application like doing research at your own institution or attending an REU. No matter where you do it, learn how to make the most of your research experience.

After all is said and done, some schools will accept you and other won’t. Read what the chair of the Caltech admissions committee has to say about the importance of GRE scores and research experience.

Deciding which school you want to attend is almost as difficult as applying, but the decision can be made clearer by visiting the schools that accept you. While you’re making your decision, give some thought to deferring for a year to have other experiences.

Once you are in graduate school, the opportunities seem almost endless. Choosing an advisor, picking a research project, and taking classes are all important things you will do in your first year. Virtually all graduate students are given a stipend by their program that is very comfortable which may require you to teach, however applying for fellowships is another way to secure funding (see applying for the NSF here and here). A lot of time will be spent advancing your career, becoming an expert in your field (which means lots of reading), writing and submitting papers, attending conferences, and balancing life and work. Many graduate students struggle to get their feet under them, but it is all part of a normal learning curve of becoming a scientist.

Graduate school is a rewarding experience, and those of us at Astrobites look forward to taking the surprise out of process, and allow you to have fun, relax, and advance your career. We look forward to having you as a colleague!