Graduate Student FAQ

Why should I apply to UCLA Astronomy? UCLA is internationally renowned for astronomical research. Faculty and students have private access to the world's largest ground based telescopes (the two Keck's) and to the telescopes at the Lick Observatory. We are also very competive in receiving telescope access to many of the public resources around the world including the new Gemini International Telescopes, Hubble Space Telescope, and Very Large Array (VLA). 
The department is also a rich environment for interaction with a significant number of researchers at all levels including undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and faculty. 
 
How do I finance my graduate education? All of our entering graduate students receive financial support either through fellowships, teaching assistantships or research assistantships. This support includes tuition and a stipend. During the first year, students are encouraged to seek out research activities with faculty members that will often evolve into a 2nd year research project and, in some cases, a thesis. Then during the later years, most students receive research assistantships that cover tuition and a stipend. The remaining students will normally have teaching assistantships. 
 
Should I apply to Astronomy or Physics? As a joint department, it is possible for students in the Physics program to work with Astronomy faculty, and vice-versa. But, in most cases you should select which program you apply to on the basis of research interest. The Astronomy Division is careful to select students that are ready for the astronomy program and that have interests matched to the faculty. Also the course requirements are different for the two programs. 
 
What about astrobiology? The astronomy department is part of a research center concentrating on Astrobiology. The Center at UCLA is focused on six main themes: (1) extrasolar planetary systems; (2) geobiology and geochemistry of early Earth and Mars; (3) evolution of Earth's early life; (4) genomic evolution and the tree of life; (5) celestial influences on the terrestrial environment; and (6) exploration for life in the Solar System. The astronomy professors directly involved in the center are Becklin, Ghez, Jura, McLean, Morris, and Zuckerman. For more information go to Astrobiology. 
 
What happens to UCLA graduates? UCLA has a well respected Ph.D. program and most of its graduates do very well. The majority remain in academic positions and many are faculty at other research institutions. A significant number have also chosen to enter industry or governmental research. For a list of past graduates and their current positions go to the Graduate Alumni page. Many of these alumni have agreed to have their emails posted so you can contact them about their graduate experience. 
 
What is the "nominal" program? Students are required to take 10 core courses (including 2 Physics courses), one 2-quarter research project during the 2nd year and at least 3 special topics courses. You must receive a grade of B or better in all courses. See the course description page for details. Some classes are offered in alternating years so there are two possible programs for incoming graduate students. *At least one Special Topic is required each year and a total of three is required overall. Additionally, there is a Journal Club which (along with Astro 279 Colloquium) should be attended every quarter.
 
What are the required exams? There are three oral exams required for the PhD program. The first is the comprehensive exam which is based on the 2nd year research project (and is dependent on its completion), relevant material pertaining to the research project, as well as course material. It should be completed by the beginning of the sixth quarter in residence at UCLA. The second exam is the oral qualifying exam (advancement to candidacy) where the proposed thesis project is presented for approval. It should be taken no later than the end of the tenth quarter. The last exam is the final oral exam or thesis defense. 
 
What about foreign students? The Astronomy program always has had foreign students and we welcome such applications. Although the University requires additional financial information for foreign students, the Astronomy Division provides the same level of financial support that we do for domestic students to cover both fees and living expenses.