Graduate Program | Programs & Policies
Students typically enroll in 3 courses during their first semester, and 2-3 courses during the next 3 semesters. Most of these courses are selected from those offered by the Astronomy Department (see list), but students do have the option of taking courses in other related departments, such as Physics or Mathematics.
Courses are designed to give students a broad knowledge of the various branches of astronomy while covering the necessary background material in mathematics and physics. Each course is offered every other year, so first and second year students typically take classes together. Students from other departments and advanced undergraduates may also enroll in graduate courses offered by the Department of Astronomy. Students are encouraged to work and learn together on homeworks and projects. The typical class size is 5-10 students, which facilitates active participation among students and individual attention from the professor. In addition to courses, special seminars are frequently offered which survey current research in the particular fields. These seminars are meant to augment courses or to expose the participants to fields that are not traditionally the subject of coursework.
Graduate students also engage in research within their first few months upcoming arriving at Yale. Graduate students are required to complete two research projects prior to beginning dissertation research. One of these projects must be observationally oriented, and the other theoretically oriented. These projects, which are conducted in close association with a faculty member or research scientist, are vital in that they build the research skills that are essential for successful dissertation work. They also serve to introduce students to potential dissertation topics. Students often join a faculty member's group to continue with their projects during their first summer at Yale. Students also have the option of leaving Yale to seek outside employment during the summer months.
Teaching Fellowships are part of the financial packages offered by Yale, and are considered an important part of the training of a professional astronomer. The teaching load is relatively light compared to many other universities. Students aid in teaching for each of their first three semesters, and are given the fourth semester off to prepare for the qualifying exams. One additional semester of teaching is expected after advancement to candidacy.
The PhD qualifying exams take place at the end of the second academic year. The first exam is a written one; it consists of 10 problems, one from each course offered by the department, and the student is expected to successfully answer a given fraction of them in a given amount of time. An oral exam is given a few weeks later in the field of the student's chosen dissertation topic. The first-time success rate on these exams is very high. Successful completion of these exams advances a student to candidacy.
The next few years are spent in research. Dissertations are major pieces of original research, the results of which are often published as several articles in peer-reviewed professional journals. Students work closely with a faculty member, or possibly two, and have many resources available to them. Recent graduates have been very successful in obtaining excellent postdoctoral positions, prestigious fellowships, and faculty positions.
Image Credits: (header) Carolin Cardamone; (left) Michelle Buxton