The Sussex Astronomy Centre offers the opportunity to study for a PhD in Astronomy, for which the normal duration of study is expected to be three years. The format is almost exclusively research-based, although students attend a number of short courses during their first two years on current research topics given by members of the Astronomy Centre.
PhD projects may be exclusively theoretical or observational but many combine aspects of both. It is normal for students to attend at least one relevant international conference during their three years of study, and most students working on observational research projects will normally undertake a number of observing trips (depending on the requirements of their project) to telescopes overseas.
The normal PhD student intake each year is about four or five, about two of which are funded via STFC Quota awards. In a major change to previous years, all students from around the world are eligible to apply for our funded studentships provided by the STFC science funding council, which is part of the UKRI (more details are here https://www.ukri.org/our-work/developing-people-and-skills/find-studentships-and-doctoral-training/get-a-studentship-to-fund-your-doctorate/). In additional good news, we expect that the university will waive the difference in tuition fees between those for overseas students and home students if you are awarded this studentship. However, at most 30% can of the studentships may be funded to students who are neither British nor EU nationals with settled or presettled status (you should also be aware you may have to pay visa and health insurance fees). For EU nationals arriving in the UK after the 1st of January 2021 it is no longer possible to gain this status. This is a recent change, so please be patient while we understand the full implications.
Student progress is reviewed annually by written report and interview to ensure timely completion of the PhD.
Projects and supervisors
Each year our faculty members (currently ten excluding those on sabbatical will between them offer a total of 10-15 PhD projects. With typically four or five students starting their PhD each year, there are many more projects than students. Students will be allocated a nominal project and supervisor on accepting a PhD place, but there is some flexibility to change project on arrival in October. All students are allocated a second supervisor, whose share of supervision can amount from a nominal 5% (offers occasional advice) to 45% (genuine joint supervision).
A preliminary list of projects offered is given below. These projects are given only as a guide and have not been updated to the final 2024 list yet. And applicants are encouraged to discuss their own ideas for research projects with potential supervisors. Insight into the current research interests of potential supervisors can be found on the research pages and by looking at their recent papers using NASA/SAO ADS or the preprint arXiv (astro-ph). The interview day is also an opportunity to discuss projects in more detail before giving final preferences.
|Linking fundamental physics to cosmological data with the large-scale structure of our Universe
|Simulating the Cosmological Structures
|Signatures of Cosmic Reionization
|Microwave Background polarization and lensing
|Galaxy surveys with 4MOST, Euclid and LSST
|Galaxy evolution - a multicomponent machine-learning model
Dust obscuration of star formation in the distant Universe
|Clusters of galaxies as cosmological probes and astrophysical laboratories: making use of the latest X-ray and optical surveys.
|Inflation in the post-Planck era
* These people are only taking fully self-funded students, no STFC-funded places
Postgraduate study requirements
The minimum academic requirement for admission as a PhD student is the equivalent of a UK upper-second-class honours degree. Most students admitted to the PhD programme hold a first-class honours degree, Masters degree or equivalent in a relevant subject. If you are studying for a degree overseas and are unsure of its UK equivalent value, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See our Academic Requirements FAQ for more useful information about first degree requirements and some specific information for applicants from the USA.
Overseas and EU students must also provide evidence of proficiency in written and spoken English.
Our PhD degree involves three-four years of study and is almost exclusively by research. However, in the first two years students attend a range of courses designed to provide key research skills and knowledge of current research in astrophysics. The structure of a PhD in the UK contrasts with that available in the United States and elsewhere, where one or two additional years of study, involving a substantial course-based component, is completed before the exclusively research-based element begins. As a consequence, students embarking on a PhD at Sussex will normally have completed training in a physics-based degree to masters level.
In the UK and Australia, students will have completed a four-year undergraduate degree leading to a master of science, or similar qualification. In other countries, including the majority of Europe and India, a three-year undergraduate degree followed by a one- or two-year masters degree is necessary. A number of factors are considered when assessing applications, including relevant research experience and the subject area of the undergraduate degree (nearly always physics, astrophysics or mathematics based). The minimum academic requirement for students graduating on a North American-related "GPA scheme" is a GPA of 3.7/4.0, although the majority of successful applicants have a higher grade.
Students whose initial training is in another discipline, such as mathematics, normally need to acquire a masters level qualification with a substantial physics-based element. We offer one and two-year masters degrees in Astronomy and Cosmology. Typically, each year, several students completing these courses are offered admission for a PhD at Sussex or elsewhere.
Contacts and how to apply
The deadline for funded applications is the end of January 2024 for full consideration for STFC funded studentships, although late applications may be considered until the places have been filled. We expect to hold interviews in late February and/or early March.
For practical questions about applications and/or funding please contact the Research Support Assistant on email@example.com.
For academic questions contact the Astronomy Postgraduate Admissions coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Please make application through the University's on-line admissions system (but please ignore the links to funding opportunities because it is an incomplete list). Although the application form will ask you to provide a research proposal we do not require this. Please instead just list the projects and/or supervisors which you are most interested in.
Academic Requirements FAQ
My academic training is not in astrophysics – can I apply to become a PhD student in astronomy at Sussex?
Our research-only PhD course is not well-suited to someone who has not had undergraduate training in astrophysics or physics with a component of astrophysics. There simply isn't time available to acquire the necessary background in astrophysics while also completing enough research for a PhD. As a consequence, students whose initial training is in another discipline – such as electrical or aerospace engineering, computing, pure mathematics – normally need to acquire a masters-level qualification with a substantial astrophysics/physics-based element. Many students from such backgrounds who have taken our MSc courses in Astronomy or Cosmology have gone on to study for a PhD at Sussex or elsewhere.
I have an undergraduate degree from the USA and a strong GPA score – can I apply for an Astronomy PhD at Sussex?
Undergraduates educated in the United Kingdom (UK) embarking on our PhD programme will have completed a four-year programme of study consisting almost exclusively of physics/astrophysics and mathematics courses. The students are thus far less broad educationally then their counterparts in the USA but their knowledge in physics and mathematics is significantly more advanced. The difference in the undergraduate programmes explains the very different format and timescale for the respective PhD programmes in the two countries.
PhD programmes in the USA typically involve a two-year period with a considerable course-work element, followed by a three-year period devoted exclusively to thesis research. At Sussex (and most universities in the UK) the length of the PhD is just three-four years and the thesis research element commences right at the start. As a result, we are rarely in a position to offer admission to our PhD programme to someone straight from an undergraduate training in the USA. For students wishing to research in predominantly theoretical areas, including cosmology and the cosmic microwave background, admission to the PhD programme is simply not possible.
If a student is interested in projects with a more observational/data-analysis bias admission can be a possibility, in which case see the requirements outlined below.
For an application to be viable, a student will expect to complete a four-year undergraduate degree in the USA, with a strong emphasis on physics and mathematics courses, including several at postgraduate level. A GPA score of at least 3.8 (on system with a maximum of 4.0) is required and you should also have undertaken at least one research internship or research-project in the field of astrophysics. When making an application it is not necessary to describe a specific PhD project but you should indicate the type of research in which you are interested, with some indication of subject area(s) and relevant faculty member(s) [who might act as supervisor for a PhD].