Postgraduate study

Astrophysics PhD

Awards: PhD

Study modes: Full-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: Astrophysics

Based at the historic Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) is one of the world’s leading centres in astronomical research.

We share our picturesque base on Blackford Hill with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC) – the UK’s leading astronomical instrument maker – so as a postgraduate student you will be joining a vibrant community of specialists.

The scope of our research is as wide as the cosmos we explore. Thanks to our affiliation with the UK ATC and our strong links with related research centres in the School of Physics & Astronomy, we are in a rare position to accommodate a diversity of research specialisms.

Our current areas of research include:

  • cosmology (large-scale structure in the universe, galaxy formation, dark matter and dark energy)
  • active galactic nuclei and related objects
  • nearby galaxies (large-scale star formation, structure, content and evolution of galaxies)
  • stellar astronomy (parallax and proper motion studies, the stellar luminosity function, symbiotic stars)
  • star formation (observation and theoretical studies, star formation in external galaxies)
  • planet formation (disc and planet formation in protostars, discs around pre-main-sequence stars)
  • computational astrophysics (through the Edinburgh Centre for Computational Astrophysics)

Our students undertake thesis-related research from the outset, but in parallel with structured education in relevant background knowledge.

In the first year there is a reading group that covers the basics of astrophysics in a series of tutorials. Also during this year, you will take a variety of advanced courses in physics and astrophysics, as advised by your supervisor. These courses are part of the graduate school of the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA).

Not only will you be surrounded by a wealth of expertise at the Royal Observatory, but our historic setting also provides a constant reminder of the importance of astronomical advances throughout the centuries.

Observational PhDs have access to large telescopes in Australia, Hawaii, Chile and the Canary Islands, plus the Hubble Space Telescope.

Graduates from the Institute for Astronomy are among the most highly sought-after candidates for academic and commercial positions. Your degree will see you well placed to take up a rewarding role that applies your knowledge to the advancement of astrophysics.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in astronomy, physics, or astrophysics.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 6.0 in each component

  • TOEFL-iBT: total 92 with at least 20 in each section

  • PTE Academic: total 61 with at least 56 in each of the Communicative Skills scores

  • CAE and CPE: total 176 with at least 169 in each paper

  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:

Academic Technology Approval Scheme

If you are not an EU, EEA or Swiss national, you may need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme clearance certificate in order to study this programme.

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhDAstronomy3 YearsFull-timeTuition fees

Featured funding

UK government postgraduate loans

If you live in the UK, you may be able to apply for a postgraduate loan from one of the UK’s governments. The type and amount of financial support you are eligible for will depend on your programme, the duration of your studies, and your residency status. (Programmes studied on a part-time intermittent basis are not eligible.)

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • School of Physics & Astronomy
  • James Clerk Maxwell Building
  • Peter Guthrie Tait Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FD

We encourage you to apply at least one month prior to entry so that we have enough time to process your application. If you are also applying for funding or will require a visa then we strongly recommend you apply as early as possible.

You must submit two references with your application.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • School of Physics & Astronomy
  • James Clerk Maxwell Building
  • Peter Guthrie Tait Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FD