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Postgraduate Study

PhD by Research in Astronomy


Quick links

bulletWhy Study @ Swinburne CAS?
         Staff, Research, Keck telescope access, Supercomputer access.
bulletVisit Us!
bulletThe CAS PhD Program
         PhD topics, CAS PhD student support summary, Swinburne Research Post-Graduate Studies.
bulletMasters by Research
bulletScholarships
         Swinburne scholarships, Scholarships FAQ, External scholarships.
bulletHow To Apply
         Expression of Interest, Finding a supervisor, Formal applications, Timing, Eligibility,
         Research Higher Degrees Policy and Procedures.



Why Study @ Swinburne CAS?

Because we're focussed on research!

Excellent researchers, cutting-edge astrophysics
With over 18 research faculty, 17 postdoctoral researchers and 40 students from over two dozen different countries, CAS offers a vibrant, diverse and research-focused atmosphere where PhD students help conduct – and learn how to lead – cutting-edge research.

Wide-ranging expertise
With expertise in optical, infrared and radio astronomy, computational and theoretical astrophysics, we observe, imagine and even simulate the most exciting astrophysical phenomena. Our research strengths cover all major areas of astronomy, from cosmology and the large-scale structure of the Universe, to quasars and the most distant known galaxies, to clusters and groups of galaxies, down to our own Milky Way, its structure and fascinating contents: stars, planets, pulsars, neutron stars and globular clusters. We also research 3-D visualisation techniques and applications of advanced scientific computing. Our latest research results are highlighted in our news section.

The world's best telescopes
We have access to the Keck twin 10-metre telescopes! The Keck Observatory in Hawaii comprises the world's largest optical telescopes and CAS astronomers are now observing there for up to 20 nights per year. You could too! Read more about it in Swinburne Magazine. CAS astronomers are also regularly awarded observing time at major national, international and space-based observatories covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Extreme computing
CAS is also home to 'The Green Machine' and the GPU-based 'gSTAR', two of Australia's most powerful supercomputers. These are excellent research tools in key areas of astronomy ranging from simulations of large-scale structure formation to the processing of enormous data volumes collected from radio telescopes. They are also used to render 3-D animations and movies promoting and explaining astronomy to the broader community. CAS is the only astronomy department in the southern hemisphere with its own supercomputers.

High-achieving, worldly PhD students
CAS's student body is well beyond "critical mass": more than 40 high-achieving students are currently undertaking their PhD studies at CAS. They are a friendly, knowledgable group of independent-minded astronomers who help each other become experts in their fields. CAS students come from all over the world, not just Australia: as the map indicates, current CAS students come from more than two dozen different countries. They speak about 20 different languages fluently.

We encourage applications from high-achieving students anywhere in the world who are strongly motivated to complete a PhD in astrophysics and/or supercomputing with an emphasis on astrophysical applications.


    A larger CAS Staff Map is available here.


Visit Us!

We welcome and encourage (real, physical) visits to CAS by prospective PhD students! It's really the best way for you to see who we are, what we do and what doing a PhD here is all about. Please contact Dr. Emma Ryan-Weber by phone or email to arrange a visit.



The CAS PhD Program

The primary postgraduate degree we offer is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) by Research in Astrophysics. Academically high-achieving students work with leading astronomers to research important questions in astrophysics, data analysis and visualization. The 3-to-3.5 year program enables students to conduct independent research at a high level of originality, relevance and quality. Swinburne PhD graduates often take positions in leading astrophysics institutions around the world.

A wide range of potential PhD topics are on offer. Due to the nature of research, this list changes constantly; students interested in particular projects are strongly encouraged to contact the relevant supervisor(s). Summaries of current thesis work by CAS students are also available.

CAS PhD students are provided with a powerful workstation and access to the considerable computational resources of the The Green Machine and 'gSTAR'. Students have access to internal funding to cover travel to telescopes, international conferences and/or collaborative meetings. A summary of PhD student support at CAS is available here. CAS also provides a social fund, to be used and administered by the student body as a whole for social events of their choosing.

We also encourage students to take advantage of the Centre's Swinburne 3D Productions staff and facilities to produce state-of-the-art representations of their data.

CAS maintains links with astronomers at the Anglo-Australian Observatory and the Australia Telescope National Facility. Potential PhD projects on offer at the AAO and ATNF are also available to incoming Swinburne students. CAS PhD students also have numerous opportunities to be involved in outreach and education.

Swinburne Research administers all of the University's research and graduate studies. For more information, see their Post-graduate Studies website. The full Research Degrees Policies and Guidelines can be found there.

Please note that we do not offer PhD programs online or by distance learning.



Masters by Research

Formally, we do award Masters by Research degrees in Astrophysics, but this is not the preferred route for postgraduate study at CAS. As noted in Swinburne's scholarships FAQ, scholarships are preferentially given to PhD applicants and, given that the competition for PhD positions and scholarships is already high, scholarships for Masters by Research applicants are almost never awarded.

If you believe your situation is exceptional, please contact Dr. Emma Ryan-Weber by phone or email to discuss your case.

Please note that we do not offer Masters by Research programs online or by distance learning. CAS does offer an online Master of Science (Astronomy) course via Swinburne Astronomy Online, but this is not a research degree.



Scholarships

At CAS we normally only accept PhD students who receive a scholarship to support them during their studies. Fortunately, Swinburne offers a range of different scholarships (see here for the latest rates) for both international and domestic students. All scholarships include a tuition-fee waiver, and reasonable relocation and thesis preparation allowances. CAS aims to supplement the basic scholarship stipends by AUD$3,000 tax-free. While this top-up is subject to final CAS budget approval, there is every expectation that new scholarship holders will be provided with this top-up. Access to travel/research funds is available upon application and CAS provides a high-end desktop computer for all new students. See the CAS PhD student support summary for details.

For a general overview of scholarships at Swinburne, see this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide.

We call for Expressions of Interest in our PhD program twice per year, with deadlines in mid April and September, leading up to Swinburne's formal application deadlines 1.5 months later at the end of May and October, respectively. See below for instructions on How To Apply. More scholarships are typically available in the October application round. However, all PhD scholarships are highly competitive, so CAS first assesses the qualifications of each candidate to ensure they stand a good chance of receiving a scholarship of one kind or another.

Note: External scholarships. Some countries and external agencies offer scholarships for students wanting to study a PhD in Australia. Programs that we are aware of are listed here. There may be others. We strongly encourage students to apply for these opportunities (and inform us if you find ones we're not aware of!) in addition to applying for a scholarship from Swinburne; students applying for external scholarships need to complete the three stages listed in the How To Apply section below. They should also contact Dr. Emma Ryan-Weber as early as possible in the process.



How To Apply

Applications for PhD positions and scholarships at CAS proceed in four important stages:

  1. An online Expression of Interest (EoI) to CAS.
    Next deadline: 8th September, 2014.
  2. Searching for a PhD supervisor at CAS.
  3. A formal application to Swinburne for PhD candidature and a scholarship about 1 month after the EoI deadline.
  4. A short, formal interview with representatives from CAS, either in person, skype or phone. These are usually held in the week after the formal application deadline.
These four stages are described in more detail below. They are designed to help us assess which students are best-suited to undertaking a PhD at CAS.



Expression of Interest (EoI)

As a first step, you must submit an Expression of Interest (EoI) via the online system here. The EoI provides the information required for CAS staff to fairly and accurately compare you against other students and to assess your chances of gaining a PhD scholarship at Swinburne. Please read the eligibility criteria and timing information below before starting an EoI.


EoIs from exceptional students may be considered at any time.

Students should still submit an EoI as early as possible. This allows time for changes and enhancements before the EoI is assessed by our selection panel.

Immediately after the EoI deadline passes, our selection panel will assess all EoIs for the next formal PhD scholarship application round at Swinburne (about 1 month after the EoI deadline).

The selection panel will shortlist the best candidates who have a good chance of obtaining a PhD scholarship at Swinburne. The selection panel will notify shortlisted candidates about 2 weeks after the EoI deadline.

Shortlisted candidates can then proceed to the next stage, i.e. finding a supervisor.


Finding a supervisor

If your EoI is shortlisted by the selection panel, you will be invited to start searching for a PhD supervisor. This normally involves discussing potential PhD projects with CAS staff.

This is a very important stage! Both the student and supervisor must commit to 3-to-3.5 years of research together on a given topic. We hope all students find a supervisor but, understandably, this is not always possible. It is essential that the student be highly motivated to undertake the proposed project.


Formal Applications

Once a CAS staff member agrees to supervise your PhD studies, and you've agreed on a PhD project, you will prepare a formal application to Swinburne for PhD candidature and a scholarship. Your supervisor will provide you with a form which enables you to simultaneously apply for all PhD scholarships you are eligible for. Your supervisor will submit the formal application to Swinburne Research, the University's administrative body which deals with all postgraduate study, by the formal application deadline.

Applicants are strongly advised to prepare their applications as soon as possible after finding a supervisor. Hard copies of some documents must be certified (by the relevant authorities) and then sent by regular mail (not email) to Swinburne as part of the formal application. Preparing these takes time, as can their transit to Swinburne.


For exceptional candidates, CAS's Tier 1 status within the University allows for formal applications to be submitted at any time.


Interviews

The scholarship application process is a Swinburne-wide, competitive one. Therefore, we interview all CAS scholarship applicants to assist us and Swinburne in fairly and accurately ranking them. Such interviews are normally held by internet or standard phone in the week following the formal application deadline.


Timing of applications and PhD start dates

Scholarship winners are informed about 1 month after the formal application deadline. Students requiring a visa to study in Australia may then apply for one, taking typically 1 month (sometimes longer), and then make arrangements to travel to Melbourne to begin their PhD studies.

Therefore:

  • Applicants who submit an Expression of Interest (in mid-April) for the (smaller) May application round, and who win a scholarship, typically start their PhD studies between August and October of the same year (sometimes as early as July). Commencement must be no later than the end of October of the same year.
  • Applicants who submit an Expression of Interest (in mid-September) for the (main) October round, and who win a scholarship, typically start their PhD studies between January and March of the following year (sometimes as early as December of the same year). Commencement must be no later than the end of March the following year.


Eligibility

The eligibility requirements for undertaking a PhD at CAS are detailed in Swinburne Research's Research Higher Degrees Policy and Procedure document. In summary, PhD applicants must have completed at least 4 years (or part-time equivalent) of university studies, at a high level of achievement, in a subject area related to their proposed PhD project. For most CAS PhD applicants, this translates to having completed a BSc with first or upper second class Honours or a Masters (with a research component) awarded at a similarly high grade.

IMPORTANT: There are also English language requirements for international students.

If English is not one of your native languages then at least 24 full months (or part-time equivalent) of your formal university studies must have had English as the language of instruction and assessment.

If that is not the case and if your Expression of Interest is shortlisted, you must submit the results of an English language examination with any formal PhD scholarship application. You do not have to take such exams before submitting an Expression of Interest.

Certified copies of language exam results must be submitted to CAS no more than 10 days after the formal application deadline. If you have previously taken a language exam, the results must have been issued no more than 2 years prior to the formal application deadline.

The only external (outside Swinburne) language exams recognized by Swinburne are the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). For the latest requirements you must check Swinburne IELTS and TOEFL Score Requirements. Recently, the minimum grade requirements have been:

  • IELTS overall band of 6.5 (Academic Module) with no individual band lower than 6.0; OR
  • An equivalent TOEFL score, eg internet-based score of 79 with no band less than 18, or a paper-based score of 550 with no band less than 5.0.
  • Alternatively, students must have completed the Swinburne College English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Advanced level Certificate at the postgraduate level (EAP 5: PG-70%).

International students must study full time.