Skip to main content

Doctoral Programs

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers two different PhD degrees designed to best train students in their chosen discipline. For most branches of physics, students should enroll in the Physics PhD. Students interested in astronomy or astrophysics may apply for the Astronomy PhD.  Students interested in Applied Physics may apply for the Applied Physics PhD.

Expand all


Explore Astronomy Research at Northwestern


In what fields does the Department conduct research?

 The Department conducts research in astrophysics, atomic and molecular physics, biophysics, complex systems, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and particle physics.


Are PhD students funded?

Yes, students are fully funded. First-year students are typically supported by 12-month fellowships, which gives them great flexibility in choosing their research specialty. Many groups offer support to students who wish to begin research in the summer before their first year. 

After the first year, students are funded as Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants.

Please check out our funding page.

What opportunities are there for study outside the Department?

Our department is particularly strong in multi-disciplinary research, with joint faculty in Materials Science, Chemistry, and Electrical Engineering, and strong ties to both Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Students in certain areas may have the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time at off-campus facilities such as CERN or at astronomical observatories around the world.

How long does it take students to complete the degree?

The thesis must be defended by no later than the end of the student's ninth (9th) year at Northwestern.

The median number of years to completion is five (5) years.

Can students receive their Master's degree along the way?

Yes, students may apply to receive a Master's degree en route to their PhD degree. This may be helpful on applications for outside funding.


Discover the IDEAS program to learn about additional graduate training opportunities and our Certificate in Integrated Data Science.


How long will it take to finish the required coursework?

Most of the astronomy graduate courses are offered every other year, so students will typically take 2 years to finish their course requirements.

Where are descriptions of the Astronomy courses?

See online descriptions of graduate courses and scroll to the bottom of that page to see astro courses.


Explore a wide variety of education and outreach opportunities while you are in graduate school.


Physics GRE exam not required.

Application details.


How are students funded in their first year?

First-year graduate students are normally supported for 12 months as University Fellows. Fellows receive a monthly stipend, health insurance, and a full tuition scholarship. Fellows are not normally assigned any departmental duties; however, it is expected that University Fellows will take advantage of the time provided by the fellowship to become involved in research with one of our faculty members.

How are students funded in the second year?

Students in their second year of study are often supported as Teaching Assistants in the academic year. These also receive a monthly stipend, health insurance, and a full tuition scholarship.

What responsibilities do Teaching Assistants have?

Teaching Assistants normally spend about 10 hours per week teaching undergraduate laboratories, leading discussion sections, grading, and tutoring. Teaching Assistants typically assist for three quarters: Fall, Winter and Spring. A small number of summer Teaching Assistantships are also available.

How are students funded after they've completed their Teaching Assistantship?

Once a student has selected a thesis advisor and begun their PhD research, it is typical for them to be supported as a Research Assistant (by their thesis advisor) until their thesis is completed. Students must find an advisor by the summer of their second year.

How much are current stipends?

The stipends for University Fellows, TAs, and RAs vary, depending on the student's qualifications. However, the minimum 12-month stipend for any student on full support for 2017-2018 is $30,780. If a student is granted financial support, they are immediately sent a letter specifying the precise details and amount of the award.


Telescope Access for Northwestern Astronomers

High-performance Computing at Northwestern

Northwestern University Research Shop


Contact the Director of Graduate Studies for Astronomy.

Please refer to our Resources page for direct links to The Graduate School (TGS) for information that can guide you in your academic career.

Back to top