Why study astronomy at UC Santa Cruz?

Consistently ranked in the top 10 worldwide for space science, UC Santa Cruz is known for breakthrough discoveries on explosive phenomena in the cosmos, the origins of gravitational waves, stellar and planetary structure, the secrets of potentially habitable exoplanets, and all aspects of observational, optical, and infrared astronomy. If you’re looking to study high-impact space science, we’re the premier experts for developing unprecedented technologies that lead humanity deeper into space, allow scientists to see sharper images, and enable researchers to analyze big data more efficiently.

Bragging rights

Global rank for space science (2018)

World’s most decorated researchers in space science

Our Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics designs many of the world’s most powerful space technologies and telescopes. Our invention of segmented mirror technology shattered previous limits on telescope size and is said to have had “the biggest impact in optics after Newton.” Our scientists developed the laser guide star technology for adaptive optics (taking the twinkle out of the stars), and designed the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey photometric camera, and the Keck Telescopes in Hawaii.
Oh, and we determined how to fix the flawed optics on the Hubble Space Telescope and were a leading partner in the NASA explorations using the Kepler planet-finding telescope and the Cassini mission to Saturn. The list goes on…
Research access

UC Santa Cruz is the headquarters of the University of California Observatories (UCO), providing you with unparalleled access to state-of-the-art instrument and data reduction technology, including:

Research mentorship

UC Santa Cruz is home to the largest group of computational astrophysics faculty in the world. Benefit from a 2:1 student-to-faculty teaching ratio and study with some of the most distinguished faculty and researchers in the history of astronomy, astrophysics, and planetary science. Connect with our faculty experts in:

Research facilities

Research courses

Current research and course offerings include our stellar structure and evolution, solar system and other planetary systems, stellar spectroscopy, the interstellar medium, galactic structure, cosmology, general relativity, gravitational radiation, the origin of the elements, optical and infrared astronomy, high-energy astrophysics, and advanced astronomical instrumentation. Explore current astronomy & astrophysics course offerings.

Career advancement

Astronomy is a relatively small field in the “industry of science,” making it extremely competitive to land permanent research or teaching positions. We’ve got you covered. The most telling success metrics for our astronomy program is the quality of the graduate students we attract and—more importantly—the professional success they achieve after they graduate. An Astronomy & Astrophysics Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz is proven to give you:

  • A star-studded research network
  • Mentorship by internationally distinguished faculty and researchers
  • The latest high-impact research and instrumentation knowledge
  • Large project management and leadership skills
  • Intimate involvement with large international research projects, both government and private
  • Next-level teaching and science communications skills
  • A noticeable professional edge over your competition
  • Minimal debt

Leadership training

Our Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics offers many fellowship and leadership building opportunities. One of our most empowering programs is the Donald & Irene Osterbrock Leadership Program, which provides you with unique training, events, and grant opportunities to boost leadership and large project management skills.

Funding opportunity

In addition to being highly employable, you’ll leave UC Santa Cruz with minimal debt. 100 percent of our Astronomy & Astrophysics Ph.D. students receive tuition and/or stipend support, with an average of $50,300 in total support (data as of 2018). We strongly encourage and support all our graduate students in the process of securing independent research funding. As a result, our students receive many distinguished awards, honors, and accolades.

National & international awards

  • AAAS Congressional Science & Engineering Fellows
  • AAUW (American Association of University Women)
  • ARCS Foundation Scholarship
  • DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship
  • DOE Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship
  • Institute for Advanced Study Postdoctoral Membership
  • ITC Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard
  • Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics Fellowship
  • Lyman P. Spitzer Jr Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Miller Institute Fellowship
  • MIT-Kavli Fellowship in Astrophysics
  • MIT Pappalardo Fellowship
  • NASA Chandra Fellowship
  • NASA Earth & Space Science Fellow
  • NASA Einstein Fellowship
  • NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Pre-doctoral Fellowship
  • NASA Hubble Fellowship
  • NASA Michelson Graduate Fellowship
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
  • NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
  • Pliny and Margaret H. Price Prize in Cosmology & AstroParticle Physics
  • Sagan Fellowship
  • Spitzer Fellowship

UC Santa Cruz awards

  • Bachmann Graduate Fellowship
  • Chancellor’s Fellowships
  • Dean’s Fellowships
  • Denton Prize Winner
  • Dissertation Year Fellowships
  • Elmer A. Fridley Award
  • Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship
  • James Edward Keeler Fund
  • Osterbrock Fellowships
  • Provost’s Fellowships
  • Regent’s Fellowships
  • Whitford Prize

Alumni network

Banana Slugs are uplifting. Get connected with 370+ star-studded astronomy alumni who hold leading positions at universities, private companies, and renowned research centers throughout the world. Our alumni are also some of the most decorated and famous astronomers in history. Here are just a few of our notable alumni:

  • Natalie Batalha (Ph.D ’97, Astronomy & Astrophysics)
  • Debra Fischer (Ph.D. ’98, Astronomy & Astrophysics)
  • Steven Hawley (Ph.D. ’77, Astronomy & Astrophysics)
  • Nicholas B. Suntzeff (Ph.D. ’80, Astronomy & Astrophysics)

Recommended for you

Student academic support resources
Student research awards & opportunities

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree policies

Department: Astronomy & Astrophysics
Program size: ~30 students/year
Student to faculty ratio: 2:1
Student funding: 100% RECEIVE support

The Astronomy & Astrophysics Ph.D. program is intended for those with a deep interest in the subject. Students are trained in the latest techniques in computation, data analysis, and instrumentation, which have wide utility in academia and in industry. The interests of the faculty embrace a wide range of theoretical, observational, and instrumentation aspects of astronomy.

Get advising


Lindsay E. Lauver, Graduate Program Adviser
Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics

  • Phone: 831-459-3081
  • Email: llauver@ucsc.edu
  • Office: Interdisciplinary Sciences Building (ISB), Room 269
  • Office Hours: M–F, 9 A.M.–4 P.M.

Lindsay is a good person to start with for general advising questions. Please contact her first if you’re unsure with whom to speak.

How to apply

Application deadline: January 10, 2020
We receive more than 150 applications annually. Of these, we accept 15 to 30 into our competitive program. The majority of successful applicants have an undergraduate degree in physics or astrophysics with strong demonstrated academic and research performance. We look for strong letters of recommendation and read your “Statement of Purpose” and “Personal History Statement” carefully. Our goal is to identify enthusiastic students who are well-prepared to thrive in an exciting research environment, and who will make the best use of the particular strengths and opportunities in our department.
We encourage all prospective students to visit us. Students accepted into our program are invited to a departmental visit in winter quarter. During this visit, prospective students meet with faculty and current graduate students, learn about our program and research, and explore our campus!
Detailed application materials and instructions are available through the UC Santa Cruz Graduate Division. You can check the status of your application online or by calling the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics office at 831-459-3081 (10 A.M.–3 P.M.).

Apply for doctoral program