PhD Program

This page describes many of the details about the Planetary Sciences Track to our Physics PhD program. Note that we may refer to the track as the “PhD program” but this should not cause confusion. Our PhD track emphasizes research from the first semester, since writing a submittable paper is a candidacy requirement, and one can only formally start dissertation research once one has passed candidacy.

A very good source of information about the program is our Planetary Sciences Graduate Track Handbook. The most recent version is v1.7, promulgated in August 2015. More info can be found at the Graduate Catalog webpage about our track and the department’s webpage about the graduate program.


Applying to the Program

Students interested in the PhD should apply directly to the PhD program and not to the MS program. Applicants should identify one or more projects they would be interested in pursuing as a potential dissertation topic, contact faculty or researchers who might advise them, and discuss their specific project interests in their applications. Students can always change projects once in the program, provided that another project is available. More advice and suggestions about applying to our program can be found on our Jobs page.  In particular, applicants should closely follow the application essay instructions on that page!  We need detail about an applicant’s research experiences to fully evaluate your application.  We will want to know: what did YOU do, what problems did you face, and how did you handle them?  Applicants with no research experience in planetary science, geophysics, astronomy, or astrophysics are rarely, if ever, accepted.

Applications received by 15 January will receive full consideration for funding, and fellowships are unlikely for applications received after this date. We evaluate applications in January, February, and March each year and make most admissions decisions and funding commitments (GRAs and GTAs) then. Officially, we can admit as late as June for Fall enrollment, and we can admit for Spring enrollment, but such cases are atypical. Since June is UCF’s official cutoff for Fall, that is listed as the application deadline, but those seeking financial support should apply by 15 January.

Note that UCF does have a policy regarding parental leave for GTAs and GRAs; paid leave is provided for up to six weeks.


About the Program

Curious about what it’s like to be in our graduate program? Read the interviews with some of our current grad students!


Courses in the Program

Currently we offer the following courses with the indicated frequency. Some courses are offered once per year, others only once per biennium. Other electives are added as teaching schedules permit. The Graduate Catalog also has info about some of these courses.

Course Title When Notes
AST 5154 Advanced Planetary Geophysics odd spring required
AST 5165 Planetary Atmopsheres even spring required
AST 5263 Advanced Observational Astronomy even spring required
AST 5765 Advanced Astronomical Data Analysis fall required
PHY 5524 Statistical Physics spring required
PHY 6246 Classical Mechanics fall required
AST 5145 Advanced Asteroids Comets Meteorites even fall Elective, VERY STRONGLY recommended
AST 6112 Origin and Evolution of Planetary Systems odd fall Elective, VERY STRONGLY recommended
AST 5334 Extrasolar Planets and Brown Dwarfs occasional Elective
AST 5937 Special Topics occasional Elective
AST 6156 Current Topics in Planetary Science occasional Elective (and can be repeated for credit)
AST 6938 Special Topics: Planetary Seminar occasional Elective (and can be repeated for credit)
PHZ 5156 Computational Physics occasional Potential alternate to AST 5765 (w/advisor approval)
MAP 6469 Bayesian Analysis & Approximation Theory even spring Elective (taught by Marianna Pensky, Math Dept.)

 


Example course sequences for graduate students

Here are some example course sequences that allow entering students to get through the coursework by the end of the second year in the program. In theory, this allows the student to take the candidacy exam in the summer of the second year. Full-time, pre-candidacy students must take 9 credits in Fall, 9 credits in Spring, and 6 credits in Summer.  PhD candidates must take at least 3 credits in Fall, Spring, and Summer (typically these are Dissertation credits), and may register for more, such as electives, with advisor approval. Note that some GRAs and Fellowships do not cover more than the minimum tuition.

In the parlance of UCF, 9 credits of courses — even if some of those credits are research credit — is considered a half load. The other half is research (which you might be paid for, if you’re a Graduate Research Assistant [GRA], or might not be paid for, if you’re a Graduate Teaching Assistant [GTA]). This research that you do is the research that leads to a submitted manuscript in time for your candidacy exam. See the Graduate Track Handbook for discussion of the candidacy paper’s presentation and oral defense.

• If entering in Fall of 2017:

Fall 2017 Spring 2018 Summer 2018 Fall 2018 Spring 2019
PHY 6246 (3cr) AST 5263 (3cr) research (6cr) AST 5145 (3cr) PHY 5524 (3cr)
AST 5765 (3cr) AST 5165 (3cr) research or elective (3cr) AST 5154 (3cr)
AST 6112 (3cr) research or elective (3cr) research or elective (3cr) research or elective (3cr)

• If entering in Fall of 2018:

Fall 2018 Spring 2019 Summer 2019 Fall 2019 Spring 2020
PHY 6246 (3cr) PHY 5524 (3cr) research (6cr) AST 6112 (3cr) AST 5263 (3cr)
AST 5765 (3cr) AST 5154 (3cr) research or elective (3cr) AST 5165 (3cr)
AST 5145 (3cr) research or elective (3cr) research or elective (3cr) research or elective (3cr)

• If entering in Fall of 2019:

Fall 2019 Spring 2020 Summer 2020 Fall 2020 Spring 2021
PHY 6246 (3cr) AST 5263 (3cr) research (6cr) AST 5145 (3cr) PHY 5524 (3cr)
AST 5765 (3cr) AST 5165 (3cr) research or elective (3cr) AST 5154 (3cr)
AST 6112 (3cr) research or elective (3cr) research or elective (3cr) research or elective (3cr)

The above schedule describes 42 credits total. Generally for the summer of the second year the student takes 6 more credits of research, even if the candidacy exam happens during the summer. That makes 48. The student is required to have 72 credits total to earn the PhD degree, so the remaining 24 credits (72 minus 48) are usually earned from formal coursework (electives), research credit (usually AST or PHY 6918), and dissertation credit (AST or PHY 7980). At least 15 of those remaining 24 credits must be the dissertation credit. If all of the ‘research or elective’ credit in the table above was taken as research credit, then at least 3 of those remaining 24 credits must come from formal coursework electives, since a student must have 27 credits total of formal coursework and the 8 courses listed in the table make up only 24. Electives must be approved by the student’s advisory committee but can in principle include courses from any department.  Courses in mathematics, optics, computer science, engineering, chemistry, or biology may be relevant, depending on the student’s dissertation and career interests.


Forthcoming course schedule

Here is the forthcoming schedule as we expect it to happen as of March 2017. It is consistent with the sample schedules above. We may have to change the schedule depending on student demand. We will add in electives as we confirm that they will be offered. Also note that we list here all the undergrad (2000-, 3000-, and 4000-level) courses as well, but generally graduate students do not take those courses.

  • Fall 2017 — an odd-numbered fall
    • AST 2002 and 2002H and 2002L– Astronomy (our Introductory GEP course)
    • AST 3402 — Galaxies and Cosmology
    • AST 4762 — Astronomical Data Analysis (undergrad version of AST 5765)
    • AST 5765 — Advanced Astronomical Data Analysis (grad version of AST 4762)
    • AST 6112 — Origins of Planetary Systems
  • Spring 2018 — an even-numbered spring
    • AST 2002 and 2002H — Astronomy (our Introductory GEP course)
    • AST 3211 — Stellar Astrophysics
    • AST 4700 — Experimental Methods in Astronomy (undergrad version of AST 5263)
    • AST 5165 — Planetary Atmospheres
    • AST 5263 — Advanced Observational Astronomy (grad version of AST 4700)
  • Fall 2018 — an even-numbered fall
    • AST 2002 and 2002H and 2002L — Astronomy (our Introductory GEP course)
    • AST 4142 — Asteroids Comets Meteorites (undergrad version of AST 5145)
    • AST 4762 — Astronomical Data Analysis (undergrad version of AST 5765)
    • AST 5145 — Advanced Asteroids Comets Meteorites (grad version of AST 4142)
    • AST 5765 — Advanced Astronomical Data Analysis (grad version of AST 4762)
  • Spring 2019 — an odd-numbered spring
    • AST 2002 and 2002H — Astronomy (our Introductory GEP course)
    • AST 4152 — Planetary Geophysics (undergrad version of AST 5154)
    • AST 5154 — Advances Planetary Geophysics (grad version of AST 4152)