Department of Astronomy & Physics

Graduate Programs


Golfing at Hawaii Observatory

Graduate student A. Golob catches her supervisor, Prof. Sawicki, practicing his golf swing at Mauna Keya Observatory in Hawaii.

Important links

Application forms for graduate school (Click here)

Current Saint Mary's University Graduate Calendar (Click here)

Forms for current graduate students (e.g., applications for travel funds) (Click here)

Graduate Student Handbook (Click here)

Astronomy Graduate Student Handbook (Click here)

Astronomy Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam and Defense of Thesis Proposal Guidelines (Click here)

New Proposed Ph.D. Qualifier Exam Guidelines (to replace Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam and Defense of Thesis Proposal) (Click here)

For general information about graduate programs at SMU see Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR).

Contents

Introduction

Saint Mary's has offered degree programs leading to the M.Sc. (Astronomy) since 1974, and to the Ph.D. (Astronomy) since 2003. It is the major centre for astronomical and astrophysical research in Atlantic Canada.

Research and Facilities

The University has operated the Burke-Gaffney Observatory since 1972. It contains a semi-automated, 40-cm, reflecting telescope equipped for photometric, spectroscopic, and visual observations, and is used for public observing, undergraduate research projects, and some faculty research. In addition, Saint Mary's faculty have access to several major international observatories in which Canada has a share.

The University is a founding member of ACEnet (http://www.ace-net.ca/), a CFI-funded network of supercomputing and high-power visualization facilities shared by four Atlantic Canada universities. The Department also operates a number of mid-sized SMP machines and Beowulf cluster. This infrastructure is linked directly to the Canada's highest-speed Internet network using fiber-optic gateways.

Astronomy and Physics faculty have an established record of research funding from federal sources (e.g. NSERC, CFI) for the support of graduate students and research infrastructure. The Patrick Power Library has access to all major journals in astronomy and physics, conference proceedings, and related texts.

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Master of Science (Astronomy)

Overview

The Master Program offers both a thesis and a no-thesis option, and is normally of two years duration.

Before starting the second year of study and subject to Departmental approval, a student may opt to transfer to the Ph.D. program without formally completing their M.Sc. degree. In this case, the student does not take the M.Sc. thesis course, and no M.Sc. degree is conferred. On the start of the second year, the student enters the first year of the Ph.D. program.


Admission requirements

A B.Sc. (Hons) or equivalent in Astronomy, Physics or a related field, with a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.00 (B) or better is normally required for admission into the program.

Program Requirements

Students take thirty-six (36) credit hours, eighteen (18) credit hours per year for full-time students. For credit towards the degree, a student must attain a course grade of B- (2.67 GP) or better. A student must attain a GPA, excluding Graduate Seminar I, Research Project I and Research Project II courses, of at least 3.00 (B) in the first year of course work to continue into the second year of study. A student's GPA over all courses satisfying the degree requirements must be at least 3.00 (B) to be eligible for graduation..

Thesis Option

Note: Students must register in Program Continuation (FGSR9000) in every term that they are a fulltime student.

Students take ASTR 5900 (Graduate Seminar I, three (3) credit hours) during their first year and ASTR 6900 (Graduate Seminar II, three (3) credit hours) during their second year. Students complete ASTR 5980 (Research Project I, three (3) credit hours) and ASTR 5981 (Research Project II, three (3) credit hours) normally by the end of the first year. They may be taken together in the same semester. Students must take ASTR 6990 (Thesis, six (6) credit hours) in their second year. Students must take at least four (twelve (12) credit hours) of the six core courses listed below, and two other courses, (six(6) credit hours) drawn from the ASTR courses numbered 5000 and above (but excluding the Research Project, Graduate Seminar and Thesis courses). Graduate level courses in related disciplines, subject to University regulations on transfer credits for off-campus courses and approval of the graduate coordinator and the student's supervisor, may be taken in substitution for the two other courses.

Currently the Core Courses are:
5400.1(.2) Stellar Astrophysics I
5410.1(.2) Introduction to Stellar Atmospheres
5420.1(.2) The Interstellar Medium
5500.1(.2) Galactic Astronomy
5510.1(.2) Extragalactic Astronomy
5600.1(.2) Cosmology

The thesis is prepared under the supervision of a faculty supervisor and consists of original research performed by the student on a topic chosen and defined by the student and faculty supervisor. When complete, the student defends their thesis in front of a Thesis Defense Committee normally scheduled near the end of the second year of study. The M.Sc. defense consists of a brief presentation by the student to the academic community followed by an in camera oral examination with the Thesis Defense Committee.

No-Thesis Option

Students pursuing this option may not be eligible for financial support.

Students take ASTR 5900 and 6900 (Graduate Seminar I and II, six (6) credit hours), all six core courses (eighteen (18) credit hours) and four courses (twelve (12) credit hours) drawn from ASTR courses numbered 5000 or above (excluding thesis courses), or graduate level courses in related disciplines, subject to University regulations on transfer credits for off-campus courses and approval of the student's supervisor.

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Doctor of Philosophy (Astronomy)

Overview

The Ph.D. program is a four year program that includes dissertation research.

Admission Requirements

Students applying for admission into the astronomy Ph.D. program are normally required to have an M.Sc., or equivalent in Astronomy, Physics, or related field. Students, who do not yet have an M.Sc. degree, are required to enter the astronomy M.Sc. program first and then reapply for admission to the Ph.D. program when they have completed their M.Sc. degree. Optionally, before starting the second year of study and subject to Departmental approval, students may transfer to the Ph.D. program without formally completing their M.Sc. degree. In this case, the student does not take the M.Sc. thesis course, and no M.Sc. degree is conferred. On the start of the second year, the student enters the first year of the Ph.D. program.

Program Requirements

Students take a total of twenty-four (24) credit hours of courses. Students must take six core courses (18 credit hours) and two courses (6 credit hours) drawn from ASTR courses numbered 5000 and above (excluding Research Projects, Graduate Seminars, and thesis courses), or graduate level courses in astronomy or related disciplines, subject to University regulations on transfer credits for off-campus courses and approval of the student's supervisor.

All ASTR courses taken by students toward the M.Sc. degree at Saint Mary's (excluding Research Project, Graduate Seminar, and thesis courses) count towards Ph.D. course requirements. Students who have completed M.Sc. programs elsewhere may transfer courses taken at their former institution, subject to University regulations on transfer credits for off-campus courses and approval of the student's supervisor.

Under special circumstances, upon approval by the graduate coordinator and the student's supervisor, a non-core course may be substituted for a core course. Students wishing to take and receive credit for more than twenty-four (24) credit hours of graduate courses must obtain prior approval from the graduate coordinator and their supervisor.

Students also attend the Graduate Seminar courses (taken by M.Sc. students as ASTR 5900 and 6900) every year they are enrolled in the program. The Graduate Seminar courses are normally led by the senior Ph.D. students.

For credit towards the degree, a student must attain a course grade of B- (2.67 GP) or better. A student's GPA over all courses satisfying degree requirements must be at least 3.00 (B) to be eligible for graduation.

Students are required to pass a comprehensive exam and a dissertation proposal defense exam. Students are given a maximum of two attempts to pass each examination. Students who complete the M.Sc. program at Saint Mary's University before commencing the Ph.D. program are encouraged to take the comprehensive exam and the dissertation proposal defense exam before commencing the Ph.D. during the second year of their M.Sc. program. Both exams must be completed by the end of the second year of the Ph.D. program.

The purpose of the defense of the dissertation proposal is to ensure the student is ready to commence the dissertation phase of their Ph.D. program. The student should demonstrate a clear understanding of a credible proposal for original research and have sufficient knowledge of the background material to begin the research. The student must submit a written dissertation proposal (normally not to exceed ten pages, single sided, double spaced) and present it to their Exam Committee at least three weeks prior to the defense of dissertation proposal exam. Committee approval of the proposal is required before a student is permitted to pursue their dissertation research.

The purpose of the comprehensive exam is to determine if the student has an acceptable level of understanding of general astronomy, physics, and astrophysics at the undergraduate astronomy majors level and a graduate level understanding of fields related to the proposed thesis research.

Once a student enters the dissertation phase of their research, they are required to meet with their Supervisory Committee at least once a year to have their progress assessed.

Students enroll in AST 8990 the first year after approval of their dissertation proposal and in FGSR 9000 every year thereafter.

When the dissertation is complete, students defend their dissertation before their Dissertation Defense Committee, near the end of the student's program of study.

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Financial Support

Full time M.Sc. (thesis option) and Ph.D. students receive an annual stipend sufficient to meet the cost of living and tuition for one person in Halifax, provided they continue to meet the program requirements. Sources of funding include fellowships from federally funded faculty grants, University Graduate Fellowships, teaching assistantships, and named graduate scholarships. The latter include the Father Burke-Gaffney Memorial Scholarship (established by the Saint Mary's University Alumni Association in memory of the Jesuit priest who brought astronomy to the University), the John Despard deBlois Scholarship (established by Marcia Watts deBlois in memory of her husband, an NRC photographer and avid amateur astronomer), and the Reuben and Helen Hornstein Bursary (established in 1982 by Reuben Hornstein, a former meteorologist in Halifax and an honorary degree recipient of Saint Mary's). Students are encouraged to apply for external fellowships and awards (e.g., NSERC, ACEnet, etc.) and those who are successful can expect financial support significantly higher than the normal minimum level.

Application Information

We welcome applications at any time of the year. Highest priority for fall admission will be given to applications received by Mar 1 of the preceding winter. Applications may be obtained here, or by contacting the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR) directly. Prospective students who are in doubt about their qualifications should contact the graduate coordinator: graduate.coordinator@ap.smu.ca

Students may apply for full-time or part-time status. Full-time status is conferred in writing by the Department Chair to the FGSR at the beginning of each academic year upon students who spend a minimum of 40 hours per week on their studies (see the definition of Full Time Student in the overview of the FGSR). Under special circumstances and subject to department approval, new or existing students may enroll in the program on a part-time basis. Admission and degree requirements for part-time students are the same as for full-time students, but part-time students are not guaranteed full financial support.

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(photo courtesy D. Guenther)

Former Graduate Students

Entering Year Name Last we heard they were...
1998 (MSc) Close, Tricia Ph.D. History and Philosophy; Post-doc DHVS/LESVS Faculté de Médecine, Université de Strasbourg , France
1998 (MSc) Mendes, Sandro Ph.D. program, Brazil
1999 (MSc) LeBlanc, Andrew Teaching English, South Korea; Queens (Education). Governor General's Gold Medal
1999 (MSc) MacDonald, Peter training to be teacher UPEI
2000 (MSc) Brown, Kevin Instructor SMU Astronomy & Physics Dept.
2000 (MSc) McInnes, David Ph.D. program University of New Mexico
2001 (MSc) Edwards, Louise Lecturer Yale, formerly, Assistant Professor, MSVU
2001 (MSc) Kacprzak, Glenn Ph.D. program New Mexico State University
2002 (MSc) Ruiter, Ashley Postdoc at Max Planck (MPA)
2003 (MSc) Craig, Stephen  
2003 (PhD) Lovekin, Catherine Postdoc Los Almos Research Lab
2003 (MSc) Rohanizadegan, Mina Research assistant Waterloo
2004 (PhD) Christopher Capobianco Ph.D. program Queens
2005 (MSc) Aaron Gillich Environmental engineering firm, London, UK
2005 (MSc) Jonathon Savoy  
2005 (MSc) Joel Tanner Ph.D. program, Yale University
2005 (MSc) Tomomi Watanabe  
2005 (PhD) Jacqueline Glister Postdoc medical imaging UBC
2005 (PhD) Jonathan Ramsey Postdoc, University of Heidelberg
2006 (MSc) Nick MacDonald Ph.D. program Boston University
2007 (MSc) Robert Sorba Ph.D. program, SMU
2007 (PhD) Kathleen Moncrieff Medical School, University of Calgary
2007 (PhD) Chris Geroux Postdoc, University of Exeter
2007 (PhD) Michael Casey Research Assistant, Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO)
2007 (PhD) David Williamson Postdoc, Laval
2008 (MSc) Andrew Marquis Albuquerque, New Mexico
2008 (PhD) James Wurster Postdoc, Melbourne
2008 (PhD) Daniel Majaess Part-time Faculty, SMU
2009 (MSc) Liz Arcila Osejo Ph.D. program, SMU
2009 (MSc) Larkin Duelge Ph.D. program Sweden
2009 (PhD) Michael Gruberbauer Reserach assistant, Vienna
2010 (MSc) Anneya Golob Ph.D. program, SMU
2011 (MSc) Diego Casteneda Ph.D. program, SMU
2011 (MSc) Kirsten Bonson Ph.D. program, SMU
2011 (MSc) Mitchell Young Ph.D. program, SMU
2011 (MSc) Sherry Hurlburt Edmonton, AB