Why should I choose UT Astronomy?

...direct access to premier research facilities

giant magellan telescope

The Giant Magellan Telescope, a new 25m telescope soon to begin construction in the foothills of the Andes. The University of Texas at Austin is one of the founding partners in this project, and we are actively designing instruments for this soon-to-be largest telescope in the world. First light is expected by the end of the decade.

Our graduate students have direct access to all UT telescopes, including the 10m Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), the 2.7m Harlan J. Smith Telescope, the 2.1m Otto Struve Telescope, and the 0.8m telescope, all at the McDonald Observatory in west Texas. Over the past five years, UT graduate students received more than 25% of the total time on these telescopes. Faculty also frequently work with graduate students to obtain time on other front-line observatories around the world, with a number of recent projects involving the Magellan, Gemini and Keck telescopes.

For both the HET and McDonald Observatory telescopes, graduate students regularly apply for time in their own name directly to the internal Telescope Allocation Committee, which looks favorably upon proposals with graduate students as the Principal Investigator (PI). This provides students with key experience in proposal writing which they will need for their career.

UT Austin is also a founding partner in the 25m diameter Giant Magellan Telescope, soon to be built in the foothills of the Andes in Chile. This telescope will have five times the light gathering power of the current largest optical telescope in the world. Slated for first light by the end of this decade, students joining the program at UT can expect to play a role in some of the first observations with this soon-to-be giant telescope.

Many of our graduate students are also regular users of the supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), including the recently commissioned "Stampede", which is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world for science research with a total peak performance of nearly 10 petaflops, encompassing over 500,000 processor cores. The TACC also has on hand "Lonestar", which is a Dell Linux Cluster with over 22,000 processing cores. These computing facilities offer unparalleled resources for numerical simulations, data analysis, and scientific visualization, including the 328 megapixel tiled display "Stallion" in the TACC visualization lab. For more information, see http://www.tacc.utexas.edu/.

the most distant galaxy

A galaxy at a redshift of 7.51, seen from a time only 700 Myr after the Big Bang. This galaxy was discovered by UT astronomer Prof. Steven Finkelstein using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, who measured its distance with spectroscopy, and found it to be the most distant galaxy yet discovered.

...a large and diverse collection of faculty, researchers, and students

UT has 22 (active) faculty members, 25 research scientists, 15 postdoctoral research associates, and 40-45 graduate students. Our research interests encompass a the full range of astronomical scales, from extrasolar planets and stars, to conditions in galaxies in the early universe and cosmology. Both theoretical and observational research aspects are well-represented. There are also several active instrumentation groups, building instruments for the McDonald Observatory, as well as for the upcoming 25m Giant Magellan Telescope.

Some students arrive in graduate school knowing exactly what type of research they would like to pursue, and other students prefer to try several kinds of research before settling on one. Both groups of students are welcome at UT! It is common for students to change their research interests after arriving at UT. The breadth of research and large number of potential research advisors at UT makes our department the ideal setting for students to find the field of astronomy that truly matches their research interests.

Want to study planets around other stars? Come talk to Profs. Bill Cochran and Adam Kraus. Are galaxies in the very distant universe your thing? Prof. Steve Finkelstein has you covered. Want to work on galaxies at the epoch of peak star formation activity (redshifts 1 to 4) or nearby galaxies in the local Universe? Talk to Prof. Shardha Jogee. Prefer to uncover the mysteries of dark energy? Come work with the HET dark energy experiment (HETDEX) leaders Profs. Karl Gebhardt and Gary Hill. Want to stay close to home and study stars and star formation in the Milky Way? Come talk to Profs. Neal Evans and Harriet Dinerstein, or with Prof. Dan Jaffe about how to build the next generation of instruments. Would you like to learn more about exploding stars or white dwarfs? Profs. Craig Wheeler, Don Winget, and Pawan Kumar are here. Maybe you'd like to become a theoretical astrophysicist? Come learn from some of the top theorists in the world, including Profs. Volker Bromm, Milos Milosavljevic, and Paul Shapiro. Check out our faculty page to see the full list of all of our excellent faculty. To find out more about what our astronomers are working on, please visit our Research & Publications page.

protoplanetary disk

Prof. Adam Kraus looked inside a gap in the protoplanetary disk (left) around the nearby young star LkCa 15 to see the process of planet formation in action (right), in which a young Jupiter-like planet (blue point) is currently being assembled out of the clouds of gas and dust in the disk (red clumps). The image at the left was taken with a radio interferometer in the far-infrared and traces the cool dust in the protoplanetary disk. The image at the right was taken with a large ground-based telescope and adaptive optics in the near-infrared and traces the warmer planets and the dust falling onto them.

...early entry into research

During the first year, our graduate students investigate potential research advisors, associate with a research group, propose a research project, and begin work! During the spring semester of the second year, students defend their research in a public talk and closed-door session with their research committee; this serves as the Ph.D. qualifying exam. The only written component is a research paper, which frequently results in a published paper led by the graduate student.

By involving students into research immediately, our graduate program enables students to regularly graduate in 5-6 years after entering the program with publication records competitive for the best national and international postdoctoral fellowships.

...lots of financial support to travel to research conferences

Our department is able to provide a substantial amount of financial support for students to attend research conferences and observing runs, both in the US and internationally. We believe that it is crucial that students attend these conferences to present their research. Additionally, these meetings allow students to form collaborations with researchers and students from other institutions. There are several sources of financial support available in addition to the student's primary research advisor. It is common for students to travel to multiple conferences throughout their tenure as graduate students.


An image of the 10m Hobby Eberly Telescope after its upgrade, currently ongoing at the McDonald Observatory. The telescope is being outfitted with a much wider field-of-view, as well as the largest spectrograph in the world, dubbed "VIRUS", which will allow UT astronomers Profs. Karl Gebhardt and Gary Hill and their team to measure the first direct detection of dark energy in the distant universe, discovering one million near galaxies along the way.

What's it like to live in Austin?

Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and is a very exciting place to live. In addition to being the live music capital of the world, Austin is rapidly becoming a foodie center as well! Austin also boasts an abundance of outdoor activities, from water sports on the many nearby lakes, to hiking in the hill country just west of Austin. The exciting social scene makes Austin an ideal place to relax and unwind after a hard week of research.

For information on Housing, Living in Austin, Banking, Employment and Culture:

Austin Arts and Culture:

Austin American-Statesman (daily newspaper):

The Austin Chronicle (free weekly newspaper):

How is a graduate student in UT astronomy paid?

Graduate students in the Astronomy department are usually either paid with a Fellowship, a Teaching Assistant (TA) position or a Research Assistant (RA) position. This includes tuition and fees as well as a salary. The number of first year students that receive an RA position varies from year-to-year, and about half of our TA positions go to first year students, which allows them to get teaching experience if they wish. In addition, graduate students are offered the same level of premier health insurance that is offered to all UT staff.

How does this compare to the cost of living in Austin?

The Astronomy Department pays graduate students roughly $40,000 a year. This includes a monthly stipend, health insurance premiums, and all tuition and fees. Estimated cost of living for graduate student at the University of Texas are posted here: (http://finaid.utexas.edu/costs/130gradcosts.html) Also, there is no state income tax in Texas.