Institute for Astronomy

PhD Studentships

PhD studentships at the IfA.

The IfA has around 30 PhD students at any one time, and each year we admit a new cohort.  We are now accepting applications for admission in September 2021.   In order for your application to be given full consideration for one of our funded places, it must be received before 4th January 2021.   

The IfA is committed to advancing equality and diversity, welcoming applications from everyone irrespective of gender, age, (dis)ability, race, nationality, carer status, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.  We aim to ensure that our culture and systems support flexible and family-friendly working.   We encourage all qualified applicants to apply for our places.

How to Apply

The deadline for applications in this round is January 4th 2021.

Step 1:  Select the PhD Projects that interest you

At the Institute for Astronomy we study every astronomical scale from the solar system right up to the large-scale structure of the Universe.  On our PhD project page you'll find the wide range of PhD projects that are offer for entry in September 2021.   You will also find some short videos from each supervisor that introduce each project.

When you apply for a PhD place at the IfA, you must select a minimum of 2 unique supervisors and a maximum of 4 projects in total from this list.  We will  consider your application for these supervisor and project choices.  Those invited for a video interview will be given the opportunity to also meet their selected supervisors virtually.   After the interview days have concluded,  we will make offers matched to a specific project and supervisor, though if your interests change we can consider alternatives later.

Step 2:  Review Your Funding Options

The IfA usually has ~five PhD places per year funded by STFC for 3.5 yrs.  For 2021 entry onwards,  International, European and UK nationals are all eligible for this STFC funding.

This year we are delighted to be starting a new joint PhD programme with the Leiden Observatory at the University of Leiden.  We will be offering two joint PhD places, funded for 4 years, where the student will spend a minimum of 1 year, recommended 2 years, in Leiden.   If you are interested in this scheme, please note your interest in the PhD projects that list joint supervision with Leiden in your application (see step 3).  International, European and UK nationals are all eligible for this funding.    

Edinburgh directs the ScotDIST data-intensive science centre, offering a 4 yr PhD programme  in data intensive research, with extra training and 6 months spent on an industrial placement.   If you are interested in this opportunity, please note this in your application (see step 3).

We typically have one Principal's Career Development Scholarship (PCDS), which provides a stipend and all your fees.   International, European and UK nationals are all eligible for this funding.  The PCDS application is additional to the main application process, with a deadline one month after the IfA deadline.   To save you time, we will review your IfA application and contact a short list of candidates that we consider suitable for the PCDS scholarship to encourage them to apply.   

From time to time we also have other funding available.   This year there is one funded PhD place funded by the European Research Council with Florian Beutler.  International, European and UK nationals are all eligible for this ERC funding.

We very much welcome applications from students with external funding.  If you are considering alternative funding options, please make this very clear in the Finance section of your application.  Like most UK universities, Edinburgh charges higher fees to some categories of overseas students.  

Step 3: Complete the IfA Anonymous PhD Application Form

The IfA is committed to advancing equality and diversity, welcoming applications from everyone irrespective of gender, age, (dis)ability, race, nationality, carer status, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.    We shortlist candidates for interview anonymously to avoid any unconcious biases in our initial candidate selection.  

Please Download the IfA Anonymous Application Form (you can either make a copy and edit it in google-docs, or download an MSWord document template).   Follow the instructions within the form.   Your final anonymous form will be uploaded to the University application portal (more info below) in pdf-format and cannot exceed one page.   

Step 4: Reference Letters and Transcripts

After our blind review of your application form, we will review two reference letters and your academic transcript to ensure that you are qualified for a PhD programme.   It is unusual for us to accept students onto the Astrophysics PhD programme without a strong (predicted) Masters degree in Astrophysics or Physics.  If you have had significant and relevant research experience, however, we will consider your application provided you have a strong BSc degree.

Step 5: The University of Edinburgh Application Portal

You are now ready to upload your documents to the University of Edinburgh Application Portal.    This is a standard application form for postgraduate study across the whole University.   It therefore includes some sections that are not relevant for your IfA application.  Select "PhD Astronomy", noting that although the application erroneously refers to 3 year PhDs, all our funded places are in fact for 3.5 or 4 years.

Fill in your contact details (sections 1-3), your qualifications (section 5), and referee contact details (section 8).   If you are exploring external funding options, list these in Finance (Section 7).   If you only wish to be considered for our fully funded places list "STFC etc" in the finance section.   

Much of the "Programme" (section 4) part of the form is superseeded by the IfA anonymous application form.    You may therefore simply add "See IfA Anonymous Application Form" in all the required-text boxes, including the personal statement.   One exception is if you have submitted/published any papers - please include a url link to the paper in the “Relevant Knowledge/Training Skills” part of your Euclid application form.  If you haven’t written a paper, don’t worry as this is very rare at this career stage!    

Now for the most important part - upload your completed IfA Anonymous Application Form using the "Research Proposal" Upload option (section 9).    Your form must be in pdf format, with the file name myinitials_IfA.pdf, where "myinitials" are your initials (i.e if your name is Lisa-Marie Mariana Williams, your anonymous file should be named LMMW_IfA.pdf). 

We cannot review your proposal without this form.   We won't be chasing people who do not submit it.  Please don't forget to do this!    

Step 6: Submit

In order for your application to be given full consideration for one of our funded places, it must be submitted through the University of Edinburgh Application Portal before the 4th January 2021.    If you wish to apply for an externally funded position outside this deadline, please contact the supervisor of the PhD project that you are interested in, to discuss the PhD programme in more detail.

2021 Timetable 

  • 4th January 2021: Deadline for all applications to the PhD programme at the IfA.
  • Late-January:  First Round of Interviews scheduled 
  • Early-February: First Round of Interviews conducted
  • Early February 2021: Deadline for applicants who would also like to apply for the PCDS - we will contact a short list candidates that we consider suitable for this scholarship. 
  • Mid February 2020: Deadline for international applicants who would also like to apply for the EGRS - particularly relevant for overseas candidates who aim to self-fund.
  • 31st March 2021- Decisions (mostly) finalised for funded places

Training

The focus in Edinburgh is on undertaking thesis-related research from the outset of the PhD. This proceeds in parallel with formal training in background knowledge and transferrable skills. In the first year, there is a reading group that covers the basics of astrophysics in a series of tutorial sessions. 

Also during this year, students take a variety of advanced courses in physics and astrophysics, as advised by their supervisor. These courses are part of the graduate school of the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) , which allows access via video technology to a wide range of courses throughout Scotland.