Institute for Astronomy

PhD Studentships

PhD studentships at the IfA

Each year the IfA admits a new cohort of ~10 PhD students from around the UK and the world. We will soon be accepting applications for admission in September 2024. In order for your application to be given full consideration for one of our funded places, it must be received by the deadline of 8th January 2024.

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. Our aim is to ensure that our culture and systems support flexible and family-friendly working. We encourage all qualified applicants to apply for our places. If you'd like to know about our parental leave policies please email

How to Apply

The deadline for applications in this round is 8th January 2024. Be sure to start the process well in advance of the deadline!

(If you are interested in applying for the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship, we ask that you submit a draft of that application's required CV, Background, and Personal Statement to by a deadline of 18th December 2023.)

Step 1: Select the PhD projects that interest you

At the Institute for Astronomy, we study every astronomical scale from the solar system 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 on offer for entry in September 2024. You will also find some short videos from supervisors introducing their projects.

When you apply for a PhD place at the IfA, we strongly encourage you to select 4 projects from 4 different supervisors to maximize your chances for a good match. If selected for an interview, you will have the option to choose from all of the projects on offer if your interests change.

Step 2: Review Your Funding Options

The IfA usually has ~5 PhD places per year funded by STFC for 3.5 years. For 2021 entry onwards, International, European, and UK nationals are all eligible for this STFC funding. As part of the application process, it is important to accurately tell us your UK fee status, as there are some funding limitations on students not from the UK or having pre-settled status within the UK.

In addition, we anticipate offering three School-funded prize studentships, fully funded for 4 years: the Higgs Prize Studentship, the Mary Brück Prize Studentship, and the Royal Observatory Prize Studentship. These studentships offer a slightly longer period of funding to enable students to fully explore teaching opportunities within the School while also conducting their PhD research.

We also 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: University of Edinburgh Application Portal

This is a standard application form for postgraduate study across the whole University, so it includes some sections that are not relevant to your IfA application. Search for "PhD Astronomy" in the Degree Finder, and click through the PhD Astrophysics link. From the following Astrophysics PhD page, select a September 2024 start date and click Apply. (You may notice these webpages erroneously refer to 3-year PhDs when in fact all our funded places are for 3.5 or 4 years.)

You will be taken to our EUCLID webpage to complete your application. Fill in all mandatory information. On the Programme tab, for any mandatory fields (e.g., Personal Statement, etc.) you should simply put "See 1-page IfA form." We do not use this part of the EUCLID application, and you do not need to upload a research proposal document. Submit your application. You should now have a Unique University Number (UUN, the letter S followed by a 7-digit number) to be used in the next step.

We recommend completing this step as early as possible to make sure the system provides your UUN well in advance of the deadline.

(Note: your letter writers may receive an automated email with an incorrect early deadline for uploading their letters. Letters only need to be submitted by our application deadline, or whatever the email says, whichever date is later.) 

Step 4: 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 interview candidates anonymously to minimize any unconscious biases in our initial candidate selection.  

Please fill in the IfA Anonymous Application Form (to edit it, you will need to make your own copy of the Google Doc: File > Make a copy) and follow the instructions on the form for submission. This form cannot exceed one page and should be emailed directly to The filename of the PDF you email in should include your UUN as well as the unique project codes of all projects you are interested in. See the table below for the project codes. For example, if your UUN is S1234567, and you are interested in projects A, E, F, and N, then the filename of the PDF you submit by email should be: S1234567_AEFN.pdf

Your 1-page PDF must be submitted by email to by the deadline of 8th January 2024.


Code Supervisor(s) Project Title
A James Aird X-ray and infrared probes of black hole growth and obscuration
B Philip Best The spatially-resolved star formation properties of galaxies across cosmic time
C Beth Biller Detecting and Characterising Giant Planets with Direct Imaging
D Yan-Chuan Cai & Jorge Penarrubia Cosmology with the Kinematics of Galaxies
E Adam Carnall Studying the early history of massive galaxies with JWST and MOONS
F Charles Cockell How biologically useful are the materials of the Universe?
G Trent Dupuy Extending Tests of Substellar Models to Planetary Masses
H Annette Ferguson Galactic Archaeology of Local Volume Galaxies with Euclid
I Alistair Glasse, Beth Biller & Ken Rice Building the Mid-infrared Spectrograph for the ELT
J Alex Hall New methods for weak lensing and galaxy clustering analysis in the era of Euclid
K Sadegh Khochfar A new cosmological residual distribution hydrodynamical solver
L Sadegh Khochfar & Britton Smith Bridging the mass gap from the first stars to the first galaxies
M Sadegh Khochfar Children of the Cosmic Web: The Birth and Growth of super-massive black holes
N Sadegh Khochfar Machine Learning Galaxy Formation
O Derek McLeod & Fergus Cullen Unveiling the stellar populations of the first galaxies with JWST
P Sean McMahon & Beth Biller True and false signatures of habitability and life on exoplanets
Q Avery Meiksin Precision cosmology with the Lyman-Alpha forest
R Jorge Penarrubia, Aneesh Naik, and Michael Petersen Uncovering disequilibrium in the Milky Way with Machine Learning
S Ruben Sanchez-Janssen Unlocking the physics of environmental quenching in the Virgo galaxy cluster
T Britton Smith Building Galaxies at Cosmic Dawn
U Andy Taylor Solving the Cosmological Constant Problem

Step 5: 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 program. It is unusual for us to accept students into the Astrophysics PhD program without a strong (predicted) Honours degree (2.1 or above) in Astrophysics or Physics or its international equivalent. If you have had significant and relevant research experience, we are happy to consider your application provided you have a strong BSc degree.

If you have any application-related questions that aren't already answered on this webpage, please e-mail


  • 18th December 2023 (optional): Deadline for Bell Burnell Scholarship materials
  • 8th January 2024: Deadline for all applications to the PhD program at the IfA
  • 7th February: first round of interviewees contacted 
  • Mid-February to Early-March: first round of interviews conducted (in person, where possible)
  • Late March: decisions (mostly) finalised for funded places


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 the first 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.