Postgraduate Research at the IfA

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Key dates for students seeking 2017 entry

The formal deadline for applications, particularly for students seeking funding for their studies, is the end of January 2017, though we may continue to consider applications after that date, particularly for students able to obtain external funding.


At any one time, there are around 30 PhD students studying at the IfA. The PhD degree typically takes 3.5 years, and involves research covering a very broad range of topics. A unique aspect of astronomy in Edinburgh is the co-location of the IfA with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, and so there is the option for joint PhD's that involve state-of-the-art instrumentation. The IfA will also have close links with the new Higgs Centre for Innovation, an incubator for startup companies that is being built at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (RoE). With the agreement of their supervisor, PhD students will have the opportunity to apply for secondments to these companies for up to six months in addition to their PhD, to gain valuable research and development skills in big data handling and programming.The general IfA research and ATC research pages give details of current research.

The 3-4 year British PhD is rapid by comparison with programmes in many other countries. Therefore, the focus in Edinburgh is very much on undertaking thesis-related research from the outset. This proceeds in parallel with more formal education 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. From 2008, there is a requirement to pass taught courses as part of the PhD. During their studies students present seminars in a variety of formats, both internal and ultimately external.

PhD projects

In order to start the research process efficiently, we attempt to match students and supervisors in advance. Generally, our PhD offers are associated with a particular project and supervisor. This is a commitment only on our part, however: a student coming for a PhD here will be guaranteed a project that they believe they will find interesting - but if a student's interests change, it is easy to consider alternative projects.

List of projects for 2017


We normally admit about 8 new students per year.

For UK students, the main source of funding is the STFC studentship programme, for which we have an allocation of about 4 fully-funded places per year. STFC imposes certain eligibility requirements. UK students can also apply to the SUPA and PCDS schemes described below.

For non-UK students, the main funding opportunities are the SUPA Prize Studentship programme and the Principal's Career Development PhD Scholarships (PCDS). SUPA studentships are highly competitive, being open to students regardless of nationality, and covering all Scottish Universities with Physics departments. About 10% of our students are funded this way. UK students can also apply for SUPA Prize studentships, but competition is significantly stiffer than for STFC grants. Overseas students can also apply for Edinburgh Global Research Scholarship (EGS) which cover the difference between home/EU and overseas fees; for full funding an overseas student needs to win both PCDS and EGS scholarships, or a SUPA studentship and an EGS scholarship. In other words, an overseas student who is applying for a PCDS or a SUPA studentship, must also apply for the EGS. We would strongly recommend that any overseas students interested in undertaking a PhD in Edinburgh apply for the PCDS, the SUPA studentship, and the EGS.

From time-to-time we have European Union network funding (for applicants of all nationalities). Applicants from outside the EU should note that the University of Edinburgh imposes higher fees for some categories of overseas students (as do most UK universities).


The main period for application is December and January.

The application process is open with a formal deadline of the end of January, but we may consider applications up to a month or more later. The SUPA Prize Studentship competition closes on Tuesday January 31st 2017.

Applications for admission to PhD studies at the IfA are handled online. Go to the Course and degree finder and follow the process. The application process will take 20-30 minutes, and asks for some information which is not necessary initially. Please look at hints and tips about what is required in some of the fields. Note that the application refers always to a 3-year PhD, but you can ignore this; most of our funded places are for 3.5 years.

Dates for interviews are: TBD (but will probably start in mid-February).

All our STFC grants for PhD studies and the SUPA studentships will normally be allocated by early April, although applicants with their own funding can be accepted much later than this.

College information
Physics and Astronomy at Edinburgh is part of the College of Science and Engineering. This link gives wider information about the College.

Postgraduate prospectus
The University's Postgraduate prospectus is available electronically in a variety of formats.

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