Most colleges and universities refer to the concept of earning two degrees simultaneously as a dual degree. Some disciplines afford the seamless transition from a master’s to a doctorate for students committed to a Ph.D. The process could save time and money by completing the doctorate sooner than taking a master’s and then applying to a Ph. D. program. Before embarking on the quest for dual degrees in astrophysics or any other field, there are considerations, as follows:
- Schools may require that you first apply to their Ph.D. program.
- Your academic achievements and transcripts will need to express extraordinary intellect.
- You will have to take the master’s degree and doctorate at the same institution.
- You might have to demonstrate an inclination for research.
- Both graduate departments (master’s and Ph.D.) must agree to dual enrollment.
- Some schools apply an overall GPA and not a separate grade for the two degrees.
- Failure to excel in the master’s courses may prevent you from continuing towards your doctoral studies.
The College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) has a doctoral degree in physics with three subspecialties. The school doesn’t offer a separate master’s degree; however, students earn it in conjunction with the Ph.D. The department limits students to about 80 students taught by 27 faculty members, backed by over $16 million in annual scientific research grants. The three areas of study are:
- Atomic, Molecular, Optical, and Plasma Physics
- Condensed Matter and Material Physics
- Experimental High Energy Physics
UNL graduate students may have the opportunity to visit CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The acronym comes from the French name of the organization – Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire or in English – European Council for Nuclear Research. Since 1954, CERN has been the hallmark for particle physics research whose discoveries have advanced Medical & Biological Technologies, Aerospace, Ecology, Industry, and Safety.
A conclusion from reading the above information is that the UNL Ph.D. program is heavy on physics and light on astronomy, the latter being a vital astrophysics component.
PennState (The Pennsylvania State University) has what they call dual-title graduate programs. One of these is a Master of Science and Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics, which prepares students for careers in astronomy, space exploration, research, and education. The Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Astrobiology department played a role in planetary investigations using two NASA-launched satellites, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 9-meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the McDonald Observatory in Texas. The Chandra X-ray is the world’s most powerful X-ray telescope that orbits earth 200-times higher than the Hubble telescope, and it can read a stop sign from a distance of 12 miles.
To earn the master’s and Ph.D. simultaneously at PennState, students must meet the Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics requirements. Also, school policy states that a dual-title graduate degree program must require a minimum of 15 credits for a dual-title doctoral program and six credits for a dual-title master’s program. Students must apply and be accepted into an existing dual-title graduate degree program only after being enrolled in a current graduate program.
Applicants require a bachelor’s degree in physics or astronomy with a GPA of 3.0 or higher in physics, math, astronomy, and related subjects. Doctoral candidates should enroll in a dual-title program early in their studies. But no later than the end of the fourth semester (not counting summer semesters) of entry into the master’s degree program.
The Division of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) is another example of omitting a separate master’s degree. In essence, the master’s is not eliminated but is earned simultaneously while completing the Doctor of Philosophy, during which students participate in research programs involving observation, theory, and instrumentation. Doctoral students may also perform astronomical research projects, incorporating experiences with the twin Keck Observatory telescopes (10 meters in diameter) in Hawaii.
Students accepted into the dual-degree UCLA program take ten core courses consisting of two physics classes, one 2-quarter research project during the 2nd year, and at least three special topics courses. All of which require a minimum of a B grade. Students have three oral examinations before completing the Ph.D. program; the first is based on a 2nd-year research project. The second oral exam is the presentation of a thesis project subject to faculty approval. The final oral is the defense of your thesis.
Therefore, as illustrated above, these schools recommend and make it possible to earn a master’s and a Ph.D. in Astrophysics simultaneously. Individuals should weigh the pros and cons before committing to a dual-degree program. Once you’ve decided to proceed, you are applying for a doctorate with the master’s degree obtained along the way.