Meet the

Gastro Pal





For official course requirements, see the information the graduate director gave you. The unofficial requirement is that you take every astronomy course offered during your 1st and 2nd years, as material from these courses will be on your qualifying exams. We recommend that you don’t take more than 3 courses per semester, but if there are fewer than 3 astronomy courses offered in a semester, you should take that time to take your physics classes.

Physics courses aren’t on the qualifying exams so you can wait to take these if necessary, but waiting until after your second year to take all of them is not recommended. If you have completed graduate-level physics courses before coming to GSU, you may be able to talk to the graduate director about waiving some physics requirements.

And of course, remember to show up on time to all of your classes and do all the assigned work!

Tip: Save money on books by borrowing from a senior grad student or the library, searching for online editions, or shopping for deals online.


You should start thinking about research during your first semester here. To aid you in this process, the faculty will give presentations about their research near the start of the semester. You will want to start talking to professors about research during the first semester, and have a tentative project to start working on by the spring. That being said, there is a heavier emphasis on doing research during the summer because you will be spending most of your time during the rest of the first year doing coursework and teaching.

Some Tips About Research

Pick a project that interests you, not one that you think you have to do. Don’t be afraid to make your project your own; your advisor is there to help you but you shouldn’t be afraid to try doing something in a new way if you think that might work just as well. Try to keep in regular contact with your advisor. Setting up weekly meetings is a good way to develop a relationship and comfort level with them, even if you don’t need weekly research guidance. Talk to other people in the department about their research and get used to talking about yours - a 30 second "elevator speech" describing your work can come in handy at conferences, with visiting scientists, or out on the town! Finally, reading arXiv each day helps you keep up with current research.


Each semester, sign up for labs using a Google Doc sent by the lab coordinator. The required number of labs per semester for TAs of a given year are:
1st year: 3 fall, 3 spring, 1 summer
2nd year: 3 fall, 2 spring, 1 summer
3rd year: 2 fall, 2 spring, 0 summer
4th year: 1 fall, 1 spring, 0 summer
These may change based on undergrad enrollment and number of TAs. First-time TAs should also shadow a senior TA each week, so try not to sign up for the first lab of the week. Also note that the TA teaching the first lab of the week is in charge of any setup required - moving equipment from the supply room and providing handouts to cover several labs. The TA teaching the last lab of the week is in charge of putting everything away. There will be a rotating cleaning schedule for the labs, with reminders emailed during the semester.

You should grade and return labs each week, and while grading is up to each TA, suggested grading rubrics are available on the supplemental lab webpage. Record grades in the spreadsheets prepared by the lab coordinator. Your students are required to attend an observatory open house, and to aid in this, on-campus observing sessions will be scheduled. You must volunteer for a session if you want your students to be able to attend one.


You will take two qualifying exams: one each during your first and second years. They are typically held the week after spring break. There are resources for studying in Kell Hall, including Astro 1010/1020 exams, and examples of old quals questions, both written and oral.

And remember: quals aren’t completely a bad thing. Passing them results in a small (but welcome) pay bump!

First Year Qualifying Exam

This exam consists of two multiple choice exams. An Astro 1010 final exam and an Astro 1020 final.

Second Year Qualifying Exam

This exam consists of three parts: a written exam (60%), a research presentation (20%), and an oral exam (20%). On the written exam, you’ll answer 4 of 8 qualitative and 4 of 8 quantitative questions. These will be written by the faculty and will cover the courses offered in your first two years, as well as anything else they think you should know. The 2-hour oral portion covers similar topics, but you’ll be working questions out in real time on a whiteboard. The research presentation consists of a 15-minute talk about the research you have done at GSU, followed by 15 minutes of questions from faculty about that research.


In addition to your classes, labs, and research, there are a number of things you should keep in mind as you settle into department life, and a couple more distant milestones to pass on the way to a PhD.

The department holds public open houses at Hard Labor Creek Observatory once a month between April and October. You must assist at two each year. Telescope training will be provided during your first semester. You should also plan to attend weekly seminars and colloquia, as attendance affects your 8910 and 8710 grades. Valid excuses include teaching conflicts and travel for research. Finally, plan to submit a research report at the end of each semester.

Prospectus Talk

During your third year, you will give a 50-minute presentation to the department and your thesis committee. Thus, before giving the talk, you need to choose a committee (consult your advisor and the grad director to figure out who should be on your committee). The talk should cover the research you have done to that point, but more importantly, should include a discussion of the work that you will do to complete a PhD-level project. The presentation is followed by a private question and answer session with your committee.

Dissertation Defense

Once you have completed your dissertation research, you will present it to your committee and the college in written form, and to the public and your committee in an oral presentation. The public presentation should be 50 minutes, followed by a private session with your committee. Be sure to follow requirements for formatting!