Research course


Open University · School of Physical Sciences

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Entry requirements

PhD: The normal minimum entrance requirement is an upper second class honours degree or master's degree, relevant to the proposed area of study, from a recognised higher education institution in the UK. You should also have experience of academic research in the previous four years, normally in the form of either a master's degree in research methods, an undergraduate degree with a research element in the final year, or work-related experience with evidence through research reports.

MPhil: Applicants should normally hold, or be expecting to obtain, a bachelors degree with at least first or upper-second class honours, or an equivalent qualification. However, entry requirements differ between academic areas, and sometimes a taught masters degree is also required.

Months of entry

February, October

Course content

We have international programmes of observational, theoretical, laboratory-based and mission-based astronomy research, focusing on all four of the key science questions of European astronomy and aligned with the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) science challenges:

  • Do we understand the extremes of the Universe?
  • How do galaxies form and evolve?
  • What is the origin and evolution of stars and planets?
  • How do we fit in?

Each year we advertise typically 10 defined research projects and expect to recruit full-time postgraduate students to typically 3-5 of those projects, on fully funded studentships (providing fees and stipend). Part-time, self-funded postgraduate students on self-defined projects are only appointed in exceptional circumstances, where the projects closely match the interests and activities of staff members.

Astronomy is one of five research disciplines within the School of Physical Sciences, and has close links with Planetary and Space Sciences and with The Centre for Electronic Imaging.

Key facts

  • Astronomy is a highly productive, internationally excellent and expanding discipline within the OU, producing typically over 150 research papers a year and financially supported by STFC, the European Commission and other funding bodies.
  • Research students in Astronomy at the OU have opportunities to travel to our own telescopes abroad, to International Observatories and to International Conferences.
  • We were part of the Unit of Assessment 7 submission from The Open University, which achieved 6th in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework power ranking (reflecting the quality and cohort size), with 77 per cent of our outputs achieving 3*/4* grades. We expect to be submitted to Unit of Assessment 9 for REF 2020+.
  • As part of the Physical Sciences, postgraduate students in astronomy benefit from specific research skills training related to their subject areas (e.g. astronomical computing, statistics) in addition to their individual research project supervision, as well as general research training at faculty and University level.
  • The OU Astronomers gather for a weekly Journal Club, which is an informal and informative gathering, discussing up to the minute developments in astronomy from the our own work, the journals and reports from International Conferences.
  • Astronomy is a priority area for OU-funded broadcasting, and there are often opportunities to become involved in BBC television or radio series. We regularly consult on BBC television series funded by the OU including Stargazing Live and Bang Goes The Theory.
  • We also teach more astronomy undergraduates than the rest of the UK higher education sector put together, with over 40 years' experience specialising in distance education, taking students from no previous knowledge to undergraduate degrees and beyond.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • PhD
    part time
    72 months
    • Distance learningis available for this qualification
    full time
    36 months
    • Distance learningis available for this qualification
  • MPhil
    part time
    24 months
    • Distance learningis available for this qualification
    full time
    15 months
    • Distance learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details

Administrative Support
+44 (0)1908 858253