Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy

PhD and MSc Postgraduate Studentships in Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Cosmology beginning October 2021

Durham University is a world-leading centre for astronomy research. In 2014 we were ranked 5th in the world (1st in Europe) in terms of research impact in space sciences. We have world-class groups working in a wide range of fields covering Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology (CEA), Theoretical and Computational Cosmology (ICC), and Astronomical Instrumentation (CfAI), with all three groups located to a large extent within the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics .


Project booklet: The 2021 PhD project booklet provides details of potential PhD projects that are available for an October 2021 start. The projects should be regarded as possible research topics. For any enquiries please contact peder.norberg@durham.ac.uk in the first instance.


Astronomy Research in Durham: CEA, ICC and CfAI

Astronomy and Cosmology research involving observations, theory and instrumentation is undertaken by students, postdocs and staff spread over three centres/institutes - but with strong collaborative links and close interactions: CEA, ICC and CfAI.

The Centre for Extragalactic and Astronomy (CEA) staff and research students undertake a vigorous observational-based research programme on the largest ground-based telescopes covering the gamma-ray, X-ray, optical, near-infrared, sub-millimetre and radio wavebands. This includes telescopes based in Chile (ESO, APEX and ALMA), Hawaii (including JCMT and Subaru), Australia (ASKAP), La Palma (including ING), as well as a wide range of international facilities like CTA and LOFAR. We are also substantial users of satellite facilities such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Herschel Space Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Chandra and XMM-Newton X-ray observatories, and the Fermi Gamma-ray observatory.

Durham is a full partner in the 4MOST science consortium and in the DESI collaboration. Durham is a also member of the science team for the NASA NuSTAR X-ray observatory, the ESA Euclid Dark Energy satellite, the SuperBIT balloon-borne telescope, and a hold key investigator positions in numerous current and future galaxy surveys, including VIKING, ATLAS, PAUS and MOONS.

The large computational cosmology group, the Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC) , has access to a range of very high-performance computing facilities, including a dedicated high performance supercomputer, COSMA, hosted by the ICC.

The Centre for Advanced Instrumentation (CfAI) develops novel instrumentation for both ground- and space-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory, the Gemini Observatory and Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument. The group has facilities located both in the Physics department and in a purpose-built facility at NetPark, close to Durham. The Very High Energy Gamma Ray group is one of the founder members of the Cherenkov Telescope Array collaboration.

The Astrophysics staff of the Physics department includes roughly 33 academic faculty, 35 postdocs and 55 research students. Students have desktop/laptop access to a large local network of high-performance UNIX workstations / servers, as well as COSMA.


Post-graduate Research Studentships

We are seeking graduate students to undertake research within our PhD and MSc by research programmes, with the University regulations on the thesis/dissertation outlined here.

STFC studentships: We expect to take on several STFC-funded students for a PhD degree, in addition to further students either self funded or with funding from different sources. Students will undertake full-time (or part time) cutting edge astronomical research, in addition to our post-graduate lecture courses in their first year: Astronomy and Astrophysics and Astronomical Instrumentation. More details on the application procedure and eligibilty are below. The STFC-funded PhD studentships cover course fees and living expenses for the duration of the studentship (now 4 years in Durham); the eligiblility criteria for a fully funded STFC studentship is nominally based on UK residency 3 years prior to the start of the studentship and unresticted rights to remain in the UK. STFC should be able to provide further information and eligibility rules for STFC studentships . Applicants are required to have, or expected to gain, at least a 2.1 in an integrated MPhys or a pass in a Masters degree or a 1st class in a Bachelors degree, in physics, astrophysics or mathematics.

Given the large size of the astronomy group at Durham, each year we restrict the number of astronomy staff who offer STFC-funded PhD projects to about a dozen. We find that this provides a broad range of PhD projects while also making it (substantially) easier for potential students to select their preferred projects. The staff members who are likely to offer a funded STFC (or Future Leader Fellow) PhD project this year include Dr. Brown, Prof. Done, Prof. Frenk, Dr. Jauzac, Dr. Mcleod, Dr. Morabito, Dr. Scaringi, Prof. Swinbank. We expect more to be added to the list in due course. Please check the PG booklet for the latest update.

International DDS/CSC PhD studentships: There are some fully funded studentship options available this year for an October 2021 start: typically one Durham Doctoral Studentship (DDS) and one Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC). The DDS studentships are open to students of any nationality and are fully funded; i.e., they pay for the course fees and also provide a stipend. DDS and CSC studentships can be on any project, including all projects listed in the 2021 PhD project booklet. Interested students should consult our group research web pages as well and contact a suitable staff member to discuss possible research projects. The latter is often easier to do once an application has been submitted to ensure full engagement from the potential supervisor. Please see here for more details, eligibility, and application deadline for DDS and CSC scholarships.

Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund: The IOP and leading physicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell launched the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund to encourage greater diversity in physics. It is a scholarship fund to support full or part-time graduates who wish to study towards a doctorate in physics and are from groups that are currently under-represented in physics. As host university, Durham can put forward a maximum of two students for the Fund.

Other studentships: We welcome applications from graduate students who are unable to secure (or are ineligible for) one of our fully funded studentships to either our PhD or MSc research programmes. See our group research web pages for a more comprehensive look at our research portfolio. Students without studentship funding will need to be able to finance both living expenses and course fees. In some cases funding can be obtained from scientific and government agencies in countries outside of the UK. Please also click here, here, here, and here to search for possible funding sources.


Post-graduate Research Application Process

Project booklet: This booklet provides details of possible funded PhD projects that are available for an October 2021 start, together with some that are available but no funding yet associated with them. Shortlisted candidates for funded studentships will be invited for interviews; see below for the interview dates this year. We also encourage applications from candidates wanting to work with supervisors not necessarily listed in the booklet. Please consult our group research web pages and contact staff that you would be interested in working with, bearing in mind that until you have submitted an application most queries will be dealt with by Peder Norberg, the astronomy post-graduate administrator.

Applications and deadlines: There is no formal deadline for applications but any complete applications (including reference letters) received before Friday January 22nd 2021 will receive the fullest consideration for places beginning in October 2021. We recommend you to indicate several projects for which you wish to be considered, or your general area of interest (simulations, observations, etc), to help us identify potential supervisors. Your application is not expected to include an original research proposal, but rather to indicate which of the described projects you wish to pursue. In practice, these descriptions provide a starting point for each project; the ongoing direction of your research will adapt naturally over the course of study.

For STFC-funded positions we strongly recommend submitting applications by Friday January 22nd 2021 to allow us to shortlist candidates for the interview days (see below for the dates).

For DDS/CSC applications, the department of Physics nomination deadline is January 6th 2021; however, you will have had to contact us well in advance of this deadline (typically a week or two) so that we can work with you on the case for your research project. Hence we recommend DDS/CSC applications to be submitted by mid-December 2020 to receive full consideration. Details of how to apply are given here. Note that CSC/DDS applications requires evidence of English language ability (as per University regulations) to be met by the university CSC/DDS deadlines.

For the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund, the department of Physics nomination deadline is January 6th 2021. As an application need support from the host institution who is responsible for submitting the application form, we recommend candidates interested in applying to Durham to contact us no later than mid-December 2020 to ensure full and fair consideration.

We note that the University is closed from Friday December 18th 2020 to Monday January 4th 2021, and as such application submitted during that period will not be received by the academic staff until after January 4th 2021.

Interview dates: The dates of the interviews for the STFC/FLF-funded positions will be end February and early March, likely through virtual means. Exact dates still TBC. Please indicate your availability in the time frame February 22nd to March 12th 2021 when you put in your application. Interviews for any other studentships will take place on ad hoc basis (as necessary).

English-language requirements: For non-UK students, please note that you will need to meet our English-language requirements; the details are given here. For those students who do not meet these requirements it is possible to undertake an English-language course with us on a pre-sessional programme; see here for the details. However, note that these pre-sessional English programmes can last for many weeks and must be completed before you start your research programme.

For any generic physics post-graduate information contact:

For more postgraduate information, covering everything from fees for overseas students to sport, museums and Durham University experiences, see Durham University's PG student web-pages and PG student blogs. Additional relevant information concerning postgraduate life at Durham is available on the Physics Department PG web-pages.


Last Modified: 17th November 2020.

peder.norberg@durham.ac.uk