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PhD and Honours Research

CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

While the AAO's primary role is the provision of world-class facilities for optical/infrared astronomy, the broad range of experience of AAO astronomers allows many opportunities for exciting and varied student research projects. These can be at either PhD or Honours/Masters level.

As the AAO is not a degree-awarding body, these projects will be carried out under the co-supervision of an AAO astronomer and a University supervisor. Therefore in order to embark on one of these projects you are required to be accepted into a higher degree program at a university.

Usually the joint nature of the project will require students to spend some fraction of their time at the AAO's headquarters in North Ryde, a suburb 25 km north-west of the centre of Sydney, where they will have access to the office and computing facilities of the AAO. For students based outside Sydney temporary accommodation can be arranged.

The first step in considering a graduate level research project at the AAO is to look through the information on potential supervisors and projects on these pages. Selecting a PhD, Masters or Honours supervisor and project will be one of the most critical decisions you will make in starting a research project - both student and advisor will be looking for someone they can work closely with, and who is well matched to the project. Talking to several prospective supervisors about a number of projects will greatly help you decide. So the next step after reading about the projects currently on offer will be to contact and discuss matters with both your AAO and University supervisors before coming to a decision.

newAAO Honours/Masters Scholarshipsnew

The Australian Astronomical Observatory now offers a $5000 scholarship for Honours or Masters students enrolled at any Australian university, for a research project substantially co-supervised with an AAO staff-member. You can apply using this application form in Word format or this application form in pdf format. The deadline for applications is 1 March. Any questions about the AAO Honours/Masters Scholarships or the application process can be directed to the Head of AAT Science at the AAO, Andrew Hopkins (ahopkins -@- aao.gov.au).

In addition, we also support jointly-funded Honours scholarships with Monash University (for details contact Heath Jones, heath.jones -@- monash.edu) and jointly-funded Masters scholarships with Macquarie University (for details contact Quentin Parker, qap -@- aao.gov.au). Students wishing to apply for these scholarships should use the relevant application form from the host university, and follow the instructions on their web pages.

AAO PhD Scholarships

The Australian Astronomical Observatory manages a scheme of top-up scholarships for students at Australian universities who are substantially co-supervised by an AAO staff member. These grants will be $5000 per annum for 3 years, with a possible further 6-month extension. More details (including application forms) are available on the AAO PhD Scholarship Scheme webpage. The deadline for PhD scholarship scheme applications is 15 March.


ASTRONOMERS & THE AAO

Staff at the AAO are actively involved in astronomical research and in the development of new instruments to carry out these research projects. Much of this research concentrates on the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) or the UK Schmidt Telescope (UKST), though AAO astronomers also make frequent use of other national and international facilities, such as the Gemini Telescopes in Hawaii and Chile that Australia is a partner in. The AAO has a world-wide reputation in both optical and infrared imaging and spectroscopy. A particular strength of AAT and UKST research is large-scale surveys to identify hundreds of thousands of a certain class of objects; in particular, old stars, galaxies and quasars.

The AAO is engaged in several major ongoing surveys: the WiggleZ project is using the AAOmega instrument on AAT to determine the evolutionary properties of the mysterious Dark Energy, but measuring the clustering of several hundred thousand distant galaxies; GAMA (Galaxy And Mass Assembly) is studying galaxy structures by building a database of a quarter of a million galaxies; the Anglo-Australian Planet Search is surveying almost 300 nearby stars to search for extra-solar planets; and the RAVE survey is using the UK Schmidt Telescope to map the kinematics and chemical abundances of stars in our Galaxy. Two major surveys (now completed) that have had enormous scientific impact were the Two Degree Field Galaxy Redshift Survey, and the Two Degree Field QSO Redshift Survey. The first of these obtained redshifts (distances) for more than 220,000 galaxies out to a redshift of 0.3. The second survey measured redshifts for over 22,000 quasars, at redshifts up to 3. The 6dF Galaxy Survey has completed a mammoth survey of over 120000 nearby galaxies over the whole Southern sky. In addition to planets, old stars, galaxies and quasars, AAO astronomers have a wide range of other interests. These include brown dwarfs, supernovae, star formation, starburst and active galaxies, gravitational lensing and cosmology.

The AAO is also home to one of the world's most innovative and vibrant astronomical instrumentation groups - in recent years the AAO has been involved in the construction of instruments for both the AAT and UKST (SAMI, IRIS2, AAOmega, 6dF) and other telescopes (OzPoz for the FLAMES instrument on the ESO VLT; Echidna/FMOS for Subaru; as well as work for Gemini and DAzLE for VLT). Research projects involving development of new and innovative instrumentation, followed by an observational component, often produce some of the most sought-after astronomy graduates.

What do we do?

We are often asked "What do we do?" Contrary to popular opinion, a typical astronomer will only use telescopes a few weeks a year. Getting time to use a telescope is highly competitive. At the last estimate, there are 13,000 astronomers world-wide although only about a third of these aggressively pursue access to telescopes. AAO astronomers do not restrict themselves to the AAT or UKST. We apply for time on radio and sub-millimetre telescopes, larger optical/infrared telescopes like Gemini and the VLT, and space-borne observatories like the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray observatory and so on.

Who are we?

The research interests of staff at the AAO are extensive. You can find a list of the AAO astronomers and PhD students on the AAO Science page. Additional descriptions of the research interests of several AAO staff can be found on their personal web pages, linked from the AAO Science page, and some recent science highlights from the AAO can be found in the AAO Annual Report, as well as the AAO's Newsletter and Press Release pages.


HONOURS AND MASTERS PROJECTS

Honours or Masters projects are smaller in scale than PhD projects, and aim to provide senior undergraduate students with a research project they can undertake at a level of ~50% of their time over the course of their enrolment. Honours or Masters students will be expected to write a thesis for their University describing this work, and are often also able to write up results for publication in a refereed scientific journal.

Some potential Honours/Masters projects are listed below. The nature of research is that some of these projects could be extended and grow into PhD projects. Similarly members of staff may have other projects waiting in the wings. Astronomy is a subject in which developments move rapidly - so the hot topics by the time such a project starts could have changed. All projects are worked out by discussion between you and your prospective supervisor, so treat this list as a source of ideas and a starting point. If you're interested in subject areas not covered below, you are encouraged to contact relevant AAO astronomers directly. Students who are interested in projects in astronomical instrumentation should contact the AAO's Head of Instrumentation, or Jon Lawrence for Instrument Science group. Quentin Parker (AAO/Macquarie Lecturer, qap -@- ics.mq.edu.au) and Lee Spitler (AAO/Macquarie Lecturer, lee.spitler -@- mq.edu.au) can also be contacted for information on Masters Projects through Macquarie University. PhD students who undertake brief (3 month) research projects in their first year, prior to starting their main thesis project can be co-supervised by AAO astronomers in such projects, and some of the projects below may be suitable for this.


PhD PROJECTS

PhD projects are programs which target significant new bodies of research over a 3-4 year timescale. As an astronomy PhD student you will be involved in developing (with your supervisors) a program of research designed to attack some set of key questions. You will have to write observing proposals, take data, analyse it and prepare it for publication, as well as writing up your results in thesis form. The AAO can offer co-supervision of students in PhD projects together with a University-based supervisor at your home institution.

The following are a few potential projects for PhD students. Astronomy is a subject in which developments move rapidly - so the hot topics by the time a project starts could have changed. All projects are worked out by discussion between you and your prospective supervisor, so treat this list as a source of ideas and a starting point. Members of staff may have other projects waiting in the wings. Students who are interested in subject areas not covered below are encouraged to contact relevant AAO astronomers directly. Students who are interested in projects in astronomical instrumentation should contact Andrew Sheinis, the AAO's Head of Instrumentation.


CONTACT US

There are no hard and fast rules for establishing a joint supervision project - every case is unique. Your University, however, will have guidelines for when you must select a project, and for the approval of projects (and supervisors) by the University.

The process for establishing a joint supervision project will usually go something like this

In general the earlier you start making contact with supervisors before your research project would be due to actually start, the better. For example, getting the ball rolling and talking to prospective supervisors in the July-November period before an Honours project starts in February (though not essential) would be a good idea (though exact timing seems to vary from University to University, with students in some departments choosing projects as late as the first week of the academic year).

PhD programs are generally organized somewhat earlier, with the Australian Postgraduate Award deadline of October 31 being a hard limit forcing students to at least choose what University they are going to do their degree at, which may also involve getting a feel for the kind of research they'd like to do. Once you are accepted for a PhD programme, if you are co-supervised by someone at the AAO you can then apply for one of the AAO top-up scholarships (worth $5000 per year for 3 years). The deadline for these is 15 March.

Please feel free to contact us here at the AAO to discuss your interests, concerns or problems. You can either contact a prospective supervisor directly, or make contact through Andrew Hopkins (ahopkins -@- aao.gov.au), the AAO's Head of AAT Science.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


Will I get paid?
Most PhD studentships are funded through the Australian Research Coucil (ARC) or through scholarships from individual Universities. The Australian Astronomical Observatory manages a scheme of top-up scholarships for students at Australian universities who are substantially co-supervised by an AAO staff member. These grants will be $5000 per annum for 3 years. More details (including an application form) are available on our AAO PhD Scholarship Scheme webpage. For visiting undergraduate students, the AAO offers stipends through our AAO Student Fellowships and the Australian Gemini Undergraduate Summer Studentships. There are also Honours scholarships available to joint AAO/Macquarie students. Access to the AAO's computer facilities, and office space at the AAO's Epping offices are provided to PhD/Honours students jointly supervised by AAO staff.
Will I get better access to AAT time?
Observing time on the AAT is awarded purely on the basis of scientific merit in a process of peer review of proposals - so in short, no. Having said that, AAO staff are extremely successful in competing for and winning time on both the AAT and other telescopes, so you will receive the best possible assistance in preparing winning proposals.
When should I start organising all this?
The details of arranging a research project are given in the Contact Us section.
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