Why Choose Hawai‘i?

A message for prospective graduate students

If you are a prospective graduate student reading this, you are probably trying to choose between the many excellent astronomy graduate programs in the US and elsewhere. Here are some reasons why you should choose Hawai‘i.

Unparalleled observing resources

Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai‘i now houses the largest and most important observatory in the world, and as a member of our graduate program you would be part of it. UH faculty and students have guaranteed access to

  • The 10-meter Keck I and Keck II telescopes;
  • The Gemini and Subaru 8-meter telescopes;
  • Our own 2.2-m telescope, which is equipped with some of the largest-format visible and infrared CCD cameras in the world;
  • Three 3 – 4 m class telescopes, the CFHT, the UKIRT and the IRTF, which are optimized for visible and infrared astronomy;
  • The Submillimeter Array (SMA, an interferometer with eight 6-m dishes) and the 15-m JCMT submillimeter single-dish telescope.

University of Hawai‘i faculty and students get 10 to 15% of the observing time on all of the Mauna Kea telescopes, in addition to almost all the time on the 2.2-m telescope. Graduate students can apply for their own observing time on all these telescopes – including the Kecks – and they do so successfully. No other university in the world can offer you anything like the observing opportunities available here.

In addition the IfA operates its own solar telescopes at Haleakala on the island of Maui, and has access to the Air Force 3.7m adaptive optics telescope on the same site. Students can be at the forefront of the growing field of transient astronomy through the Pan-STARRS (two wide-field 1.8-m telescopes with 1.4-Gigapixel CCD cameras), ATLAS, and ASAS-SN programs.

Breadth of research program

We have a very broad program, including extragalactic, galactic, stellar, planetary and solar astronomy, cosmology, instrumentation and theory. If you already have an area you want to specialize in, there is probably someone here who would like to work with you; if you are equally excited by several branches of astronomy then you will have an enormous range of opportunities for specialization after you arrive.

Astronomy hub

We may be on an island, but we are far from being isolated. Look at our current and past lists of colloquium speakers to see how well we stay in touch. Some of the speakers are here at our invitation, others drop by en route to Maunakea.

Large faculty

Our distinguished faculty consists of over 40 PhD astronomers from all over the world. With as many faculty as graduate students you are assured of close attention at all stages of your career.

Solid course foundation

During your first two years you will take a number of 600-level courses from our faculty that are designed to give you a sound basis of astrophysical understanding. You will also take at least three graduate seminar courses that are different every year and generally focus on the latest research being done by our faculty.

Distributed Graduate Program

One of the unique aspects of the astronomy program at IfA is our presence on three islands (O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i). Under IfA’s Distributed Graduate Program, students are able to choose residency on the island associated with any of IfA’s facilities. Students who are interested in this program should contact the Grad Chair (grad-chair@ifa.hawaii.edu).

Early research opportunities

We believe that students benefit from research experience early.  Students do two research projects in their first two years, each one starting from project conception and going all the way through to presentation (oral talk and written report). These student projects are designed with publication in mind, and most of them end up in a refereed journal.  They sometimes also become the springboard for PhD dissertations.

Financial support

Essentially all students are supported by either a teaching or research assistantship. The annual salary is approximately $32,000 and also includes a full tuition waiver. Since funding for most research assistantships comes from Federal grants with a ~3 year lifetime, it is impossible to give you a formal guarantee of an assistantship for the whole of your PhD career, but our record of financially supporting our students in the program has been excellent over the past 30 years. No student has ever dropped out of our program because of lack of financial support.

Alumni and success rate

Our PhD success rate is high; if we accept you into our program we have the expectation that you will complete your PhD in a reasonable time and move successfully to the next stage of an astronomical or technical career. Historically almost two-thirds of the students entering our program left with a PhD degree; another fifth gained the MS degree. Our graduates are successful: over 85% of our PhD alumni and over 50% of our MS alumni are currently actively employed as astronomers or physicists in universities, observatories, or government laboratories.

Foreign applications

With a faculty drawn from twelve countries, we naturally welcome foreign students, and we apply the same admissions standards to them as to US students. Foreign citizens can hold research assistantships and, if their English is good enough, teaching assistantships. In recent years, our graduate class has included students from Australia, Canada, China, France, Iran, Ireland, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Taiwan, the UK, and the USA.

Life in Hawai‘i

The Institute is located in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, in a beautiful valley equidistant from hiking trails in the rainforest one way and warm ocean waves and beaches in the other. It is a ridiculously beautiful place to spend a few (or many more) years in. You only live once.

How do I apply?

More information

The Institute of Astronomy was reviewed by a visiting committee in 2001. The self-study report that we prepared for that committee contains a wealth of statistics and important information about the Institute, including its graduate program.