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Life as a Graduate Student

What is the typical graduate experience at MSU?

Graduate students spend their first two years taking classes and serving as teaching assistants. After completing their coursework, students transition into full time research assistants for the remainder of their graduate career.

Graduate students share offices. First and second year students share a large common office and senior students share offices with 2–4 students.

What courses do students take?

Graduate students take a mix of core physics and astronomy courses (click here for a description of astrophysics courses). Additional classes are offered in Computational Astrophysics, Observational Astronomy, and General Relativity depending on instructor availability. Students may take elective courses within or outside of the Physics and Astronomy department.

Do graduate students teach?

Astrophysics graduate students teach the lab sections of an introductory astronomy course for non-science majors. This course is taught at the MSU planetarium and introduces students to astronomy concepts using hands-on lab exercises. TAs have the freedom to design their lab lectures and most TAs find their responsibilities require about 15 hours per week.

When do students begin research?

Most students begin research during their first year, although some graduates have come the summer before they start classes to begin working on a project.

How do students find an advisor?

There is no formal process for choosing an advisor. As ours is a small group, new students have many opportunities to get to know the faculty, learn about what research is being conducted, and speak with older grads about their experiences. New students are encouraged to attend research group meetings and speak with faculty to get a feel for whom they would like to work with, as well as find out who is looking for new students and has funding to pay them.

What kind of stipend and benefits are available?

All teaching and research assistants receive health care, a tuition waiver, and a stipend through the university. The stipend is competitive with that of graduate assistants at other universities, and is designed to cover living expenses. Current graduate students have found that the stipend is sufficient to cover the cost of living in the area around MSU. 

What resources are available for graduate students?

Within the astronomy group, we have a strong mentoring program that pairs beginning graduate students with senior graduate mentors, and senior graduate students with postdocs. This program provides helpful and focused advice on reaching the next stage of your academic career. 

Outside of the astrophysics program, several organizations on campus provide opportunities for students to enhance their professional, academic, and non-work lives. The Graduate School, the Council of Graduate Students, and the Graduate Employee Union offer a wide variety of activities including fitness classes, teaching seminars, and social activities for all graduate students. Within the physics department, the Physics Graduate Organization and WaMPS (Women and Minorities in the Physical Sciences) offer students the chance to give research talks, chat with visiting scientists, and meet other graduate students.

How can I find out about apartments and life in East Lansing?

Listings for off campus housing.

Feel free to email any of the current grad students! We are happy to answer questions about the program, apartment complexes, and life in East Lansing.