About the Major
The Wesleyan Astronomy Department provides outstanding opportunities for undergraduates who wish to major in this fascinating subject, either in preparation for graduate school, or as an end in itself. We are number one in graduating more astronomy students than any other primarily undergraduate college in the country, according to the Research Corporation's, "Academic Excellence: The Sourcebook". Our unique program blends course work with research opportunity and provides students access to professional quality telescopes, instrumentation and computers. Our students go on to graduate programs, including the best in the country, or to a variety of rewarding careers in and out of science. Our principal strength is an active research faculty who will work one-on-one with undergraduates employing state-of-the-art instrumentation and computers to investigate areas of current astronomical interest. Many of our students are co-authors on research papers based on work performed during their undergraduate careers. In addition, we offer a comprehensive set of course work that will prepare students for a variety of directions in life, including graduate study.
The Wesleyan Astronomy Department provides outstanding opportunities for undergraduates who wish to major in this fascinating subject, either in preparation for graduate school or as an end in itself. Our unique program blends coursework with research opportunity and provides students access to professional-quality telescopes, instrumentation, and computers. A principal strength is our active research faculty who will work one-on-one with undergraduates employing state-of-the-art instrumentation and computers to investigate areas of current astronomical interest.
Our students go on to graduate programs, including the best in the country, or to a variety of rewarding careers in and out of science. Many of our students are co-authors on research papers based on work performed during their undergraduate careers. In addition, we offer a comprehensive range of coursework that will prepare students for a variety of directions in life, including graduate study.
The Astronomy Department offers five general education courses (ASTR103, 105, 107, 108 and 111) intended for nonscience majors who want an introduction to various aspects of astronomy. These courses do not require calculus and are designed to meet the needs of students who will take only a few science courses during their time at Wesleyan.
The standard introductory course for potential majors and other science-oriented students is ASTR155. It may be taken in the first or sophomore year. It assumes a good high school preparation in physics and some knowledge of calculus. Potential majors with a good knowledge of astronomy may place out of this course by demonstrating proficiency in the material; anyone wishing to do so should speak with the instructor. ASTR211 is a sophomore-level course appropriate for interested nonmajors as well as a gateway course to the major.
The astronomy major is constructed to accommodate both students who are preparing for graduate school and those who are not. The basic requirement for the major is successful completion of the following courses: PHYS113, 116, 213, 214, and 215; MATH121, 122, and 221; and ASTR155, 211, as well as four upper-level astronomy courses. The required upper-level courses are taken one each semester in the junior and senior years. Depending on the year, the courses will be the following: ASTR221, 222, 224, 231, 232, and 240. PHYS324 and MATH222 are strongly recommended but are not required. Additional upper-level physics courses are also recommended but are not required. Ability to program a computer in at least one of the widely used languages in the sciences, such as C, Fortran, or IDL, is also highly recommended. This does not necessarily mean that students should take a computer science course. Potential majors with graduate school aspirations should complete or place out of the basic physics and mathematics courses listed above, preferably by the end of their sophomore year, and should also take ASTR155 and ASTR211 during their first two years.
Since physics GRE scores are an important admission criterion at most astronomy graduate schools, those planning to go on for a PhD are advised to double major in physics. This can be accomplished by taking several of the following additional courses, normally in the junior and senior years: PHYS324, 313, 315, and 316. Check the published requirements for the physics major for more details and speak to your advisor.
Additional mathematics courses, such as MATH229, may also be chosen.
Students considering graduate school are strongly urged to do a senior thesis project (ASTR409/410); honors in astronomy requires completion of a senior thesis. Students with an interest in planetary science are advised to look at the course cluster information on that topic.
All astronomy majors are to enroll each year in the 0.25-credit courses ASTR430 and ASTR431. These discussion courses provide a broad exposure and introduction to research and education topics of current interest to the astronomical community. Majors are also encouraged to serve as teaching apprentices in a general education course at least once during their junior or senior year and to participate in the observing program with the 24-inch telescope of Van Vleck Observatory.