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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Obtaining a Master of Astronomy Degree in Astrophysics Online

copyright 2011 Rick Boozer
The University Medal

ATTENTION: Since this article was written, the Centre of Astronomy has moved from James Cook University to the University of Southern Queensland.  People interested in obtaining a Master's degree as described in this article should apply at USQ.

At the age of 58, I achieved a dream I had had since the age of 8: to get an advanced degree in astronomy. Without leaving my home in the southeastern United States, I had attended classes for three years at a large state university located on the other side of the planet! Astronomy enthusiasts in general may find my experiences to be interesting, enlightening and even surprising in certain instances. But there is a second audience for this article as well. The online alternative is not suited for everyone who may be considering an advanced astronomy degree and the information provided here may be of help when attempting to make an intelligent decision in this regard.

Beginning the adventure
My reasons for waiting so late in life to start my academic odyssey are not relevant to this article. It’s enough to say that four years prior to getting the Master of Astronomy in astrophysics, I left a successful career as a software engineer to pursue my childhood dream full bore.

After the initial decision to obtain the degree, it became necessary to decide how to go about it. I live in South Carolina and there is no institution close to my home offering an astronomy degree. Normally, I would have to attend a school in another state, pay higher out-of-state tuition, and incur the extra expense of paying for living quarters. Robbing the nest egg my wife and I had built was not an option.

Would one of the internet-based astronomy master’s degree programs offered by a couple of institutions in Australia be the solution? Those two were Swinburne University and James Cook University with main campuses in Hawthorne, Victoria and Townesville, Queensland respectively. Both are large state universities where tens of thousands of students physically attend classes on campus.

A credible way to go?
I had two questions: 1) How do these institutions rank academically relative to other universities worldwide? 2) Can either of these programs suit my particular goals?

The first place I looked was a widely recognized rating list for post-secondary education called the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU.org). At the time of writing this article, out of the approximately 9,000 universities worldwide, Swinburne is ranked within the upper 400 to 500 universities, whilst James Cook is listed in the top 300 to 400. Though not exactly in the stratospheric heights with Harvard or MIT, they do rank well compared to many respected U.S. universities. For instance, Swinburne shares its range with Auburn University, Kent State University and LeHigh University. Also, James Cook ranks with Clemson University in my home state, George Town University, Syracuse University, Texas Tech and others. These rankings are very similar to what they were in 2006 when I started planning.

James Cook’s Master of Astronomy degree program (or MoA) is split into two tracks: the History track which is well suited as preparation for teaching astronomy at college level, and the Astrophysics track for those who also want the option of pursuing astrophysical research. Swinburne does not formally specify two tracks named History and Astrophysics for its Master of Science in astronomy program, but it appears students choose a curriculum that is equivalent to either of these two directions. There was a time when Swinburne’s website stated that their courses did not provide preparation toward a career in professional astronomical research, but it appears they have since modified their curriculum for this direction.

JCU claims that their master’s program is a “combination of course-work and research” allowing a path toward a professional career via a progression from the Master of Astronomy program to a Doctorate of Astronomy and finally to a PhD in Astronomy or Astrophysics. An MoA graduate who has demonstrated outstanding ability may be allowed to skip the intermediate degree and go directly into the PhD program. Also, JCU’s PhD program partners the doctorial student with a prominent researcher in his/her chosen field (at a major university in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world) to serve as a principle supervisor, along with a co-supervisor and associate supervisor.

Swinburne’s tuition was lower, but in my case the extended options following the James Cook master’s degree were attractive. However, for someone whose primary focus is to save the maximum amount of money on tuition and/or move away somewhere to get a doctorate after obtaining a master’s degree, Swinburne may be as good a choice.

What you need before you start
To be considered for a master’s degree in astronomy, a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite. Preferably, that earlier degree was in a physical science and included some fairly advanced mathematical training and scientific problem solving. In my case, the science was geology with added extensive courses in advanced mathematics, physics, and engineering. If your bachelor degree was in something other than a physical science, you might still qualify for entrance into an astronomy master’s degree program. Such a person would have demonstrated an extensive interest and activity in astronomy at a fairly advanced level for a significant amount of time.

I have given astronomy presentations to many general civic organizations, astronomy clubs, and even to one major conference of amateur and professional astronomers. At almost all of them I am asked a question similar to this, “What do I need besides my bachelor degree and passion for astronomy before I enroll in a master’s degree program?”

Remember, mathematics is the language of science. Brush up on the advanced math you may have forgotten, such as: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, spherical trigonometry, vector mathematics, differential calculus and integral calculus. I spent at least a preliminary year doing just that and it was a definite advantage. Once classes began, I pulled in a little part-time supplemental income tutoring those same subjects. There is no better way to gain proficiency in mathematics than having to explain it to someone else!

Assuming you are married, another important asset is a very understanding spouse who is just as committed to seeing you through to your goal as you are. Said spouse will need an enormous amount of toleration and patience when you become a nervous wreck and lose your personality during one of the grueling semester final exams. How and why my sainted wife put up with it, I’ll never know!

Experiencing the program
My fellow students and I interacted with each other and the instructor via web-based applications. I will skip the particulars of how all of this online communication was done in order to focus on how the academic content of the course and interpersonal interaction affected my classmates and me. We didn’t confine ourselves to our latest assignment and would often have lively online discussions about various timely astronomical topics of interest that one of us would bring up. This thought provoking and easy exchange of ideas was one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. Not a few friendships began in this way between people scattered around the globe! Even now since graduation, some us still keep in touch.

Students are not supposed to give detailed help to other students, but offering a clue as to the right general direction to go is not discouraged. Private communication with the instructor is done via electronic messaging or email.

Another thing, even though Australians and Americans both speak English, the fact that words or phrases may have very different meanings in each country can sometimes cause frustration when trying to understand a lecture or assignment instructions. There is an old joke that the English and Americans are two peoples separated by a common language. The same situation sometimes applies to Australians and Americans.

Because the JCU program is the only one with which I have direct experience, it is the only program on which I can give extended details. The first course is called “Introduction to Astrophysics”. Its purpose is to comfortably ease students into the rigors of scientific study. Though providing a fairly sophisticated introduction to classical Newtonian physics, quantum theory, relativity and the latest frontiers of astrophysical science, the math gets no more complex than plane and spherical trigonometry. For all courses except the last two, an online lecture is administered on a weekly basis and a homework assignment given. Since Swinburne’s introductory course uses the same textbook as this course, I imagine the two courses must be very similar to each other.

Again excluding the last two courses, a research assignment is added every two to three weeks requiring the student to either directly acquire data through observational research or use supplied computer software to analyze and manipulate published observational data. You learn scientific rigor fast or you won’t make a good grade on your research project. Occasionally these projects contain so much data that students are encouraged to form teams. Such multi-student projects hone the collaboration skills that are so important when working in any science. The final paper explaining the student’s work and results is usually supposed to be written in the same format that scientific research journals expect; that is, starting with a general abstract description, details of methods used, conclusion, references in the proper format, etc. During these projects I learned so many fascinating new things that I never suspected, nor had I ever seen them mentioned in any popular astronomy publication. For instance, in certain unusual cases, there is a way to use radio signals from quasars to give image resolutions of less than a microarcsecond. That’s much finer than the Hubble Space Telescope’s best resolution and even better than from the widest baseline radio interferometer with dishes on opposite sides of the world!

All courses end with a final exam, excluding the last two. To be honest these tests are somewhat exhausting affairs involving complex analysis and problem solving with a completion time limit of 24 hours. However, there was one that had a time limit of 48 hours and consisted of two parts!

After the first course, the classes steadily become more advanced: Astronomy Instrumentation (from radio through gamma rays and particle detection), The Solar System and so on. Again, I have noticed that some textbooks are common between JCU and Swinburne for the applicable subjects, but the courses do not necessarily have the same name.

Courses on both the History and Astrophysics tracks are identical until they diverge after the scientifically and technically intense Galactic Astronomy and Cosmology course. How intense? One of the questions on the final exam involved deriving the equation for finding the smallest possible mass of the primordial black holes that are thought to have formed during the Big Bang. Though I sometimes felt frustration, I enjoyed this course immensely because I came to understand things that I never thought I could have. I eventually got so into it; I often did problems in the textbook that were not assigned. One of the most surprising of these unassigned challenges was to produce a mathematical proof of Einstein’s assertion that the speed of light is the same for all observers. I say surprising because, unlike most of the unassigned problems that I solved, no calculus was involved and I used nothing more advanced than 11th grade high school algebra to do the proof!

After coming this far, some students may decide that doing advanced astrophysical science doesn’t suit them. They can then withdraw from the program with a “Graduate Diploma of Astronomy” rather than continue towards the master’s degree. I tried unsuccessfully to talk a classmate out of taking this option, pointing out to him that he at least passed Galactic Astronomy and Cosmology when some failed it. Alternatively, any student in such a situation who had originally pondered taking the Astrophysics track could choose to continue in the History track instead.

Anyone who intends to go the History track route and receives a good grade in Galactic Astronomy and Cosmology would definitely understand how science is done on a fundamental level. After they obtain their degree, these newly minted science educators are less likely to mindlessly teach rote methods of problem solving to the next generation of students and instead pass on a basic understanding of principles from which those methods came. Thus, future bright young minds would be exposed to critical reasoning skills needed to advance scientific knowledge.

The fork in the road
As mentioned before, I took the Astrophysics track after Galactic Astronomy and Cosmology. Thus, I can only state general points about the History track. The final two courses in that direction are called Scientific and Technological Developments in Astronomy and Pilot Research Project. The former is a detailed overview of the development of astronomy through the ages up to the latest discoveries, advancements, and trends. It is meant to train the student in the archival research skills and document preparation techniques necessary for the research project that is to follow in the next course. The final course covers some astronomical topic of the student’s choosing that is of historical or cultural significance and culminates in a formal research paper on that topic.

On the Astrophysics track the final two courses are designated Astronomy Literature Review and a final Pilot Research Project. The first course consists of the acquisition of yet more research skills that will be needed for the astrophysical research project in the following course. The student learns how to find important technical background information relating to the subject of his/her research in various scientific journals, databases and other professional sources. It also covers prerequisite document processing of research articles in special data formats or printing formats that are often required by professional astronomical journals. After each skill area is covered, the student demonstrates his newly acquired knowledge in a formal scientific paper on a cutting edge topic.

Despite the last astrophysics course being called The Pilot Research Project, not quite the entire course is consumed with the final project. At the beginning, techniques of astronomical image processing are covered along with relevant technical details of image data formats that need to be understood for proper preparation of astronomical research images. Techniques and software for performing such tasks as astrometry and photometry are also covered.

My final research paper involved an attempt to photometrically detect an exoplanet that had been previously discovered by other means. My final results showed that the planet does not transit its parent star within one half of a degree of the line of sight between the star and Earth. I could have gotten definite results for even wider angles, but the images were shot by another party who did not carefully follow precise image acquisition procedures. It was a lot of work, but by the end I felt very satisfied with a definite sense of accomplishment.

Receiving the degree
During the three years I was working on my Master of Astronomy degree, it was the primary focus of my life. Out of all the people in the classes in which I was enrolled, only one other classmate and I made the dean’s list during my first year. In my second year, I was the only one of my classmates who did so. After the final year, I was awarded the University Medal (pictured at the beginning of this article) “for outstanding academic achievement at the Master’s level”. Receiving the medal was a surprise and I did not know until afterward that it is given for accomplishment considered beyond cum laude. I truly believe those achievements were not because of superior intelligence or ability, but primarily because of the freedom I had to totally commit to my goal and the moral and emotional support from my life partner. In short, my wife earned the degree as much as I did and I thank her for giving the 8 year old his dream fifty years later.

How would I rate the overall experience? First and foremost it is my opinion that the astronomical education I received was at least as good as what I would have gotten at many reputable universities and even better than some. I have heard of astronomy degrees awarded where students were taught “cookie cutter” science. That term refers to a situation where only specific methods for solving certain types of problems are taught whilst requiring none of the actual original thinking or creativity necessary for advanced scientific research. My experience was by no means one of those situations. The total tuition cost for my Master of Astronomy came to about $18,000 U.S., but I think I got my money’s worth.

I am currently pursuing my PhD doing cutting edge research into the physics of compact H II regions. Maybe I’ll continue my math and science tutoring while I do so, but I now also have the credentials for teaching an astronomy course at a local college or to write an occasional science article for a popular magazine. After I finish my PhD, I plan on doing professional level astrophysical research and/or teach university level astronomy/physics. Regardless, I hope to excite the general public with a sense of wonder about science and inspire to action those seasoned astronomy enthusiasts who may have the inclination to take their interest to another level.

UPDATE: Because of financial difficulties I am currently experiencing, I withdrew from the PhD program.  I regret this necessity because I was getting good evaluation reports from my adviser.   I wish to thank renowned astrophysicist Miroslav Filipovic for being my adviser during my PhD studies and truly appreciate his efforts on my behalf.

Also, attaining my Master's degree with High Distinction was a lifelong dream and a proud accomplishment made even sweeter with the award of the University Medal.  That is enough for me at my age.  But my wife has sacrificed too much and there are too many other things we want to do for me to continue the tuition drain on our finances.  Most of all, it's time she got to make some of her dreams come true without my pursuits financially standing in the way.

I am continuing doing astrophysics research on my own.   For instance, there are a number of images that I shot years ago that I plan to use for photometric research into variable stars and/or possible exoplanets.

95 comments:

  1. Rick, great post. I am about the same age as you and also had a career as a software engineer.
    I wanted to be an astronomer from a very early age, and even started as an astronomy major at college. I was curious about the online masters option as well. I appreciate the level of detail you provided. I have to admit it seems more rigorous than I suspected. I will be following your blog.

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  2. Gregory, glad you liked it. I enjoy writing astronomy and space travel articles for public consumption. I will not be able to do new posts as often as I would like because my PhD studies are consuming most of my time.

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  3. Thank you Rick! I am mulling offers from both JCU and Swinburne. Deciding between the two is very difficult. Where are you pursuing your PhD? Was your JCU degree immediately accepted or did you have to jump through hoops? Jack

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  4. Hi Jack,

    You're welcome.

    Part of the reason why I chose JCU for my Master's venue was to have the option of continuing my PhD there and reduce the intervening red tape. But as I indicate in my article, if you don't switch to another university for postgraduate school, then the normal progression is: Masters, Doctorate, then PhD. Because of my performance in the MoA program, I was allowed to skip the middle program and go straight to PhD.

    PhD advisors for postgrads in the JCU PhD program are typically renowned scientists at major universities other than JCU. In fact, prominent scientists may seek out recent Masters grads for specific projects. For instance, a couple of scientists (one at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one at Hardin Simmons University) tried to talk me into getting my PhD by working on a pet project that they yearned to see done, but I did not find their offer interesting.

    Anyway, I don't know whether you are planning for the history/education oriented history track or the scientific research oriented astrophysics track. I would imagine it would be relatively easy to go directly from the JCU or Swinburne Masters on the history track to a program for a PhD of astronomy in history at a different university. Though much of the Masters program on either track is coursework, I would think that how likely it would be for you to easily transition from a Masters on the astrophysics track to a PhD astrophysics program at any university (JCU or not) would depend more heavily on how high your grades were in graduate school and how well you did those parts of the Masters program that were pure scientific research.

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  5. Hi Rick,
    Thank you very much for the information. I am very interested in pursuing a career in Astronomy but I'm confused on where and how to start.

    I have a BS Geology degree and currently taking a Masters degree in Geomatics Engineering. I am also an amateur astronomer but because we don't have a strong astronomy education and research program in my country, I decided to take a different degree which is a combination of Geology and Engineering. Through time,
    my passion for Astronomy grew, and I want to take it to the next level.

    Unfortunately, studying abroad is impossible right now. I also need a lot of funds just to study. I wonder if online programs have also financial aid or scholarships?

    Thank you.

    - Erika

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  6. Hi Erika,

    I'm glad you liked the article. Within Australia itself, financial aid is available for the JCU or Swinburne programs. I don't know what nationality you are, but I regret to say that if you are not Australian then obtaining financial aid may be problematic. I myself am struggling with the even higher costs of the PhD tuition.

    I hope that you are able to take astronomy to that "next level" of which you spoke.

    Rick

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  7. Thanks, Rick. I have a question regarding the payment of tuition fee of the masters program. Did you pay per subject on each semester or you pay for the two subjects in one year?

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  8. Hi Stella,

    I paid per subject each semester.

    Rick

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  9. This is an excellent writeup. I just started the MoA this year, and am currently enrolled in the Modern Astrophysics course. I have similar aspirations (PhD) as the author. Thank you very much for such a detailed writeup.

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  10. Hi Sherman,
    You are most welcome.

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  11. Hello Rick:

    Thanks for the informative posts on this subject. Do you have any concerns as to the continued health of the JCU Astronomy MoA, DoA, and PhD programs? Have you seen any indication that James Cook will pull support for these degrees as happened with Western Sydney? I'd hate to begin work toward a degree and have that come to pass.

    Best Wishes,

    Scott Walker

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  12. Hi Scott,

    I don't see that happening. It's already been a good many years since the program was switched from Western Sydney to JCU. I think some of the problem at WS was with a key guy in the administration of the program who is no longer connected to it. (I am not citing a name, so please don't ask)

    Rick

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  13. Hi Rick,

    Thank you for answering my questions on this topic. I've decided to apply to James Cook. All of the feedback I've received from JCU graduates has been overwhelmingly positive. Best of luck with your PhD program. Thanks again.

    Regards,

    Scott Walker

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  14. Hi Scott,

    You are most welcome. Glad I was able to help.

    Good luck in your academic career. You have a lot of work ahead of you, but learning all that fascinating new science will be very rewarding and often even fun!

    Rick

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  15. Dear Rick,

    Thank you so much for this excellent write up. It literally filled my eyes since even I started getting interested in the heavens at a tender age(about 5) when my mom first told about Copernicus and Galileo and their contributions and sacrifices. I still remember an incident when I was 7 in which I cut a grain of boiled rice to the smallest possible size with a knife and ran to my mom saying, "Mom I found the atom!". I grew up experimenting on my home laboratory which I set up with my younger brother and it was all so exciting in those days.

    However, when I came to high school and higher secondary levels, there was so much peer-pressure and relatives' pressure to take up courses like medicine and engineering that I had to do an undergraduate engineering degree in Information Technology.

    It caused so much frustration since the ultimate goal in my life which is to solve the cosmic conundrums remained engraved deep in my heart. And the realization that I should do something about it came about 3 years ago. I have been looking for various avenues since then.

    Two months back I took the "one small step" towards my goal. I started my Masters degree program in Space Studies from University of North Dakota through their distance learning program. I hope to finish it by 2014 if my coursework and research goes well.

    Your post has thrown light on my ultimate goal by opening up new doors through which my ideas can pass. I have decided to apply to JCU or Swinburne soon after I finish my degree from UND so that I can eventually work on my favorite subjects like black holes, quasars etc.

    Thank you again for this wonderful post. Take care and keep in touch.

    With love and regards,

    Pleasant

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  16. Hi Pleasant,

    Thank you for your kind words. Glad the article was of use to you.

    Regards,
    Rick

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  17. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with JCU! It's very helpful to read a candid review of the program when considering whether to enroll.

    Did you ever visit the campus in Australia, either by requirement or just to see it in person?

    Cheers,
    Randall

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  18. Hi Randall,
    You're welcome. No, I haven't visited the campus. Would love to though. However, I may be headed to Australia sometime in the near feature because of an issue related to my current research.

    Regards,
    Rick

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  19. Hi Rick,

    Great post. I'm doing the JCU MoA and just sat the GAC exam - one of the toughest (and definitely the longest) exam I've ever sat. Got the paper at 11am and worked until 7:30am the next day to complete it! If I hadn't been dozing off I'd have liked to spend the final three hours triple checking it before sending it in, but I was too tired to think straight by then ;) The question you mentioned in the post was still in this year's paper, and didn't seem to have been covered in the lecture notes (although I'll admit I didn't get around to all the extra readings linked to in the lecture notes) - I had to recall stuff I'd learned in my Engineering bachelors degree thirty years ago to try and solve it!

    One question - what grades did you get for the MoA? I was hoping to have a shot at the Uni medal, but so far have only have straight Ds (no HD yet - and after the exam I doubt I'll be getting one for GAC). The JCU regs state that a 6.5 GPA is usually the prerequisite for the medal (ie. minimum half D and half HD grades), but can recommend students with a GPA over 6.0 in some cases...

    I'm hoping to enrol in the JCU DoA course after finishing the MoA next year, and possibly transfer to their PhD course if I do OK - but finding enough time to do the course justice is hard when working full-time.

    Depending on my result for GAC I might switch to the history stream.

    Best wishes for your PhD studies.

    Ralph

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  20. Hi EnoughWealth,

    I had all HDs except for one D in the Solar System course at the beginning of the second year (when, I am sorry to say, I got overly confident on the exam and did not check my answers as meticulously as I normally do). Let that be a lesson to anyone trying to do this: don't get cocky!

    Even working part-time as I do and doing the academic work is hard enough, so I definitely sympathize with your situation.

    Let me know how you did when you find out. You can click on the photo at the top of this blog to go to my website and send me a direct email.

    Regards,
    Rick

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  21. Addendum to the immediately preceding post.

    If you have a question for me, please post it on this blog rather than emailing me. That way others who come to this website can benefit from your question and my response.

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  22. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for sharing your amazing story! I have 2 questions. 1) Can the JCU Masters program be completed in 2 years and 2) how many years do you think the PhD program will take you to complete? Thanks again!

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  23. Hi JD,

    Yes, it can be completed in two years by doubling the course load (a few of my classmates did this). As for the PhD, the vast majority are required to go through the Doctor of Astronomy program that is in between the Master's and the PhD (for reasons I mention in the article). Thus, in all it usually takes about 8-9 years (between 3 and 4 for the PhD itself). In my case it will take about 6 to 7 academic years in all. However, because I took a year off before I formally started the PhD program, the total time span from beginning to end will be about 7 to 8 years for me.

    Hope that helps.

    Regards,
    Rick

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  24. Dear Rick,

    You have written a truly inspiring article. May I ask some questions? I apologize I could not find your email to send these too.

    Currently I am a enrolled student of the MoA program at JCU. My grades were 2 Credits and 1 Pass. My first question is are these considered good grades? I know the HD and D that you have got clearly shows a high level of achievement. But Credits and Passes seem just one step above making the passing grade. They seem rather 'average' grades.

    My second question is our participation in the discussion forum critical to the grade? Although i did reasonably well in the homeworks and practicals, I did not participate in the discussion forum. I was busy doing my full time work.

    The GAC, Astronomy Literature review and Pilot project are the last 3 modules I have. I understand that the GAC will be similar to the previous modules (i.e. lecture based with homeworkworks and a final exam). My third question is how will the Literature Review and Pilot project be?

    Is it that the Literature Review requires us to read journal articles and summarize them and the pilot project requires us to find something original? The literature review seems straight forward but to complete the pilot project in one semester seems quite daunting and not so easy to complete

    My grades have been quite average and I did want to use them as a stepping stone to enter a PhD program in theoretical physics and eventually work in a university (I do feel embarrassed to even say this). I am 35 years old. My fourth question is if my grades of Credits and Passes are considered average, would it be plausible for me to quit the JCU program and try to enrol in the Swinburne program? Would would be your opinion?

    My fifth and last question is fundamental studying technique. How did you study the material? I too read the lecture materials and did the tutorials. I did hand them in late (after two weeks on average due to my work) Did you read beyond the lecture notes and to the textbooks and try those questions in the textbook? I did not read the textbook materials and only kept to the actual lecture notes given out by the tutor.

    Any advise will be of great help. Thank you and once again, I am inspired by your excellence but wonder have i missed my last chance at being a real physicist?

    Current JCU Student
    Email: stellan1823@gmail.com

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  25. Hi Stellan,

    That's quite a list of questions and I shall answer them the best I can while striving not to give you an unfair advantage over your fellow students.

    "My first question is are these considered good grades?"
    High Distinction is essentially a traditional A, Distinction a B, Credit is the equivalent of a traditional C+ and is a really good grade. Pass is a respectably passing grade, equivalent to a C-.

    "My second question is our participation in the discussion forum critical to the grade?"
    No, participation in discussion does not enter into your grade. It is just an extra source of feedback that may help you.

    "My third question is how will the Literature Review and Pilot project be?"
    There will be a few assignments in Lit Review and Pilot, but they will be preparations toward the final written work in each of the those courses. Most of the time in these courses is devoted to the final written work. Both will require a lot of time and effort.

    "Is it that the Literature Review requires us to read journal articles and summarize them and the pilot project requires us to find something original?"
    You are correct in both of those assumptions.

    "My fourth question is if my grades of Credits and Passes are considered average, would it be plausible for me to quit the JCU program and try to enroll in the Swinburne program? What would be your opinion?"
    Wow, this is a tough one. I do know the Swinburne program now mirrors the JCU program in a lot of ways, but not having participated in their program I have no idea of their depth of study or how their degree is viewed by the outside world. As I said in my article, they don't have formal Astrophysics and History major tracks. My guess is that their program would probably offer you no advantages, though I can't give you a definite answer on that.

    "How did you study the material?"
    All I can honestly tell you is that I have always aspired to learn as much as I can about anything I am working on. That is essentially my strategy.

    I truly hope my answers have been of some help to you. Having been where you are, I know how hard it is to juggle everything else in life with academic work. A lot of people only talk about doing what you are attempting and never work up the guts to actually try it. I admire you for making a serious effort and wish you the best of outcomes.

    With heartfelt regards,
    Rick

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  26. @ Stellan

    Hi. Hope you are enjoying the MoA course as much as I am!

    I'd say that credits are 'good' grades, but not great. You probably don't want to get any more passes if you want to continue on to the DoA. I did quite a lot of extra reading for my prac assignments and tutorials - not just the lecture notes and the relevant textbook chapters. But I didn't have enough time to read all the extra online reading that the lecture notes have links to. And although I bought all the 'optional' texts listed for each course, I haven't got around to reading much of them.

    In addition to the time spent reading the lecture notes and text chapters, I spent around 20 hours doing each prac assignment, and about 2 hours per question for the tutorials. I found that spending some extra time double checking (re-calculating) my tutorial answers when they were ready to send in was a good way to get the extra marks needed when aiming for a D or HD. It was amazing the number of silly mistakes I made in the tutorial questions and only picked up during the final check (eg. using diameter instead of radius). I was a few days late on several tutorial assignments, but being more than a week late probably makes it tough to get top grades - if nothing else its hard to take the extra time to properly double check everything before sending an assignment in, if you only finish it when its already two weeks past the due date...

    The exams took nearly all of the available 24 hours - just having a couple of hours off for eating etc., and sending in the answers a few hours before the deadline (in case of last minute internet problems) then going to bed. I sent the wife and kids out of the house all day on my exam dates!

    I think I read somewhere on the JCU website that you need to get credit (or above) in the final year 'research' subjects (literature review and pilot research projects) in order to be able to progress from the MoA to the DoA course.

    I don't know what exam marks I got, but my prac and tutorial assignment average marks probably indicate the sort of marks you need to aim for to achieve D/HD grades:

    course____pracs______tuts_____grade
    MAP_______88%________92%______D
    AIN_______95%________90%______D
    TSS_______97%________88%______D
    GAC_______100%_______95%______HD

    As JCU has rules about what % of students can be awarded HD/D/CR in each subject, if you want a D or HD you probably have to aim to do better than nearly everyone else in your class, rather than just aim for a particular mark.

    Good luck with GAC next semester.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thanks for the extra info, enoughwealth.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Dear Enough Wealth,

    I sincerely thank you for the advise and encouragement. I will work extra hard and be more focused on the modules henceforth. Will also regularly check in with this website and let you know my progress for the GAC module.

    Thank you once again friends! Although I have never met you guys personally, I am definitely inspired by you guys getting medals and all and also giving this kind of encouragement. Studying online can be sometimes a bit lonely with no physical 'reference points' (i.e. what other students are doing). But as long as I am in the game, I have chance to still get good grades and become better.

    Will keep in touch!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Great to hear that, Stellan. Keep the faith!

    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  30. Dear Rick,
    This page has greatly inspired me. It feels good to know that many people are in the same situation as I am. I wanted to be a Physicst since my grade seven. I had even set up a small lab at home and conducted experiments and dreamed of becoming scientist one day. However I ended up becoming a Software Engineer and now at the age of 36 I realize I should go back to my original passion. For the last last one year I have been toying with the idea of joining online program offered by Swinburne but I was not sure about its credibility and if it would really help. But now reading this article I realize that both JCU and Swinburne are of good repute and for people in our circumstances they offer a great hope.
    Your page is a great inspiration and I feel motivated to pursue my path though I would have to wait a bit to gather some savings before I contact either of them for admission.
    Thanks
    Simerdeep
    (from Canada, originally from India)

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hi Simerdeep,

    I have been amazed by the reception this article has had! It is humbling to know that I have inspired so many people. My goal was just to get people excited again whose interest had waned.

    But if physics is specifically what you wish to pursue, there is one thing that you should know. It shouldn't be hard to get some kind of academic position in astronomy with one of these astronomy degrees. However, some schools offer degrees in general astronomy (equivalent to an MoA from JCU on the History track), whilst with other schools it is truly a astrophysics masters with emphasis towards actual observational research skills. JCU is unusual in that it offers a formal choice between the two. However, because a lot of schools award astronomy degrees of the former type, many state colleges and universities offering faculty positions assume any astronomy masters degree is of the former type and will not allow you into a physics teaching position: even if you got your degree on the astrophysics track. They just don't want to take the effort to discern between the two types of astronomy degree.

    However, if you start with an astronomy masters that is oriented towards astrophysics and then get an actual PhD in astrophysics (like I am doing) they can look at all of the advanced physics in your PhD thesis project and accept that work as the hours in high level physics that are required for a physics teaching position. In that case, they may then allow you into a professional academic physics position based on those qualifications.

    Good luck!
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  32. Good work Rick! I will keep following this page
    Thanks
    Simerdeep

    ReplyDelete
  33. Hi Rick could you tell me a bit how the application process was at JCU when you first applied?

    thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hi,

    I filled in an application on line. Of course, I also had to have my previous university send JCU my undergraduate transcripts. There are a few other things (such as extensive activity in astronomical activities over the years). It's all stated on the website of JCU's department of Astronomy. I suggest you go check that out for more info.

    Cheers,

    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  35. Hi Rick I have read every word on the site, I was wondering more about the turn around from when you first sent the application until you got the acceptance/first class.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hi El Vamp.,
    As I recollect, it was about one month.
    Cheers,
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  37. Hello Rick,
    Thanks for writing this post, which was very informative. I have a question - about how many hours did you spend each week working towards the degree?

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hi Jonathan,
    Can't give you a concrete number of hours. But most of my time (other than my part time job as a math and physics tutor) was consumed with it.
    Cheers,
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  39. Kudos to you Rick! You have no Idea how you have inspired me. I am 30 years old and just got my GED. Sadly my parents never cared about my education and forced me to drop out at 16. It has taken me 14 years to get myself together and realize I want to be an astronomer. I have always had a natural talent for Astronomy and Physics given my education level so I decided now is the time to take the first steps. I am looking at at least 2 years of Community College to build the credits I need to get into University of Virginia's Astronomy program and then another 4 years for my undergrad. After I reach this goal, I will determine how far down the rabbit hole I want to go. I want you to know that you have inspired me more than anyone else in my life and I look forward to conquering my fears and following in your footsteps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike.
      Thank you so much for the kind words. What you described was the effect that I was hoping to have when I wrote the article. In a lot of ways you're in a much better position than I am because I started so late. I envy you that, but most of all I wish you well!
      My best regards,
      Rick

      Delete
  40. I accidentally deleted Joshua's (Polar Bear's) comment. I am reposting it here. Sorry Joshua

    Amazing Rick! I have a question though, I'll try to keep this short but I have no one else to really talk to and you seem like the perfect person to write to. I'm 19 years old now graduated from High School, I was planning on becoming a Sheriff Deputy and was never planning on going to college besides the police academy. Well I never did do too well in school (C average) but my fascination with astronomy and physics made me want to change my profession. I want to become an astrophysicist.

    I read about Swinburne in Australia and how I can get a masters degree in astronomy online which would be wonderful. Sorry, Now to my questions: It says you can get a masters degree in astronomy, not astrophysics, are they two separate things or the same thing? I'm a bit confused about how it all works, but I definitely want to be an Astrophysicist. Also, you had a lot of experience before taking classes and I'm just 19, What would I need to prepare myself or to even get accepted into Swinburne? I liked mathematics in high school but was never really good at it and I feel like I would struggle with the mathematics of the courses, I'm nervous I wouldn't be able to understand or that I'd fail if I tried. Will I need years of study before even taking courses at Swinburne? or do they teach it along pretty well as you go or do they expect you to know a lot of things?

    I'm definitely dedicated and willing to learn, that's all I want to do is learn and better understand and figure things out, I get off work at 1 in the morning and I'll look up maxwells equations just to try to figure them out, I would look up quantum chromodynamics in my free time in computer lab during highschool, just to give you an idea

    I really want to do this but I'm pretty scared. I'm not sure where to start or who to ask or what, I've emailed universities and looked up requirements but I just don't know

    Sorry this is so long Rick it would mean the world if you could reply and help me with my questions!

    - Joshua (polar bears a nickname I apologize)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Joshua,

      I’ll start off by answering your questions.

      “It says you can get a masters degree in astronomy, not astrophysics, are they two separate things or the same thing?”
      Essentially, it boils down to this: All astrophysicists are astronomers, but not all astronomers are astrophysicists. Just as all horses are mammals, but not all mammals are horses. That is the reason why the Master of Astronomy program I was in was divided into two tracks. One track was for those who wanted to become generic astronomers so that they could teach and maybe do some lower level astronomical research. The other astrophysics track was for those who wanted to be astrophysicists, that is to investigate the underlying physical principles about the origin of the universe and why it has the physical characteristics that it does. I wanted to do pioneering physics research related to astronomy, so I chose the astrophysics track.

      There is a second way to become an astrophysicist. One can get an advanced degree in physics, then switch to astrophysical research.

      “What would I need to prepare myself or to even get accepted into Swinburne?”
      Swinburne, like most Masters level programs, requires that you already have a bachelor’s degree. This is your biggest problem. The other problem is that they don’t divide their program into tracks, so that you cannot formally qualify as an astrophysicist.

      “Will I need years of study before even taking courses at Swinburne.”
      Again you will need a bachelor degree, so yes, years of study to get that at some institution. Preferably you should obtain your degree in a physical science, engineering or computer science. Assuming you still want to be an astrophysicist rather than a generic astronomer, make sure that you master mathematics courses up through calculus (and better yet advanced differential equations) while you are getting your bachelor degree. Take as many physics courses as you can squeeze in regardless of your major.

      Now let me use another professional expertise of mine. My part-time job (while I was getting my Masters and also now while am getting my PhD) is as a tutor of mathematics and physics for high school and college students. You state: “I liked mathematics in high school but was never really good at it and I feel like I would struggle with the mathematics of the courses, I'm nervous I wouldn't be able to understand or that I'd fail if I tried.” As far as the students I have tutored, that description normally indicates someone with above average intelligence with the ability to do the work, but is prevented from doing so because they have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I have helped such people become “A” students in mathematics and physics by first sending them to a physician for appropriate medical treatment and then I taught them techniques that compensate for their condition and allowed them to master the subjects. Not being a physician and not having actually interacted with you as a tutor, I cannot say that ADHD is your problem. But I recommend that you go to a doctor and find out if that is the case. Even if you are ADHD, I obviously cannot help you as a tutor, because you are located elsewhere. You will need to find help closer to you and it is hard to find tutors who are good at compensating for ADHD.

      I hope this helps.

      Best wishes,
      Rick

      Delete
  41. Hi Rick it's Josh again,
    I saw your reply the day after you sent it and was thrilled, but wanted to take some time to think about what you said before responding. First off I just want to say thank you for helping me out with my questions, it's like a giant puzzle and i'm trying to put all the pieces together.
    You say I need a bachelors degree in physics or engineering, I would personally love to get it in physics. I heard that you can't get that online because of required lab time and etc, so I would need to find a school near me to go to. (I'm not trying to take the easy way out by trying to take online courses either it would just be the most convenient way for me in my position)
    So if I get my bachelors degree in physics, Will I meet the requirements for Swinburne University? Are there certain courses I need to take? Are they strict on only accepting high GPA students? (I didn't do too well in high school at all, I had a very low GPA. I never thought I would go to college sadly) Will this hurt my chances? or does it more depend on my grades while getting my bachelors degree. (I apologize again, I tried asking my parents for some information but neither went to college)

    You say you're working on getting your Phd. Are you going to a school for this and not taking courses online? I understand Swinburne goes up to a masters degree, so any further education must be done elsewhere? If correct, is it hard to transition or get accepted? You also state you got your master of astronomy degree in astrophysics. How would one be classified as an astrophysicist? would you need to have a career as an astrophysicist? What do you consider yourself?

    And from what you replied earlier I basically have this as what I have planned to do. Get accepted and take courses in physics to obtain a bachelors degree. With that try to get accepted into Swinburne to get a masters degree the same as you. Then get accepted into getting my phd from another university? What could you get with just your masters degree? people say you basically NEED a phd. is it expensive?

    I'm so sorry for so many questions! you don't have to answer them all I'm just trying to get a better understanding

    Thank you so much for your time
    sincerely,
    Josh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Joshua,

      Your questions:

      “So if I get my bachelors degree in physics, Will I meet the requirements for Swinburne University?”

      I would think yes you would meet the requirements then, as long as you had fairly good grades during your undergraduate work. But, as I told you earlier, Swinburne does NOT have an astrophysics track.

      “You say you're working on getting your Phd. Are you going to a school for this and not taking courses online?”

      I am doing it through JCU online, though I may have to switch schools soon due to issues that I won’t get into that have nothing to do with my academic performance.

      “You also state you got your master of astronomy degree in astrophysics. How would one be classified as an astrophysicist? would you need to have a career as an astrophysicist? What do you consider yourself?”

      I already answered those questions in my previous reply to you. Think carefully about what I wrote earlier in my previous post. What I said was:
      There are two ways to be classified as an astrophysicist, 1) get a Master’s degree at a university with an astrophysics track. Unlike JCU, Swinburne does NOT have separate tracks for general astronomy (sometimes called an astronomical history track) and astrophysics. So a Swinburne degree might qualify you for teaching astronomy, but probably would rule you out for a PhD in astrophysics. 2) Get a bachelor degree in physics then a master’s in physics and switch to astrophysics for your PhD.

      Again either of these methods will require good grades.
      Because I got my Master’s on the astrophysics track, I am an astrophysicist. I don’t know how I can say it any plainer.

      “And from what you replied earlier I basically have this as what I have planned to do. Get accepted and take courses in physics to obtain a bachelors degree. With that try to get accepted into Swinburne to get a masters degree the same as you. Then get accepted into getting my phd from another university? What could you get with just your masters degree? people say you basically NEED a phd. is it expensive?”

      Again, Swinburne does NOT have an astrophysics track for their Master’s. Assuming you have either a Master of Astronomy in astrophysics from a school that offers one or a Master of Science in physics, then you would apply to some university’s astrophysics PhD program.

      With a Master’s degree (assuming it is in astrophysics), you can teach or there are a few research jobs that require no more than that, but those research jobs are not plentiful. You will need a PhD to have more real research job opportunities. Yes, the tuition for a PhD is expensive.

      I hope this helps.

      Regards,
      Rick

      Delete
    2. BTW: I am doing scientific research related to my PhD online, not "taking courses" for my PhD online. Getting a PhD does not involve courses.

      Delete
  42. Hi Rick Boozer,
    I will be thankful if you give this information that is online Phd in Astronomy being still offered by JCU.
    I have applied for online phd in astronomy at James Cook Uni this month but I have got the following email from head of Astronomy department Dr. Andrew Walsh:


    "Thankyou for your enquiry into our program.
    Unfortunately, JCU has decided to close the astronomy program here. I am
    hopeful that we can move our business to another university in Australia,
    but there is nothing certain at this stage. So I cannot offer anything. What
    I can do is add your name to a list of potential students and if/when we
    manage to move to a new university, I can contact you."

    Do you know some other uni where this phd program is being offered if JCU has stopped it.

    Regards

    ReplyDelete
  43. Hi Sarah,

    As you know, I am in the middle of PhD at JCU, but the Centre of Astronomy is moving to another university. I don't know what university it is moving to yet. It could be a year before I know where the Centre is moving. When I find out I will post the information here.

    At this time, I don't know of another online PhD in Astronomy program.
    Regards,
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  44. Hi Rick,

    Thank you for this information and that you will post here the information when you come to know where the centre of Astronomy is moving.

    Kind Regards

    ReplyDelete
  45. I think the Ph.D. program at JCU has moved to University of Southern Queensland. I live in the United States and have a BSc. in Astronomy, and within four months will have completed a MSc. in Space Studies (with thesis) from the University of North Dakota. My main question about pursuing the Ph.D. program at Southern Queensland deals with accreditation. Is the Ph.D. program a fully accredited degree within the United States - i.e. does the United States department of higher education formally recognize this degree? If it does not, then, even though the student successfully completes the program, then he could not claim the title of Dr. Also, why do the requirements state that only 24 units are required. Ph.D. programs in the US require anywhere from 66 to 90 semester units. I will have completed 49 semester units on completion of my Masters of Science degree from the University of North Dakota.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Anonymous,
    You said, "I think the Ph.D. program at JCU has moved to University of Southern Queensland."
    Did you see the notice I recently put at the beginning of the article:
    "ATTENTION: Since this article was written, the Centre of Astronomy has moved from James Cook University to the University of Southern Queensland. People interested in obtaining a Master's degree as described in this article should apply at USQ."

    As for your statement:
    "My main question about pursuing the Ph.D. program at Southern Queensland deals with accreditation. Is the Ph.D. program a fully accredited degree within the United States - i.e. does the United States department of higher education formally recognize this degree?"
    You would have World Education Services evaluate the degree and declare it equivalent to a U.S. PhD, then it will be recognized as such in the U.S. A W.E.S. evaluation is what U.S. institutions and businesses go by when determining whether a foreign PhD is equivalent to a U.S. PhD. There is no reason why W.E.S. would not evaluate it as such because USQ is regionally accredited in Australia and the amount of research work and the advanced level of work you would do would be similar to what you would have to do get a PhD in the U.S.

    " why do the requirements state that only 24 units are required. Ph.D. programs in the US require anywhere from 66 to 90 semester units."
    Normally more than 24 units are required to get into the USQ (formerly JCU) PhD program. Almost ALL Students have to go on after the Master of Astronomy to get more hours in the Doctor of Astronomy program before they are allowed into the PhD program. In very UNUSUAL circumstances an MoA graduate who is deemed exceptional may be allowed into the PhD program immediately after they get their MoA, but that is very rare. I am one of those rare exceptions.

    "I will have completed 49 semester units on completion of my Masters of Science degree from the University of North Dakota."
    If you want to get an advanced research PhD in Astronomy or Astrophysics, then Space Studies was not the route to go. The space studies degree is a general spaceflight industry related degree dealing with spaceflight and similar issues. It might be good if you wanted to get a job at SpaceX or ULA, but not for an advanced astrophysics PhD degree.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Anonymous,

    I know sour grapes when I hear it. The last comment you posted that I deleted was petty and immature.

    It appears you didn't read my article, because you have a number of severe misconceptions. I don't have time to cover all of your inaccurate perceptions, but here is an example. Though the Centre of Astronomy does not have formally stated entry requirements as far as mathematics are concerned for the Master of Astronomy, students are informed at the beginning of the first course that they will be expected to be proficient in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, spherical trigonometry, vector mathematics, differential calculus and integral calculus. For those that are deficient in these skills, there are a number of learning resources that they are told about and given access to. The first semester course requires very little mathematics more advanced than algebra and geometry. By the time they reach the Galactic Astronomy and Cosmology course, those who have not progressed to more advanced math will be in a world of hurt. Even before that stage, a number of students will drop out after they see that it is more difficult than they anticipated.

    BTW, do you know that the Director of the western division of the U.S. Naval Observatory has a Masters, Doctorate, and PhD from the Centre of Astronomy when it was at JCU?

    Bye.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Hi Rick,

    I very much enjoyed your article. I have been interested in astronomy for a very long time now, and am planning on obtaining a degree in the field. I will be graduating with my engineering degree in May, and I have accepted a full time position that I plan on sticking with for a couple of years. I have a quick question for you. Do you think it would be possible to obtain the Master of Astronomy from USQ while working full time? I am not worried about obtaining the degree right away, so I would plan on the "part time" track. Since you have taken the courses, if I took one or two a semester could I still have somewhat of a social life?

    Also, with regards to the courses themselves, how long do the semesters last? Since they are online, would I be able to work on them in the evenings or would I have to "attend" class at certain times?

    Again, thank you for the wonderful article, you have provided a lot of information for someone in my position.

    Regards

    ReplyDelete
  49. Hi Anonymous2?

    You evidently aren't the previous commenter under Anonymous. Sorry I didn't reply sooner, but the last couple of days I've been in a remote mountain cabin with no internet access.

    "Do you think it would be possible to obtain the Master of Astronomy from USQ while working full time?"
    Yes. In fact most of my classmates did so.

    "Since you have taken the courses, if I took one or two a semester could I still have somewhat of a social life?"
    A social life with a full time job and one course may be doable. With two? That would be very difficult.

    "Also, with regards to the courses themselves, how long do the semesters last?"
    February until June and August until November.

    "Since they are online, would I be able to work on them in the evenings or would I have to "attend" class at certain times?"
    The lectures are put online for you to download at midnight UT on Monday, then you go over them and work on the assignments whenever you like. However, the due date is always midnight UT on the following Monday.

    BTW, so that I can distinguish between commenters, please choose the Name/URL option instead of Anonymous (You are only required to type your name under this option. A URL is optional). It is alright if you use a pseudonym, but I would prefer real names.

    I appreciate the kind words about the article and I am very glad to be of help.

    Regards,
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  50. Rick,

    Than you for answering my questions (I was "Anonymous2"). I am going to look further into this option, and you have cleared up a lot of questions through the article and your other comments. I have also checked out some of your other sites as well and have enjoyed the plethora of information you have provided in them.

    Thanks again, I may be in touch with you again in the future.

    Greg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're more than welcome, Greg. I will be glad to hear from you in the future.

      Delete
  51. Hi Rick,

    I'm so happy I came across your site- reading it has been incredibly helpful and inspiring! I'm sure I'm going to have a bunch of questions when I look into grad school with more depth, but I have one for now. I've been considering USQ and Swinburne, but have been searching for something equivalent in the US. Do you know of any Masters programs in the US that are equivalent to the astronomy (non-technical) route? Astronomy has been my passion since I was a kid, but it wasn't until I majored in it in undergrad that I realized physics is not for me!

    I appreciate any thoughts and can't tell you how thankful I am you have this page.

    Amanda

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Amanda,
      I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

      If you are talking about an online astronomy master's astronomy program in the U.S., then I don't know of one (either technical or nontechnical). Even the Swinburne program is going to require some math and physics. There should be some domestic universities that offer on-campus courses that are so deep into the physics.

      If you are interested in spaceflight related issues there is an online Master of Space Studies from the University of North Dakota that you might look into. You can go all the way to a PhD with that one in a way you can't with Swinburne. The degree wouldn't be in astronomy, but it would at least be space related.

      Sorry I can't be of more help. I wish you luck!

      Rick

      Delete
  52. Thanks for the reply. I'll keep searching- maybe broaden it to space studies. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  53. Hi Rick:

    your story about you fullfilling your life dream is inspirational.

    I have a question. I am a MD with and my speciality is gynecology and obstetrics. Now i have work for more than 20 years as a phisician but my life dream is becoming an astronomer. The question is: i live in Costa Rica, do you think that is posible to attend this carrer from here?
    thanks!
    ps: My name is Randall

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Randall,

      Since you already have a degree above bachelor level, you should be able to get your Master's through the Centre of Astronomy if you have demonstrated intense interest, capability and involvement in astronomy over the years.

      However, judging from your written comment, you will need to improve your English language writing skills. Given that there are a lot of written assignments and there are also research projects which require clearly worded explanatory papers, proficiency in such skills is essential. I assume you are proficient in mathematics; if not, you should brush up on that as well.

      Good luck.

      Rick

      Delete
  54. I will brush up my english and i hope in some years i will speak with you as an astronomer
    Thank you very much

    ReplyDelete
  55. Hi.
    Do you know if the degree from university of southern queensland is an astronomy track or astrophysics track?

    Regards!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi.
      I assume you are talking about the Master's degree. If that is the case, all I can tell you is that when it was at JCU, you chose your track (either history or astrophysics). I am in the PhD program at Southern Queensland, so I cannot answer your question. I'm sorry I can't tell you any more than that. I suggest you contact the Centre for Astronomy and Atmospherics at USQ. Here's a link http://www.usq.edu.au/sciences/studyareas/astronomy/contact

      Delete
  56. Thanks.
    Congratulations for your achievements!

    ReplyDelete
  57. Thank you. Just what I am looking for. Currently semi-retired. Just bought a beautiful dark sky site in California for stargazing, but would like to build on my undergrad degree for more theoretical background. Some thoughts of a Ph.D, but I have one in Finance already. The Japanese have a saying "A wise man climbs Fuji once. Only a fool does it twice." That's rather how I feel about Ph.Ds.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Rick,
    Thanks very much for your blog and all the inside information about JCU and Swinburne. I also have been a huge fan of astronomy since I was a little boy. I initially majored in college in Astrophysics, but the math requirements (and non-supportive math teachers) dissuaded me to my next interest - Environmental Science (which I now have 20 years of experience and a B.S. and Masters degree in that same field). I have kept up with all the latest astronomy discoveries, read all the magazines and keep up with the current research (journal articles, etc..). Thankfully, the Science channel also has a lot of Astronomy / Cosmology shows (and my young son is hooked as well).
    I have been looking at the JCU / Swinburne - Astronomy Masters Degree option for a number of years now and have continously heard negative comments from others (colleagues) regarding external USA degrees as well as "online degrees", so its refreshing to see so much positive background information given by you.

    Also, I have a wife that is very supportive and incredibly patient and PUSHES me to finish what I started (that is how I finally finished my Masters degree).

    I currently teach college level classes (Adjunct) for the last few years and I think its time to finally realize my dream of getting a degree in Astronomy and potentially start teaching it (college level) as well.

    Have you come across many JCU/Swinburne Graduate degree recipients teaching college level classes in USA? Do you see any potential problems with teaching Astronomy in the Southwest part of the US, with a JCU/Swinburne Masters degree?

    Thanks again for all your time and help to ALL of us that read your blog.

    Zac

    ReplyDelete
  59. Rick

    Thanks for the updated information. I have seen the USQ online option (recently) and wasn't sure about the status of that program or its accredited status (for USA). My biggest worry is not being able to teach Astronomy in the U.S.

    However, from what you have posted, am I to understand that USQ offers a Masters AND PhD in Astronomy (utilizing distance / online options) ??

    thanks again,
    Zac

    ReplyDelete
  60. Hi Zac,

    The only MoA graduate that I have kept in contact with from my JCU days (and then rarely) is Jack Howard. He is the chair of the Physical Sciences Department at Rowan-Cabarrus College in North Carolina. He also teaches astronomy courses there.

    I have heard second hand that some people have gotten college teaching jobs via the Swinburne degree, but I don't directly know of anyone who has.

    As I mentioned in the update at the beginning of this article, the Centre of Astronomy has moved from JCU to the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).

    Though both JCU and Swinburne are fully accredited state universities in Australia,
    U.S. graduates should have their degree certified as an equivalent to a U.S. Master of Astronomy degree by World Educational Services (WES) as I did. This service costs around $200. However, I have heard that USQ already has American accreditation which was granted to them because a fairly large number of U.S. military personnel and veterans get degrees online from them. Because of that, I believe that getting the WES certification for a USQ degree is unnecessary, though it probably wouldn't hurt.

    Hope this helps.

    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  61. Hi again, Zac.
    For some reason, your second comment was deleted when I edited my first comment. But I'll reply to your second comment anyway which was:
    "Thanks for the updated information. I have seen the USQ online option (recently) and wasn't sure about the status of that program or its accredited status (for USA). My biggest worry is not being able to teach Astronomy in the U.S.

    However, from what you have posted, am I to understand that USQ offers a Masters AND PhD in Astronomy (utilizing distance / online options) ??

    thanks again,
    Zac"
    The answer is yes, but I think they replaced the DoA step between MoA and PhD with a Master of Science degree.
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. BTW, I am in USQ's PhD program now.
      Rick

      Delete
  62. It does help, Thank you so much! I will focus all my future efforts to USQ and start on my Masters in Astronomy first and then proceed towards the PhD option after that (just like you are doing). I hope to "retire" in 10 years, then teach at the local college/university during my remaining years.

    Of course, many of my friends are pushing me to get a terminal degree in Environmental Science, but I keep thinking over the last 20 years, that I have yearned to be an Astronomer (and/or teach Astronomy). Either PhD path that I choose, my wife will support me either way.

    Thanks again,
    Zac

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    Replies
    1. Zac,
      There is something you need to understand that I mentioned in the article. They don't allow most people to go directly from MoA to the PhD program. Only rarely is this done for people who they deem exceptional. You may be such a person, but most people have to go through the middle degree first.

      Delete
  63. Rick

    I don't think I will be as exceptional as you are (in the degree obtaining process). Yes, I do remember reading that and didnt quite understand what a "middle degree" represents (or what is equivalent degree in the States)? I am trying to understand the overall process compared to how the USA does academics.

    thanks for your patience AND help !

    Zac

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At JCU, the middle degree between the Master of Astronomy and the PhD program was the Doctor of Astronomy degree. Apparently, at USQ, it is the Master of Science degree.

      Delete
  64. Thank you. After I asked that previous question, I did some more thinking and digging and found that the Master of Science (USQ website) was what you were probably talking about. Since I have a Masters degree already (science based), I would probably need to get another Master of Science (Astronomy focus) from USQ and then proceed to the PhD (research degree), as you are doing....but one thing at a time. I also need to brush up on my Math as I have not taken Trig/Cal in nearly 20 years or use it at work. Advanced Multivariate Quant. Stats is about as high in "math" that we use at work, day in / day out.

    Again, Thank you for your time and explaining all this....sorry for the endless questions as I hope that I am not wasting your time. I really appreciate your patience.

    -Zac

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    Replies
    1. No problem, Zac. I posted the article to be of help to people like you.

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  65. Hmmm...I just submitted my last paper. For the MoA I stared at JCU and the last two courses I took at USQ. The only difference I see in the MsC astro and the degree I just (hopefully) finished are some basic classes up front...they both terminate with 2 research courses. We'll see wht USQ says when I start to inquire about the PhD but I doubt they would make me repeat the same courses over just because I didn't take the basic classes up front.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sherman,

      Thanks for the info. I was just making an educated guess about the next step after MoA based on my JCU experience. But I would think that it would still be the case that only people who performed at an exceptionally high level in the MoA program are considered for the PhD. You may be one of those rare cases. On the other hand, it may be that they have dropped the middle degree requirement, and now allow anyone who had fairly high grades for MoA to try for the PhD program. I must admit, I will be very surprised if the latter situation is true. I would be interested to know what you find out.

      You should know that even those allowed to apply for the PhD program must still be vetted via a one year Completion of Candidature program that terminates in an extensive research paper and only those who successfully complete that extensive preliminary research (which would build the foundation for their follow-on PhD project) are allowed to actually begin their PhD project. This was true even for those who had completed the middle degree under the old program. I had to do it before I was allowed to begin my first formal year of scientific research toward my PhD. I understand this is the standard procedure everywhere.

      Again, the extra information is appreciated.

      Rick

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  66. Rick
    In your estimation (or experience), what is the "better" program to obtain a Masters in Astronomy (University of Southern Queensland or Swinburne University); specifically if I plan on teaching community college in the United states (or Canada). Which program would carry more "weight".
    You had mentioned, in one of your previous posts, that USQ had already been accredited in USA (due to military staff taking so many classes at USQ) and I have read that a few Swinburne graduates teach community college in USA (various locations). However, based on your experience / interaction with USQ / Swinburne, which program would be better recieved in USA (colleges)?

    Thanks so much,
    Zac

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    Replies
    1. Hi Zac,
      Of the two Swinburne is the most well known. I suppose if your sole focus is teaching community college and you don't plan to do advanced scientific research, that may be the best course for you (if nothing else because I believe the tuition may be cheaper).
      Cheers,
      Rick

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  67. Rick

    Thank you for that information! It is good to know that Swinburne is better "known" (as i didnt know that) in academic circles. I dont think (at this time), that I will plan on getting a PhD in Astronomy. If I do, it will be much later (when I "retire" in 20 years). During the interim, I hope to continue to teach at the community college level (and hopefully add Astronomy teaching within the next few years). As you have stated on the math requirements, I still need to brush up on my Calculus and other advanced Math, so I dont get "stuck" or fall behind as I pursue my Masters of Astronomy. Can you provide a short list of specific Math classes (starting at Calculus) that would be beneficial (or necessary) to have "under your belt" before staring a MoA? You had stated in your original first post, these topics need to be well understood:

    ".....algebra, geometry, trigonometry, spherical trigonometry, vector mathematics, differential calculus and integral calculus".

    Would all of these topics be covered in Calculus 1 & 2 only or other advanced Math classes that I am unaware of?

    I just want to make sure that I cover "all the bases", before embarking on an MoA.

    Thanks again
    Zac

    ReplyDelete
  68. Zac,

    That list covers it. Would all of them be covered in Calculus 1 & 2? No, it is required that you have all the others first before you can understand Calculus.

    Cheers,
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
  69. Thanks. I think I have taken all of those in the past and understand them (just need to brush up on them), EXCEPT Spherical Trig. I have never taken anything like that (from what I remember). I need to break open the old Trig./ Cal books and get a refresher! do you have any suggestions for classes/ books to learn Spherical Trig?

    From what I read, alot of these harder Math concepts are necessary in the later / harder classes for the MoA degree ? Meaning: I can start the MoA and take one or two of the begining classes, while brushing up on my harder Math requirements at the same time, to get ready for the last few classes offered (the hardest ones - Math based)? Does that make sense of what I am asking ?

    Thanks again,
    Zac

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    Replies
    1. Hi Zac,

      Don't know of any separate books on spherical trig. It's usually in a book with other stuff.

      As for the remainder of your comment. All of your assumptions are correct.

      Good luck!

      Rick

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  70. Hi Rick,

    So you are doing/did a PhD also at James Cook University? How were you able to do a PhD by distance?

    Regards,

    Gage

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    Replies
    1. Hi Gage,
      The program transferred to the University of Southern Queensland. Because of financial difficulties I am currently experiencing, I just withdrew from the program.
      For details on how such a PhD program is conducted, I suggest you go to USQ's website. http://www.usq.edu.au/

      Delete
    2. Hi Rick,
      Sorry to hear about that.

      I just wonder from your experience, even though you aren't doing it anymore, how you actually were able to do a PhD by distance? For example how were you able to do research and have access to the right tools, when you weren't actually personally present at a unibersity? Thanks

      Delete
    3. Hi Gage,

      The professional software tools were free and easy to come by. Though they were sophisticated and took some time to learn to use.

      I will not lie to you. The distance and being in a separate timezone do make a difference. I got really good evaluations from my PhD advisor who is one of the top radio astrophysicists in the world, but I think I could have made a lot more progress had we physically been in each other's presence. Sometimes large amounts of time would be wasted by one of us not understanding what the other was talking about with something that could have been resolved in minutes in each other's presence.

      I felt it was taking years longer that it would have under normal circumstances and thus costing me more than it should (even though the tuition was much less than normal, it is still a lot of money). Another consideration was that I needed to make sure some health issues I have could be financially addressed. I also felt it was unfair to my wife to continue to use our funds for that purpose under such circumstances.

      Anyway the distance issue was not as much of a problem in the earlier masters program where everything was more thoroughly laid out and I could consult with fellow students.

      Delete
  71. Hi, I have to say I was really moved by the journey that you have taken. I have always wanted to study astrophysics. My primary degree is in applied physics but I never studied further. After reading this I have gone straight to the website and applied for the program and now going through the process to see if I can accepted. Thanks for the post it really was a movtivational factor and a kick up the ass to get my dream going again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi,

      You are most welcome. You are the kind of person I wrote the article for. I wish you well on your new academic journey.

      Keep in touch. Feel free to friend me on Facebook, if you would like.

      Rick Boozer, MoA in astrophysics
      member of the Space Development Steering Committee
      author of The Plundering of NASA: an Exposé
      moderator of Astro Maven blog

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  72. Hello,
    My name is Nebojsa Sarac. I'm interesting does it write on your diploma MoA that you recive it online. Is it "says" it 's online?

    Regards,
    Nebojsa

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    Replies
    1. Hi Nebojsa,

      No, it does not say that. It is the same diploma that someone who attended on the university campus would get. However, I suggest you greatly improve your English skills before you attempt it.

      Rick Boozer, MoA in astrophysics
      member of the Space Development Steering Committee
      author of The Plundering of NASA: an Exposé
      moderator of Astro Maven blog

      Delete