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AAO Student Fellowship Program

Applications for AAO Student Fellowships are currently closed.
We will begin accepting applications for the December 2014 - February 2015 program from 1 August 2014.

Student Poster
How to apply
Frequently asked questions
Astronomy Research at the AAO
Words of encouragement
Other Astronomy Studentships in Australia
Return to AAO Home Page


Opportunities exist for undergraduate students who have completed not less than 2 years of full time course work in Astronomy, Astrophysics, Applied Physics, Engineering, Mathematics or related subjects to work at the Australian Astronomical Observatory on research projects under the individual supervision of AAO staff astronomers. In addition to astronomical research, a major part of the Observatory's core business is astronomical instrumentation for optical/infrared telescopes, and studentships are available in this area as well. This provides good opportunities for students who seek experience in photonics, electronics, software, mechanical and systems engineering, and benefits from the AAO's close ties to astrophotonics research groups at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney.

Historically the AAO Student Fellowship program (akin to internship programs elsewhere) has catered primarily to UK students during their summer break (the Australian winter), and to Australian students during their summer break. However, the AAO is keen to expand participation to undergraduate students from any country who can fit the program in to their academic calendar. Student Fellowships are available for 10 to 12 weeks in the period mid June to mid September, and for 10 to 12 weeks in the period December to February.

The stipend is A$700 per week.

For students from outside the Sydney area, airfares to and from the AAO and accommodation costs wil be the responsibility of the student, though non-financial assistance for international students will be provided with Visiting Academic visas and with finding accommodation.

Scholars will be selected on academic merit, the candidate's statement, and on the recommendation of their academic referees.

The AAO headquarters is located in North Ryde, a suburb approximately 16 km from the centre of Sydney. A field trip is arranged to visit the telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory.

How to Apply

Applications are required to be sent by e-mail. Please send your application as a single Word or PDF document attachment to the AAO Student Fellowship Coordinator, A.Prof. Andrew Hopkins (ahopkins -@- aao.gov.au). The application should include the following:

  • Full name and contact address (it is essential to include an e-mail address).
  • Full details of university studies, including a transcript of academic record. If your university supplies only hardcopy transcripts, please scan it and send us the JPEG or PDF file. If you cannot obtain a full transcript, an unofficial transcript as an electronic document from your institution is acceptable.
  • Names and e-mail addresses of TWO academic referees who have been asked to e-mail letters to A.Prof. Hopkins by the application deadline, outlining the applicant's suitability for this scholarship program. The AAO does not chase up late referees, and missing references can hinder your chances of selection.
  • A one page statement giving the applicant's reasons for applying and their interests in Astronomy/Astrophysics/Instrumentation. If you have prior research experience, computing skills, or other skills associated with astronomy or research, please emphasise these.
  • A short resume (2-3 pages) is optional, but often helpful, to provide as well.

Some tips for consideration when preparing your application:

Consider that most students apply because of an interest in astronomy (long-held, or recent) and in many cases a desire to make a career in the field. Your statement should aim to differentiate you, by highlighting your particular skills, interests or strengths, not merely your desire or aspirations. Awards or other recognition of your skills or abilities should be mentioned as evidence of your impact.

Many of our successful applicants in recent times have some prior exposure to research projects, either structured as part of their university degrees, or through other vacation programs such as this one. If you have existing skills in computing (programming languages, astronomical software), or prior research experience (especially any published journal papers), these should be mentioned explicitly in your application.

When requesting letters from your referees, mention explicitly to them that a letter that speaks to your skills in, or potential for, research will carry much more weight than a letter that merely describes your performance in an undergraduate class. A letter that can refer to specific examples where you demonstrate such skill or potential is stronger than one that gives only generalities, as well.

Closing date for winter (June - Sep) Fellowship applicants:           15 February

Closing date for summer (Dec - Feb) Fellowship applicants:          31 August

Frequently asked Questions

How soon may I apply before the deadline?
Please restrict your application to no sooner than 1 month before the official deadline.

When may we expect to hear about placements?
Offers will normally be sent out within 2-3 weeks of the application deadline.

How many placements are there?
Typically, we can offer up to 3 places for both winter and summer programs.

May I apply by post or by fax?
If absolutely necessary then yes you may, although you should email A.Prof. Andrew Hopkins at ahopkins -@- aao.gov.au to indicate that you have done this. Our fax number is +61 2 9372 4880.

Does a studentship improve my chances for a PhD place?
We find that most students go on to PhDs in a physical science discipline, most of those in astronomy & astrophysics.

Do I get to choose my supervisor?
In general, no. This really depends on who is available to supervise a student. Don't forget that astronomers travel a lot to exotic locations and we need one that is in residence during the time frame of the studentship.

Do I get to choose my research project?
In general, no, although existing experience and preferences are taken into account in matching students to projects and supervisors. The supervisor will identify a compact project that will educate the student about the research process and reinforce the attractiveness of astronomy as a rewarding career. Sometimes, this work leads on to a publication in an astronomy journal.

Astronomy Research at the AAO

AAO astronomers are active in many areas of research. A list of current AAO research staff and their interests, as well as a sample of research projects on offer to Honours and PhD students, is available.

Words of Encouragement


So let me encourage you to apply for one of our studentships. You will find the AAO a very friendly and congenial environment. Students play a crucial role in research. We will give you an interesting and topical science project to carry out. Sometimes, this work is of sufficient quality that it leads to a published paper in a refereed journal.

We will encourage you to go on to a research career in astronomy. Most of our past students do just that. In fact, many of the AAO staff have come through programs just like this one!

Being an Astronomer

What makes someone a good astronomer? First, a good grasp of physics and computers really helps, and of course mathematical modelling and analysis. Second, a genuine love for astronomy and/or instrumentation helps too. You will find most astronomers to be highly motivated and passionate about their work.  Modern astronomy draws on many sub-disciplines. Well known astronomers were originally trained in fields as diverse as optics, nuclear physics, low temperature physics, electrical engineering, chemistry, biology, and even linguistics!

Career Path

Another question we are frequently asked is "what is a 'typical' career path in astronomical research?" The PhD typically lasts 4 to 5 years. After that, an astronomer looks to take one or two postdoctoral positions each lasting 2 to 3 years. With luck, the astronomer will then find a long-term or permanent position at an Observatory or on the faculty of a University. You may need to wait a few decades for your first Nobel prize...

Other Astronomy Studentships in Australia

The AAO Student Fellowships program is extremely competitive - we typically receive 10 times more applications than there are studentships. For those who miss out, there are a number of similar programs operated by institutions throughout Australia you may wish to consider. You can see a list of these programs on the Astronomy Studentships in Australasia webpage.