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Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Predoctoral Program, USA



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The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) Predoctoral Program welcomes applications throughout the year from current graduate students pursuing thesis research in astrophysics or related fields. Applicants in theory, observation, instrument development, or laboratory experiments at a university or college are strongly encouraged to apply to this program that accepts applications on a rolling admissions basis. Online applications are due 6 WEEKS BEFORE THE INTENDED APPOINTMENT START DATE. For application instructions and a login to the application, please see the Admissions page.

Started in 1985, the Program has welcomed graduate students from universities around the world interested in carrying out all or part of their research under the guidance of SAO Scientists.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics creates a rich environment for collaborations among future colleagues by bringing together over 300 SAO scientists across a broad spectrum of scientific endeavors in nearly all areas related to astronomy, including: atomic and molecular physics, geophysics and atmospheric physics, the solar system, solar physics, planetary systems, the interstellar medium, stars and star formation, supernovae, compact objects, galaxies, extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.

Facilities include the MMT Observatory, Magellan, and other optical and infrared telescopes; radio telescopes, especially the Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea, Hawaii; a large Beowulf cluster and network of workstations; a number of specialized laboratories; an outstanding library system; and access to data from a wide range of space missions, especially the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Requirements: The SAO Predoctoral Program is designed for graduate students wishing to carry out all or part of their thesis research at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Therefore, applicants must have completed preliminary coursework and examinations prior to the start of the SAO Predoctoral Program. Applicants must gain approval of the Department Head of their particular university as their degrees will be granted by their home institutions. For application instructions and a login to the application, please see the Admissions page.

Choosing an Advisor: All applications to the Fellowship Program are required to list the SAO scientist who has agreed to serve as a sponsor for each proposed research project. Applicants must directly contact SAO scientists in their particular research areas.


  • A full list of potential advisors is listed here.
  • A partial list of predoctoral project openings is available.
  • The consent form for potential advisors is available here.

Length of the Award: The SAO Predoctoral Fellowship is awarded for a period of six months or more dependent on the project. It is possible to renew or extend a SAO Predoctoral Fellowship Award based on the availability of funding, satisfactory progress, and the agreement of both the home institution advisor and the SAO advisor.

Start Date: The Program accepts applications through a rolling admissins process. Once a start date is established with the SAO Advisor, the applicant must submit application material 6 weeks before he/she intends to begin their appointment.

Compensation: Stipends for the current academic year are $31,284. Funds may also be available for relocation, travel, and other expenses.

Predoc Research Review Committee: In order to support and evaluate the research work of each predoctoral candidate while in residence at SAO, a Predoctoral Research Review Committee (PRRC) is established for each SAO predoc consisting of three members. Each predoctoral candidate presents their work annually to their committee for review and discussion. The evaluation form is available here.

Fellowship Program Office/Contact Information

The Fellowship Program Office is located in Room B-218 on the Observatory grounds at 60 Garden Street in Cambridge.

Mailing and Contact Information:

Ms. Christine Crowley
Fellowship Program Coordinator
MS 67
60 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Telephone: (617) 495-7103
Fax: (617) 496-7589

Help with Specific Questions

Division Administrators (or their designees) handle many of the administrative support details for visiting fellows and scientists. Please check with them for help with any work-related issues. For questions on the provisions of your award or tax status, contact Christine Crowley. In some cases, you can go directly to your Advisor. If you are unsure of whom to ask, contact the Fellowship Program Coordinator.


The program is open to US citizens and Non-US citizens. Applicants whose native language is not English are expected to have the ability to write and converse fluently in English. All application materials must be presented in English (foreign transcripts may be translated).

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