Congratulations for surviving your second year of graduate school! So what does the Astronomy Department have in store for you next? Well, first you are all cordially invited to the annual and very exclusive Qualifier Event that we host each August. The Qualifier will be graded and the results discussed at a Faculty meeting that will occur on a Monday in early-to-mid September. You should each receive a personalized letter discussing your results shortly thereafter.
During the third year you should all be doing full-time directed thesis research with the advisor of your choice. During the academic year, you should register for ASTR898 (2 credits) with your research advisor. Most of you will probably continue on with your Second-Year Project advisor, but moving on to something new is also OK. Please come talk to me if you are uncertain about what sort of research you want to do next. And if you don't like research and/or don't have a research advisor yet definitely come talk to me!
Once you pass your qualifier, the Astronomy Department will be pleased to offer you all Master's Degrees at the end of the fall semester. You need a total of 30 credits (eight 3-credit courses, two 2-credit ASTR699 from Year 2, and two 1-credit courses ASTR695 and ASTR699 from your first year should do it). You also need a scholarly paper (you knew that Second-Year Project would be good for something!). While the Master's Degree is not a necessary prerequisite for a Ph.D., the extra effort to get the Master's is minimal, and I strongly recommend that you all go for it! There are a couple of forms that you need to fill out early in the semester so that the degrees can be conferred at December graduation. If one of you can locate the deadlines and forms (ask a Fourth-Year!) and let me know, I'll pass the info on to the rest of the group.
This spring, and for all future springs while you are with us, you'll be giving a short 20-min presentation and a 2-3 page research summary to your thesis committee detailing your research progress to date and your plans for the next year. Those of you who have your Ph.D. theses reasonably scoped out already may, with your advisor's approval, substitute your Thesis Proposal Defense for this annual update. If so, jump ahead to my "Dear Fourth-Year Students" letter at http://www.astro.umd.edu/~hamilton/teaching/ASTR695fall11/Year4.html.