Dear First-Year Students,

Welcome to UMD Astronomy! I met many of you in the Spring, but thought that it would be useful to introduce myself to the rest of you -- Doug Hamilton, Graduate Director -- and to give you some information about registering for courses in the fall. By now you should have received a large package of information about U. Maryland Astronomy and forms to fill out from the Astronomy Main Office. The great thing about graduate courses is that they do not ever fill up, so you can register as late as August 28 just before the semester begins. There are some good reasons to register early (potential VISA issues, deferring student loans, access to the gym and pool on campus) and some reasons to delay (student fees are due immediately after you register).

In any case, you do want to be thinking about which courses to take. In Fall 2012, the Astronomy Department offers the following courses:

ASTR601 Radiative Processes
ASTR630 Planetary Science
ASTR670 Interstellar Medium
ASTR695 Introduction to Research (1 credit)
ASTR699 Research, section 0801 (1 credit)

All of you are required to sign up for ASTR695, which is a one-credit course that covers some basic computer programming skill and where you'll learn about the research that we do in the department. The course meets once a week and there are no assignments or tests. See for more details (there are some useful links there too).

You also need to take Radiative Processes (ASTR601), which is a prerequisite for all of our other courses.

You should also sign up for our ASTR699 research course for 1 credit to maintain part-time status (and lower student fees).

Taking two solid courses, along with ASTR695, ASTR699, and a TA-ship, is a pretty full load. So you need just one more course to add to ASTR601! How should you decide? Choose the course of greatest interest to you, but also pay attention to our requirements. At some point in your studies, you will need to take either Instrumentation (ASTR610) or Computation (ASTR615). Similarly, you are also required to take at least one of Galaxies (ASTR620) and Planetary Science (ASTR630). All five of these courses cover content that will appear on the qualifying exam that you will take at the end of your second year. Instrumentation will be offered in the Spring and Computation will be offered next fall. Many students take both courses of a given pair, counting one toward the requirement and the second as an elective.

Most of you will take one of the following combos in Fall 2012: (ASTR601, ASTR630, ASTR695, and ASTR699) or (ASTR601, ASTR670, ASTR695, and ASTR699). But you might also want to consider taking a class from another department (e.g. Physics) - many of these count as an elective class toward your degree. You might also consider taking three classes, although it is safest to start with two in the fall semester. If you do want to consider three classes, let me know and I will put you in touch with a recent three-class survivor!

Drop me an email when you start thinking about classes; I need to hear from you before you will be cleared to register. But there is no rush - I'll be available to meet with you Monday and Tuesday Aug. 27 and 28 if you wish to wait to register until you are actually here. Have a great summer and I am looking forward to seeing you all when you arrive in the fall!


Doug Hamilton
Graduate Director