Astronomy at Williams

The Astronomy/Astrophysics majors are designed to build your knowledge of astronomy, such as how galaxies form and how astronomers study the Sun, as well as build relevant skills, such as problem solving, data analysis, and working in a group. Whether you are interested in a career in astronomy, or just want to spend a semester learning more about the Universe, we are happy to help you navigate the course options and the major.


  • See our pages on the Astronomy major and the Astrophysics major to learn more about the major requirements.
  • See our courses page to learn more about our course offerings. 
  • See our Astronomy after Williams page, as well as our listing of graduates, to learn more about career paths for students who major in Astronomy and Astrophysics, including teaching (high school or college), research scientist positions, graduate school (in Astronomy, physics, computer science, etc.), business/finance, law, software engineering, etc.
  • See our Faculty page to learn more about our faculty, and to reach out to us. See our Majors page, to learn who is/was a part of our department. 
  • Astronomy as a Field: A Guide for Aspiring Astrophysicists: An overview of how the universe is studied within astronomy, including different fields of research, different methods of study, and how to get involved in astronomy.


What if I need help?

Everyone comes to Williams with different levels of prior experience with astronomy/physics/math, including many with no pre-college experience with astronomy. We are here to help all of you learn about the wonders of the Universe! Feel free to come talk to us at any time if you need help. Observatory TAs are also available to help every Monday through Thursday during the semester for tutoring (see your course syllabus, or contact Dr. Flaherty, for their hours of availability). College resources, such as the Math and Science Resource center, and the Writing Center can also help students build skills that are relevant for astronomy courses. 


How do I get involved in research at Williams? 

During the first Friday of the spring semester, the faculty in astronomy and physics present the research projects for which they are looking for students. Some of these projects are designed for senior-thesis students, and some are designed for less-experienced students. Students should then contact faculty who they would be interested in working with, and after discussing specific projects, relay the list of faculty who they are interested in working with to the appropriate department chair. We are excited to work with all students, although, when opportunities are limited, we give preference to more senior students.


How do I get involved in research/internships outside of Williams?

In addition to research opportunities at Williams, there are many research and internship opportunities around the country for undergraduate students. The NSF has a list of Astronomy Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) Sites across the country. The American Astronomical Society also maintains a list of summer programs, including internships and summer camps. AstroBetter also maintains a list of summer internships, including opportunities outside of the US. Astrobites, a reader’s digest about recent astronomy research written by graduate students, has guides on getting started in undergraduate research, and making the most of REU season.  Our students and faculty also participate in the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC), a collection of liberal arts colleges in the northeast that host a distributed REU program during the summer, as well as a student-led research symposium in the fall, which all students are encouraged to attend. 


What about a senior thesis?

As with any other student research project, thesis projects are advertised during the beginning of the spring semester. Thesis work starts the summer prior to your senior year, and continues throughout the following fall and spring semesters. Here is some helpful advice from Prof. Kevin Jones in physics (also relevant for an astro thesis). The Thesis Guidelines document contains the latest information on completing a thesis. Important dates/deadlines were, to give a recent example:

  • Last three Fridays of the fall semester: Each thesis student will provide a brief progress report to the department, in the form of a ~10 minute presentation.
  • Friday, January 29, 2020: A 10-page draft of your thesis is due to your advisor.
  • Friday, April 23, 2020: A full draft of your thesis is due at noon to your advisor.
  • Friday, May 5, 2020: A full revised draft of your thesis is due at noon to your second reader.
  • Friday, May 14, 2020: The thesis must be submitted to the department by noon.
  • May 20, 21, 2020: Each thesis student presents the results to the department, in the form of a ~10 minute presentation.
  • Last day of final exams, 5pm: The thesis must be submitted to the library for their permanent collection. 


How do I become a planetarium or observatory TA?

We welcome anyone interested in operating the observatory or planetarium! There is no formal application, but students who are interested in either of these half-time positions should contact Dr. Kevin Flaherty to learn more.