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Data Intensive Astrophysics (MSc)

  • Duration: 1 year
  • Mode: Full time

Start date

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Why study this course

Studying at the Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy

The MSc in Data-Intensive Astrophysics has been designed to provide you with the skills and knowledge needed for a career in a range of areas including academic research in astronomy or astrophysics as well technical, development and engineering positions in related scientific fields.

The MSc in Data-Intensive Astrophysics has been designed to provide you with the skills and knowledge needed for a career in a range of areas including academic research as well technical, development and engineering positions in the “in-demand” field of “Big Data” and related scientific fields. By combining data analysis and computational techniques with a core science discipline, the course is intended to satisfy the increasing demand for well-qualified postgraduates who are equipped with the expertise to respond to a range of challenges arising from this exciting field. It has been estimated that “Big Data” has already added thousands of new jobs to the UK economy and this is likely to increase as new approaches to data transform the public, private and academic sectors.

The course is delivered by members of our Data Innovation Research Institute, which was recently established to conduct research into the aspects of managing, analysing and interpreting massive volumes of textual and numerical information.

A key component of the course is a 3 month summer project, which will be based either in our School of Physics and Astronomy, or with one or more of our external partners. The project will focus on the application of modern data science methodologies to a problem in Astrophysics (such as star formation, galaxy formation or gravitational waves), providing the hands-on experience needed to succeed in the dynamic field of Data-Intensive Astrophysics as well as wider aspects of data science.

Distinctive features

  • Central to the design of the course is the opportunity for you to acquire real research experience in connection with world-leading scientists, greatly enhancing your CV and prospects for employment or further study.
  • As well as providing a solid core in all the necessary elements of Data Science, the programme allows a choice of elective modules and project work that can be tailored to suit whatever specialism you are interested in, whether that be gravitational waves, star or galaxy formation or cosmology.
  • You’ll join a well-established and growing cohort of MSc students and be based in a dedicated teaching facility that encourage a “research group” community atmosphere that has been praised by students and external examiners.  You’ll also have the opportunity to interact with students on related courses such as our MSc Data Science and Analytics.
  • As a successful graduate of this course you will be ideally placed to take advantage of the fast growing employment opportunities being generated in this field.
The Data Intensive Astrophysics MSc was a perfect fit for me and equipped me with all the necessary skills for a career in research. Coming from a Physics BSc, the Masters course was a vital stepping-stone to starting a PhD with strong emphasis on data analysis. The quality of teaching and support here at Cardiff is second to none, and at every opportunity I was encouraged to engage with the research community at the School.
Michael Anderson, MSc Data-Intensive Astrophysics 2017/18

Where you'll study

School of Physics and Astronomy

Our institute of Physics accredited degree programmes include specialised topics which reflect our research interests.

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Admissions criteria

  1. BSc Physics (2:1 minimum) OR
  2. BSc Astrophysics (2:1 minimum) OR
  3. Other physical science / mathematics degree (2:1 minimum)

If you have a 2:2 bachelor’s degree in the above subjects, a related physical science, mathematics, astronomy, computer science, engineering or relevant industrial experience, your application will be given individual consideration.  In such circumstances you may be required to attend a formal interview with the admissions tutor before an offer can be made.

For 2:2 holders, the likelihood of being offered a place on the course is highest if your overall marks lie close to the 2:1/:2:2 boundary.

In order to consider your application, we require two academic references and transcript copies of your previous qualifications.

Applicants whose first language is not English are expected to meet the minimum University requirements (IELTS 6.5 with 5.5 in each skill area).

Find out more about English language requirements.

Applicants who require a Student visa to study in the UK must present an acceptable English language qualification in order to meet UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) requirements.

Criminal convictions

You are not required to complete a DBS (Disclosure Barring Service) check or provide a Certificate of Good Conduct to study this course.

If you are currently subject to any licence condition or monitoring restriction that could affect your ability to successfully complete your studies, you will be required to disclose your criminal record. Conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • access to computers or devices that can store images
  • use of internet and communication tools/devices
  • curfews
  • freedom of movement
  • contact with people related to Cardiff University.

Course structure

The MSc Data Intensive Astrophysics is a two-stage (120 credits taught, 60 credits research project) Postgraduate Taught programme delivered over three terms (autumn, spring, and summer) for a total of 180 credits.

Autumn term (60 credits, taught)

You will undertake three core modules (50 credits total) covering core skills and one elective module of 10 credits in an astrophysics specialism of your choice.

Spring term (60 credits, taught)

You will undertake two core modules (40 credits total) covering core skills and two elective modules of 10 credits each covering an astrophysics specialism of your choice.

You must successfully complete the 120 credits of the taught component of the course before you will be permitted to progress to the research project component.

Summer term (60 credits, research project)

The summer term consists of a single 60 credit research project module of 3 months’ duration.  You will be required to produce a research dissertation and present your research to the School in order to complete this module.

The modules shown are an example of the typical curriculum and will be reviewed prior to the 2021/22 academic year. The final modules will be published by September 2021.

You will have two weeks at the beginning of the autumn term to attend any courses you are interested in so that you can finalise your choice for that term.  You will need to make your final selections for the spring term before the Christmas recess.  You will be supported in generating and negotiating a research project proposal during the spring term in order to prepare for your summer research project.

The University is committed to providing a wide range of module options where possible, but please be aware that whilst every effort is made to offer choice this may be limited in certain circumstances. This is due to the fact that some modules have limited numbers of places available, which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, while others have minimum student numbers required before they will run, to ensure that an appropriate quality of education can be delivered; some modules require students to have already taken particular subjects, and others are core or required on the programme you are taking. Modules may also be limited due to timetable clashes, and although the University works to minimise disruption to choice, we advise you to seek advice from the relevant School on the module choices available.

Learning and assessment

How will I be taught?

You will be taught through a combination of lectures, tutorials, seminars and practical computer sessions.

Lectures can take a variety of forms depending on the subject material being taught.  Generally, lectures are used to convey concepts, contextualise research activities in the School and to demonstrate key theoretical, conceptual and mathematical methods.  Lectures will always be kept up-to-date, with the specialist modules providing access to cutting-edge concepts and methods.

In tutorials and seminars you’ll have the opportunity to discuss and reflect upon particular physical, mathematical, coding / practical or specialist concepts, to consolidate and get feedback on your individual learning and to develop skills in oral presentation. Communication skills are developed in tutorials, where you will make individual contributions to group study, for example by summarising and critiquing a recent research article for the group

You will practise and develop critique, reflective, analytical and presentational skills by participating in diverse learning activities such as research group meetings, School seminar discussions and in open group discussions.  At all times you will be encouraged to reflect on what you have learned and how it can be combined with other techniques and concepts to tackle novel problems.

In the practical computing sessions you will put the breadth of your knowledge and skills to use, whether that be using your coding skills to automate a laboratory experiment, designing components for a large piece of equipment or troubleshooting research hardware.  The emphasis on the MSc Data Intensive Astrophysics is on those particular skills which will be of use in a research environment and hence highly sought-after by employers.

How will I be assessed?

Our modules typically involve a blend of formative and summative assessments and feedback from teaching staff to students related to these.

Summative Assessment and Feedback

Summative feedback is feedback that contributes to progression or degree classification decisions.  The goal of summative assessment is to indicate how well you have succeeded in meeting the intended learning outcomes of a Module or Programme and will enable you to identify any action required in order to improve.  All feedback will directly link to the Module grading / assessment criteria.

The exact approach used varies from module to module, but summative assessment typically involves coursework (often in the form of problem sets, programming exercises, mini-projects) and/or an unseen examination. The core modules for the MSc Data-Intensive Astrophysics are mostly assessed continuously and the optional modules typically involve 80% unseen examination and 20% coursework.

Formative Assessment and Feedback

Formative feedback is feedback that does not contribute to progression or degree classification decisions.  The goal of formative feedback is to improve your understanding and learning before you complete your summative assessment. More specifically, formative feedback helps you to:

•           Identify your strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work;

•            Help staff to support you and address the problems identified with targeted strategies for improvement.

The formative feedback we give may be in written form (perhaps referring to model solutions of, usually, weekly problem sets) or in oral form during small-group tutorial sessions.

What are the learning outcomes of this course/programme?

The Learning outcomes for this Programme describe what you will be able to do as a result of your study at Cardiff University. They will help you to understand what is expected of you and academic staff will focus on precisely what they want you to achieve within each Module. 

Knowledge & Understanding:

On completing the Programme you will be able to demonstrate:

  • A sophisticated level of knowledge and understanding of the current state-of-the-art in the field of data-intensive astrophysics;
  • A sophisticated level of the core knowledge applicable to the practice of data-intensive astrophysics, including an up-to-date acquaintance with the academic literature, high-performance computing techniques, the important aspects of informatics and data analysis and wider issues connected with data conservation etc.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the most effective software packages, programming languages and mathematical techniques central to tackling research problems in the field of data-intensive astrophysics.

Intellectual Skills:

On completing the Programme you will be able to demonstrate:

  • A sophisticated theoretical and computational, mathematical and data-analytic skillset and the ability to adapt these skills to novel applications;
  • A sophisticated specialist skillset derived from the elective modules and the ability to adapt these skills to novel applications;
  • The ability to critically analyse, critique, curate and synthesise state-of-the-art academic literature and the most up-to-date techniques.

Professional Practical Skills:

On completing the Programme you will be able to:

  • Efficiently and effectively integrate into a research group environment, including concisely reporting progress, negotiating activities and timescales, supporting colleagues and working in a team;
  • Plan, propose and execute a sophisticated research project with realistic goals, deliverables and contingency plans;
  •  Demonstrate a solid, research-grade level of knowledge across the core elements of data science.

Transferable/Key Skills:

Students completing the Programme will demonstrate:

  • Effective communication skills, including literature reviews, literature critiques, academic article writing, long report writing and formal scientific presentations;
  • Effective and efficient group and team working skills, including negotiation, compromise, contingency planning, time management and record-keeping;
  • Engagement, liaison and collaboration with expert research scientists and the ability to transfer concepts, methodologies and modes of presentation between both environments.
  • An extensive working knowledge and experience of state-of-the-art programming language (i.e. Python).

Tuition fees for 2021 entry

Students from the UK

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £9,700 None

Students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals starting in 2020/21 will pay the same tuition fee as UK students for the duration of their course.

If you are an EU/EEA/Swiss national, unless you qualify for UK fee status, tuition fees for 2021/22 will be in line with the fees charged for international students. UKCISA have provided information about Brexit and tuition fees.

Students from the rest of the world (international)

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £21,950 £1,000

More information about tuition fees and deposits, including for part-time and continuing students.

Financial support

Financial support may be available to individuals who meet certain criteria. For more information visit our funding section. Please note that these sources of financial support are limited and therefore not everyone who meets the criteria are guaranteed to receive the support.

Additional costs

If you are required to travel to/from a partner institute during a summer research project, then you will be responsible for meeting these costs if the travel is local. If long-distance journeys or long-term visits are required then a student mobility bursary will be made available to help meet these costs.

Will I need any specific equipment to study this course/programme?

What you should provide:

  • The University will provide everything necessary to undertake the degree scheme, but it is strongly recommended that you should bring a relatively modern laptop computer in order to be able to tackle the coding, literature review and dissertation writing activities while away from the University facilities.

What the University will provide:

  • A dedicated MSc Teaching facility with sufficient PCs, laboratory equipment and core textbooks for the entire cohort’s activities during the core modules;
  • Access to the Trevithick and other University libraries where textbooks and recommended reading for the core and elective modules;

Living costs

We’re based in one of the UK’s most affordable cities. Find out more about living costs in Cardiff.

Careers and placements

Typically, an MSc degree in Data-Intensive Astrophysics will open up opportunities in the following areas:

  • Theoretical, experimental and computational doctoral research in astrophysics;
  • Numerate, technical, research, development and engineering positions in related scientific fields;
  • Physics, mathematics and general science education.


There will be a flexible number of external projects each year for the summer research project module, which may be carried out in the School with external supervision, or involve some work at a collaborating institute.  The number and nature of these projects will vary from year to year and will be assigned according to student choice in consultation with the external supervisor(s); some such projects may require specific optional modules to have been taken. Choosing an external project should not have any implications for your visa status if you are an international student.


Master's Excellence Scholarships

An award open to students with a home fee status intending to study one of our taught master’s degrees.

UK Government master’s funding

If you are starting your master’s degree in September 2021 or later, you may be able to apply for UK Government postgraduate funding to support your study at Cardiff University.

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