Interested in studying planetary science at university level (and beyond…)?

Have you always had a fascination with space and wondered how the Earth fits into our understanding of how planets form and evolve through time? Have you ever wondered what the conditions were for life to start and how geological processes such as volcanism and impacts may have enabled and hindered life to start and stop on Earth and other places in the Solar System? Do you worry that our planet may be heading the same way as Venus and end up a greenhouse world?

Planetary science is a broad and diverse discipline that can enable a variety of different career paths. There are a range of different topics within the subject to keep people with different backgrounds interested – from physicists to chemists to geologists, geographers and biologists.

You can now study planetary science as a subject in its own right, at university level. Below is some information about university courses in planetary science at UK universities, giving you an idea about where to find out more about how the courses are structured. Some of the courses have more of a geology feel to them with the opportunity to go and do fieldwork, others are more physics based courses focussing on astronomical observation methods or modelling of different physical systems. Related courses include more engineering space science subjects, for people interested in helping to design and build exploration missions. Hopefully this information gives you a good start to reading into where might be a good course for you to apply for.

Career prospects: Many people study planetary science at university just because the topic completely fascinates them, however, after degree level planetary science studies there is a good mix of onward career paths and/or further study opportunities. Some graduating students apply for master’s level programmes (see below), others directly go on to study a graduate level PhD, researching a particular topic about planetary science (see below for some UK universities that offer Planetary Science focused PhDs) and continuing on to a career in science research. The skill set that you learn as part of a planetary science degree (e.g., observation, data interpretation, team-work, communication, maths skills, computational methods) enable career paths varying from science communication in the media, teaching, financial sector, mining and gas/oil industry, public education and outreach at museums and education centres (to name a few). When you go to a university open day ask relevant staff about the onward careers of recent graduates.

Undergraduate level – BSc and MSci. level in the UK

Search using the keyword planetary science via, although be aware that some geology courses also offer units in planetary science that may not be listed here**.


Studying planetary scale processes here on Earth: Manchester planetary science students in the field at the Ries impact crater in Germany. Image: K. Joy

Masters level (UK)

The following UK departments ** often offer master’s level studies in planetary science:


Study the geological history of planets, and understand the collection and interpretation of planetary mission data. Image: NASA

PhD programmes (UK)

The following UK departments ** often offer PhDs in planetary science with a geology empathises in subjects ranging from cosmochemistry, remote sense mapping, planetary science mission involvement.  We suggest checking their graduate/PhD recruitment pages in ~Nov to Dec time when new projects are advertised.


Study planetary samples in the lab: a piece of the Moon mapped to show chemical variations in mineral growth. Image: K. Joy.

PhD programmes (overseas)

European planetary science PhDs are often advertised on earthworks and

Applying for graduate school in the USA often requires completing a series of exams to be accepted for a course. Suggest discussing with the careers office if you are interested. There are many outstanding PhD courses at universities in the US who have specialist planetary science programmes – including (not exclusively) – Washington St Louis, University of Hawaii, University of Chicago, Brown, UCLA, Berkley, Havard, University of Arizona, Arizona State, New Mexico… etc.


Planetary Science Summer Internship Schemes (check citizenship and visa requirements for some of these schemes)


Planetary science positions and job sites:


** If you are reading this and would like us to advertise a degree or PhD opportunities that includes a planetary science component, please email us to let us know.


About Katherine Joy

Hello! I am Katherine Joy. I am part of the University of Manchester Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group. More details about my research interests can be found at
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