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Canadian Universities for Astronomy and Physics

  1. Oct 20, 2008 #1
    Hi, I'm looking to go into astronomy and do a little physics as well. My question is which are the top astronomy schools in Canada? I've looked at University of Victoria and it looks pretty solid, as well as Western.
    I was also wondering what are the chances of becoming an astronaut? The time i am eligible for NASA in the US, it will be in at least a decade, but also how many people will we be needing to send into space in 10 years, rather than robotics?

    Thanks for the help


  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 21, 2008 #2
    There is Université Laval in Québec who is well known in physics.
    McGill University in Montréal too.
  4. Oct 21, 2008 #3


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    University of Toronto has an excellent graduate astrophysics program (totally biased answer because I'm in it, but we are basically the hub for astronomy in the country). Based on what I've seen though, I wouldn't do my undergrad at U of T. Like most big schools, the student experience sucks. Something to keep in mind when applying for university...the big name schools may have allure, but you'll just be a number to the administration, just another cog in the machine. You'll have to fend for yourself. Don't expect much one on one interaction or personal attention in any of your classes.

    Only go into physics and/or astronomy if you are interested in the science and want to be a scientist. It's not the greatest means to an end for becoming an astronaut, as the two things are quite different from each other*. Of course, nobody makes career plans to become an astronaut, you need a plan B. What I'm saying is that if you really like the science, then physics/astronomy is fine as that plan B. Otherwise, maybe some other technical field, or even medicine would suffice. On that note, let's talk more about the requirements. If you're a Canadian citizen, you need to apply to the CSA's astronaut program, NOT NASA's. The CSA requires that you have:

    at least a bachelor's degree in the natural sciences or engineering and several years of work experience (I believe it is 3 yrs)


    a medical degree and several years of work experience


    a graduate degree (master's or PhD) in which case no additional work experience is required.

    There may be a fourth option too, but I can't remember what it is (military?)
    Don't quote me on this stuff, go to their website.

    There was a recruitment drive this past summer, and I applied, even though I was not eligible, because for me it has always been a childhood dream to be an astronaut. I wasn't eligible because I just graduated with my bachelor's in Engineering Physics (no work experience) and just started my PhD in Astrophysics (no graduate degree yet). As a result, I was rejected. So, this recruitment drive came 5 years too early for me. But I figured, what the hell. I knew I was going to be rejected, but it couldn't hurt to apply. Who knows when the next recruitment drive will be.

    The *manned* space program is definitely not that relevant to science (although people do debate this, especially when it comes to the exploration of Mars). I think a lot of people are of the opinion that robotic exploration is more efficient, we will learn more from it, and carries less inherent risk. Besides, when it comes to the study of anything beyond our solar system, the word "exploration" is no longer quite right, regardless of whether it involves humans or robots, because we will not actually be going there. For the rest of astronomy, what's needed is the next generation of orbiting observatories (i.e. space telescopes), and that is being worked on as we speak. So, to answer your final question, we don't really *need* to send people to space...that is the wrong question to ask. We do it because we *can.* So the question to ask is whether our policymakers will continue to think that it is worthwhile to send people into space. Nobody can predict that. I've heard that the U.S. congress is quite fickle about the space program, and we are falling on hard economic times. If those economic hard times become a more permanent fixture and are just a fact of life, then it will be even more difficult to economically justify the manned space program than it is right now. So, nobody knows what's going to happen. That's the other reason why you don't *plan* to be an astronaut (the first reason being the low probability of being accepted). ;-)
  5. Oct 21, 2008 #4
    Thanks for the responses.

    I know what you mean about having a Plan B, and i really don't know what that is yet. I love astronomy so I hope it will be in that field, but that is all i know right now. The reason i said NASA is because I realize that there are many more US astronauts than Canadian, so if I happen to go to the US for 5 years (or whatever the amount of years you need to live in the us to get citizenship is) get my citizenship and apply for NASA, with higher hopes of being accepted than in the CSA.

    How often do they do recruitment drives? They are quite random i recall, but is there an average every 'x' years?

    And what kind of jobs should i be looking into as a plan B? I don't think there is huge money in many astronomy fields, but which fields pay the highest? (just as a 'good to know' kind of thing, money isn't a huge factor in my career).

    I have to start applying within a few months, but I still don't know exactly what i want to do so all help and input is much appreciated!
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