AST 425 -- Research Topics in Astronomy and Astrophysics
2017-2018, Marten van Kerkwijk
Time: Fall: Fridays, 4 PM (except 3-5 PM for presentations)
Place: AB 113
Researchers need to become/keep themselves up to date with the field.
Hence, in addition to the classes, you are expected to attend the
departmental Colloquia, which are 1-hour talks by (mostly) outside
visitors (W2 in Cody Hall [AB 107]).
As a researcher, you are also considered part of the department.
Please join for departmental coffee (starting about 10:40 every
morning in AB, 2nd floor lounge; on Mondays and Thursdays this
includes discussion of recent astronomy results) and other
Prof. Marten van Kerkwijk
Office: MP 1203B, 416-946-7288
In this directed research course for senior undergraduate students,
you will apply all that you learned in the last years to a current
research problem, under supervision of a faculty member. Specific
- Get acquainted with real research (i.e., a priori unknown outcome).
- Acquire research, collaboration, and time-management skills.
- Learn to write scientific proposals, reports and papers in LaTeX.
- Practice delivering scientific presentations.
Students will identify and contact potential research advisers, and
should have chosen their superviser by the end of September. Any
research member of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics
(DAA), Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA), or
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics (Dunlap) can serve
as an adviser. In case a post-doctoral fellow or CITA visitor is an
adviser, a faculty member from DAA, CITA or Dunlap must be added as a
co-adviser. The course instructor will help match students to
advisers, but the most effective strategy is to meet in person with
potential advisers after preliminary e-mail contacts (even when these
meetings do not lead to research projects, they will acquaint you with
knowledgeable and experienced people who may be able to help you
later). A very useful source of information for advanced students are
Prof. Chris Matzner's
for undergraduate researchers (initially created for AST 425).
The following are good places to see/meet advisers
- DAA Jamboree, with 1-3 min talks by faculty members and students
(Friday Sep 15, 2-4 PM, Cody Hall [AB 107]).
- CITA jamboree, with short talks by both postdocs and faculty
(Wednesday Sep 27, 12-3 PM, Physics Lounge [MP 110]; includes free
- DAA Coffee, every day (T,F: astro-ph discussion), starting usually
around 10:30 AM (AB, 2nd floor lounge).
- Pre-colloquium snack (W, before 2, AB, 2nd floor lounge)
- CITA dessert (F4, MP 14th floor lounge).
- In their offices.
Course requirements (in bold: used for evaluation)
- Find an adviser and a project. Ideally, the project should be
useful and interesting to both the student and the adviser, and
should contain a publishable research contribution, either as a
separate publication or as part of adviser's publication. It
should be a true new research contribution. The student will
briefly (10 min) describe the plans for the project - as
consulted with the adviser - during class meetings (tentatively,
Sep 29 and Oct 6).
- Discuss goals and expectations for the project with your
adviser(s), and develop a research plan for the whole year. Plan
to meet with the adviser on a weekly basis; see item 4
- Write up a project proposal (2-3 pages; 10% of the
final mark) by Nov 3 (-5%/day for lateness, i.e., zero for
reports two or more days late). The proposal should be formatted
in LaTeX using the AASTex
package as this will give some practice for the final report.
The proposal should explain the background and motivation for the
project, as well as the research plan, in a compelling and
persuasive manner. A hardcopy of the proposal must be delivered
to the instructor and the adviser.
- Meet with your adviser(s) regularly, at least once per week.
Good communication is the key to good research. Both you and your
adviser will enjoy these meetings a lot more if you arrive
with new results and new questions each time.
- Short progress reports by the end of each month, starting
at the end of November (5% for five monthly
reports). These should be e-mailed, with CC to the adviser. The
reports should contain a paragraph or two describing your
activities and progress. No points given for reports that are
- Class participation (5%) for discussions after the talks;
attendance of classes with lectures by the instructor and invited
faculty members (e.g., on how to write a graduate school
application, how to give a scientific talk and how to prepare a
- Interim progress talk (20%) early January (precise
dates TBA). These should be about 15 minutes long and will be
in-class, not public events, with only advisers invited to
attend. The research should be presented in a way sufficiently
interesting to generate discussion.
- Summary talk (20%) in the AST 425 Jamborees, likely
in the last week of classes. These should again be about 15
minutes, and will be part of a public event, with the advisers
expected to attend, and other DAA/CITA/DI members invited.
- Final report (40%) by Wednesday, April 4th,
(-10%/day for lateness, i.e., zero for reports four or more days
late). The report should be compose in LaTeX using
the AASTex package, with
and figure constraints of an Astrophysical Journal
Letter (another format is acceptable if your work is being
prepared for publication). Evaluatation will be jointly by the
adviser and course instructor.
For help on how to use LaTeX and
package (normally used for preparing manuscripts for ApJ, AJ, and
PASP), check out
and then download the required files (on Debian and Ubuntu, these are
part of the texlive-publishers package).