AST 425 -- Research Topics in Astronomy and Astrophysics

2017-2018, Marten van Kerkwijk

Time: Fall: Fridays, 4 PM (an hour after colloquium)
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 events.

Prof. Marten van Kerkwijk
Office: MP 1203B, 416-946-7288

Course Description
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 goals are

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 links for undergraduate researchers (initially created for AST 425).

The following are good places to see/meet advisers

Course requirements (in bold: used for evaluation)

  1. 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).
  2. 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 below.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 late.
  6. 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 scientific paper).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 the word 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 the AASTeX package (normally used for preparing manuscripts for ApJ, AJ, and PASP), check out the documentation, and then download the required files (on Debian and Ubuntu, these are part of the texlive-publishers package).