AST424-Intro to Research

AST425-Research Topics

(Fall/Spring 2021)


Classes: weekly F3-5pm

Place: online, Sep 10, 17th; ES B149, thereafter; see Calendar for details.

Super-advisor: Prof. Yanqin wu

Office: MP 1210, 416-946-5633;  Email:

Course Goals:

In this directed research course for senior undergraduate students, you will apply all that you have learned in the past few years to a current research problem, under supervision of a faculty member. Specific goals are

  1. Acquire research skills (computing, analytical thinking, time-management...)

  2. Learn to write scientific proposals, reports and papers in LaTeX.

  3. Practice delivering scientific presentations.

  4. Keep abreast of scientific progress by, e.g., participating in the weekly departmental Colloquia (mostly Wed. 2-3pm).

Differences between AST424 and AST425:

Students in the latter course carry out a self-contained research project, starting from problem identification, to independent research, to final write-up; AST424, on the other hand, entails a project that is based on literature study. The two courses are run concurrently. More details are here for AST424 and here for AST425.

Adviser and Project:

  1. 1Identifying an adviser: Students will identify and contact potential research advisers, meet with  them either alone or with a peer group. They should have chosen their supervisers by the end of September. Any research member in DAA, CITA and Dunlap can serve as an adviser. In case a post-doctoral fellow is an adviser, a faculty member must act as a co-adviser.

  2. 2A good 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 a part of the adviser's publication. It should be a genuinely new research contribution (for AST425) and an illuminating literature study (for AST424).

  3. 3Interactions:  Discuss goals and expectations for the project with your adviser, and develop a research plan for the whole duration. Plan to meet with the adviser on a weekly basis. 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.

  4. 4 Independent research: the nominal work load for this course is about 10 hours per week. But any good researcher would tell you that working 9-5 oftentimes won’t get you very far...

Course requirements (mark distributions: red for AST424, blue for AST425)

  1. 5First talk: (AST424: 5%; AST425: 5%) The student will briefly (5 min) describe the plan for the project - as consulted with the adviser - during class meeting (Oct. 1st).

  2. 6Written project proposal (10%; 10%) due by Oct. 15th, 2021. The proposal should be 2-3 pages long, formatted in LaTeX using AASTex (see Links below). The proposal should explain the background and motivation for the project, as well as the research plan, in a compelling and concise manner. This should be an expanded version of your first-pitch.

  3. 7Class participation (10%; 10%)  attendance of classes with lectures by the instructor and invited faculty members, on discussing the weekly astro colloquium, how to write a graduate school application, how to give a scientific talk and how to prepare a scientific paper, etc. While classes are held weekly during the Fall term, they are held only monthly during  the Spring term.

  4. 8Second talk (10%; 10%) interim talk to examine your research progress.  They should be 7 minutes talk + 5 minutes discussion.  The talk should contain clear motivations a good sense of how well your research has progressed, and a good plan of how to go forward.

  5. 9Third talk (15%,15%) the final talk, held on Apr 1/8, 2022. These are 10 minutes talk + 5 minutes  discussion, with advisors present. Other members of the DAA/CITA/DI are also invited.

  6. 10Final written report (30%; 30%). The report, due Apr 22nd, 2022, 5-10 pages long, should be composed in LaTeX, with the word and figure constraints of an Astrophysical Journal Letter (another format is acceptable if your work is being prepared for publication). Evaluation will be by the course instructor.

  7. 11Overall grade by advisor (20%; 20%), which includes work done/time spent and the progress made.


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. You can either download the required files for local (your computer) use, or use for cloud editing.

A useful compilation of information for “how to be a good researcher “ is Prof. Chris Matzner's links for undergraduate researchers (initially created for AST 425)