Monday, 3 June 2013

Top question asked of me: What university should I go to?

This one is for those of you in high school or CEGEP.  For many years I have been talking to students about careers in the space sector.  There is one question asked more than any other:  Where should I go to university if I want to work in the space sector?

It takes all kinds of backgrounds to make a space program run, not only science and engineering.  Everyone can participate in space exploration and development in industry, in academia, and in government.  We need lawyers, economists, accountants, managers, medical doctors, business experts, investors, even authors and artists.  Whatever you like to do, you can participate in space activities.  The engine of research in space is in the academic sector.  The business sector is great a bridging that research with space missions and making the links to opportunities all over the world.  The business sector is also starting to take the lead in some areas where the government sector was the only real player in the past.  The government sector collaborates with other space agencies from around the world and with other government partners to meet national needs.

In a competitive world, you need to do well in your studies.  It is much easier to do well if you actually enjoy what you are studying.  So my advice is always to do what you like, work hard, do well, and work on applying what you have learned to the space world.

My advice about choosing a university is different for undergraduate or graduate studies.  I will stick to undergraduate studies for this blog post.  Also, this advice is really for Canadian students who want to work in the space sector, since this is what I know best.

For undergraduate studies, choose a university by applying these criteria, in this order:

  1. The university offers an undergraduate program in a field that you LIKE.
  2. The university offers a co-op program in that field (work/study program, not all subjects have co-op available).
  3. The university offers the lifestyle you are looking for (ie. close to home vs. far from home, big city vs. rural).
  4. If you still have more than one university on your list at this point, go with your gut with the more intangibles (smaller/larger school, sports teams, extracurricular clubs, etc.).

Ignore those ranked lists in popular magazines about which is the "better" university.  For undergraduate programs, there are no bad universities in Canada.  Don't let yourself be pressured into a specific discipline by your family or by your peers if it's not what you like to study - you're the one who has to do all the work.

There are a few universities out there with specialised space-related undergraduate degrees, like Western and Carleton.  If you already know that that field is what you really like, your decision is made at step 1 above!  My point is, though, that you do not have to do a specialised degree to work in the space sector.

When you are done your undergraduate program, consider adding the International Space University to your CV - it will open a lot of doors for you.

Go ahead and comment below - I'd love to hear what you think.

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