The Comprehensive Guide to Graduate School


Welcome to graduate school at UofT’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics! We (the current graduate students) have written this guide to try and help you through all of the administrative details so you can get straight to your research. If you like, you can skip ahead to our suggested to-do list for new students, or use the table of contents on the left to navigate to the appropriate section (note that the table of contents is not currently available on small screens).

This is a living document, you can contribute to its creation by following the directions on the how-to page.

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The contents of this document, accompanied by a frequently asked question that may be answered in each question.


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Here find a contextful definition for all those terms you hear thrown about the department.

Important Dates

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There’s a lot that goes on at the university. UofT’s Faculty of Arts and Science (of which this Department is a member), maintains an exhaustive list of the sessional dates, but these are primarily undergraduate focused. The list below is a summary of some relevant dates:

Human Resources

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While this guide is meant to serve as a handy reference, it may not be able to answer all of your questions. Here are some friendly faces that may be able to help answer your questions

Graduate Associate Chair Chris Matzner

Office: MP1207A

Chris has done a great job as graduate chair ensuring that graduate concerns are represented in the department and updating some of the more dated parts of the PhD assessment process. Chris is a good first point of contact for questions and concerns about the graduate program.

Graduate Administrator Margaret Meaney

Office: AB101-X

Margaret works hard to coordinate all of the administrative details of graduate student life, and is an excellent resource for many of your questions. She can help you understand your financial account, outline the details of the program, and deadlines of scholarship applications,

Office Administrator Ingrid Small

Office: AB101-X

Ingrid Small is a good point of contact for additional administrative questions. She can assist with getting keys, as well as booking rooms that are not on the department’s booking calendar (accessible in the internal section of the department’s website).

CITA Administrative Officer Jenny Jung

Office: MP14XX

Jenny Jung is the person to talk to about all things CITA, and she’s the one who can assist you with getting keys to the 15th floor conference room.

Financial Officer Gautam Patel

Office: AB101-D

Gautam Patel processes reimbursement claims for the department. This can be for anything from purchasing something for a department event to claiming the flights for a trip. He’ll go through your expenses with you and make sure they get charged to the correct account.

Computing Manager Hugh Zhao

Office: AB101-X

Hugh Zhao provides technical support for the department, including managing the website where you can find plenty of useful information in the Internal tab. He’s the person to talk to about registering your MAC address so you can use the department printers.

CITA Computing Manager John Dubinski

Office: MP1408

John Dubinksi is the primary manager of CITA’s Sunnyvale computing cluster, and will be getting in touch with you about the jobs you run there.

CITA HPC Specialist Claire Yu

Office: MP1410

Claire Yu’s position is well titled, as she is indeed a high performance computing expert. She can help with CITA’s Sunnyvale computing cluster, as well as help you manage installations for your CITA account.

Astronomy Librarian Lee Robbins

Office: Astronomy Library

Lee Robbins works hard to make that Astronomy Library a valuable resource. The associated website is an excellent place to find quick links to online astronomical resources and her Astronomy Reference Recommendations is an excellent place to find introductory texts for those diving into new fields.

TA Admin and Observatory Director Michael Williams

Office: AB2XX

Michael Williams is a great person to talk to about the on-campus instrumentation, whether it be for a class you’re TAing or for a public event you want to run. Mike is also very knowledgeable about our planetarium, and can get you started on adding your own content to the existing software.

New Student To Do List

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You’ll receive emails about nearly everything on this list, but its good to keep in mind that these are the things you’ll need to do to get up and running.


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The Astronomy and Astrophysics community at UofT is composed of several units: the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Dunlap Institute, the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, and the Centre for Planetary Sciences. The relationships between these bodies can be a bit complex, but each unit is a part of the overall fabric of the department. Most importantly, a student can work with a professor affiliated with any of the units, and your program will be the same.

Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics


All astronomy graduate students at UofT are officially affiliated with the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics (DAA), primarily spread across two buildings, the Astronomy Building and the 12th floor of the Burton Tower attached to McLennan Physical Labs. The department is responsible for running the graduate program, and paying you in your first year, as well as offering scholarships and travel grants. The department is also responsible for offering graduate courses and employing you for TA work.

Dunlap Institute


The Dunlap Institute (Dunlap) is primarily focused on instrumentation and outreach. Dunlap members (professors and post-docs) are located in the Astronomy Building. Graduate students can become affiliated with the Dunlap if they are supervised by a Dunlap prof. These students can apply for additional funding not available to the rest of their cohort.

Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics


The Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) focuses on theoretical work CITA is located on the 13th and 14th floors of the Burton Tower attached to McLennan Physical Labs, and graduate students working with a CITA prof usually have offices on the 12th, 13th, and 14th floors of that building.

Centre for Planetary Sciences


The Centre for Planetary Sciences (CPS) is located on UofT’s Scarborough campus. Most offices are on the 5th floor of the Science Wing.


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St George

Also called UTSG, this is UofT’s “downtown” campus, located in the heart of Toronto. You can reach this campus easily on foot, by bicycle, or by taking the TTC to Line 1 subway stations (Queen’s Park, Museum, St George, Spadina), to Line 2 subway stations (St George, Spadina), by using the 506 and 510 streetcar lines or by taking the 94 Wellesley bus. There is limited street parking available, as well as underground parking lots that can be entered for a fee, some requiring a permit. This campus hosts the two main astronomy buildings, AB and MP, where you can find the department, the Dunlap Institute and CITA.


The UTSC campus is UofT’s eastern satellite campus, in the Scarborough suburb of Toronto. This campus can be reached by car via the 401 highway, or by TTC by taking a bus from the York Mills (on Line 1) or from Kennedy Station (Line 2). This campus is home to CPS, and hosts the Scarborough Planet Days and Scarborough Planet Lunches. Astronomy courses are taught there, and you may have the option to TA one of them.


Also called UTM, this is UofT’s western satellite campus, located in the neighbouring city of Mississauga. There is a shuttle that runs between Hart House on the UTSG campus and the UTM Instructional Centre. The shuttle is free for students with their TCard. There is only one faculty member appointed to the UTM campus, but astronomy courses are taught there, and you may have the option to TA one of them.


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The DAA’s two main buildings contain many common rooms, which are described below. You can also find a list of all meeting rooms and their associated features below.

Astronomy Building

Located at 50 St George Street, the Astronomy Building (AB) is a two storey building housing primarily graduate student, post-doc and professor offices, in addition to several basement labs and a couple of undergraduate lecture rooms. The building has two entrances, one from St George St and one from Russell St. Neither entrance is accessible; getting to any room inside this building requires climbing or descending stairs. The St George St doors are locked after 6pm, while the Russell St doors and the internal doors leading to the office sections of the building (which can be opened with your mailroom key) are locked after 9pm.

AB Common Rooms

Rooms labelled ABXX are in the basement, those labelled AB1XX are on the first floor, and those labelled AB2XX are on the second (and top) floor. Some rooms require bookings through the online booking calendar

McLennan Physical Labs and Burton Tower

McLennan Physical Labs is at 60 St George St. The lower two floors of the building are entirely undergraduate lecture halls and labs, but also feature a snack shop and vending machines. The tower in the southwest corner of the building houses offices for the physics department, with the 12th, 13th and 14th floors containing DAA and CITA offices. Unlike AB, this building is accessible up to the 14th floor, and doors remain unlocked until 9pm.

MP Common Rooms

Meeting Rooms

You may have need of a room larger than your office in which to hold a meeting. Most rooms are managed centrally by UofT and must be booked through the Office of Academic and Campus Events. You can check the availability of a room with their booking calendar. However, some rooms can be booked more conveniently by visiting an administrative office in the building or through an online calendar. These are summarized below in order of increasing size.

Other Relevant Locations

These locations currently organized in rough order from south to north.

The Koffler Student Centre

On the next block south of AB and MP.

Bahen Centre

On the next block south of AB and MP.

Koffler House

Surprisingly not all that close to the Koffler Centre. A frequent location for GSU meetings.

UTGSU Building

Next to Koffler House.

Gerstein Library

A broad science library, with extensive stacks of reference texts and ample places to study. Books can be borrowed with your TCard.

Hart House

There is so much in Hart House, and their website has it all, but highlights are listed below.

Athletic Centre

The AC is the gymiest gym at UofT. Your TCard is required to enter. Like Hart House, there’s way too much here to list it all, but highlights are below. The rest can be found on their website.

Robarts Library

If the AC is the gymiest gym, Robarts is the librariest library. It is a massive space for reference material, and a reasonably quiet space to study (outside of undergraduate exam periods). Books may be borrowed with your TCard.

Grad House and Grad Room

Grad House is a suite-style graduate residence. Grad Room is located in its base, and offers coffee shop fare and graduate student specific programming, including weekly writing groups, yoga, and meditation. You can learn more about living in Grad House in the Housing section.

Massey College

Graduate student residence that is affiliated with but independent from UofT. You can find out more about their suite housing on their website, or by reading on to the Housing section.

Goldring Centre for High Perfomance Sport

Goldring is UofT’s newest athletic space. As with all of UofT’s athletic facilities, you’ll need your TCard to enter.

The Varsity Centre

The Varsity Centre is UofT’s stadium, and can be accessed through the Devonshire Place pavilion with your TCard. The outdoor stadium is covered in the fall and winter for intramural sports. The centre also includes a skating rink.

Graduate Program

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The graduate program is described in detail on the department website. By default, students entering the program are in the 5-year direct entry PhD or 4-year PhD. The MSc degree is not typically used as a point of entry, but rather awarded to students who exit the direct entry program early having completed some of its requirements.

Direct Entry vs Standard PhD

The ‘Direct Entry PhD’ refers to the 5-year program in which most students are enrolled. Students attending UofT already in possession of a MSc will be entered into the 4-year ‘Standard PhD’ track. The sections below describe the direct entry PhD, but the requirements for the standard PhD are the same except that standard PhD students are expected to identify their supervisor prior to entering the program, are not required to take any courses, and are expected to complete the qualifying exams in their first year instead of their second.

Direct Entry Program Outline

I’ve described here the typical timeline to graduation for someone in the direct entry program. Your individual path to your degree may differ slightly from what is described here, but I hope this section gives you a sense of what the expectations are to complete your degree on time. The names of the semesters follow UofT conventions. Fall is Sep-Dec, Winter is Jan-Apr, and Summer is May-Aug.

AST1501Y and AST1500Y

These two courses are the research component of the first year of the direct entry PhD program. Note that in this first year, students are paid by the department for their research, rather than being paid by an individual supervisor. Students must enrol in AST1501Y on ACORN in their first semester of the program, and the course continues until the end of the winter semester (the end of April). Students subsequently enrol in AST1500Y (also through ACORN) which takes them through until the end of August. Both courses are similar in both structure and requirements, but AST1500Y has a shorter timeline because students are expected to be more familiar with the department and will no longer have other courses or teaching obligations. It is expected, but not strictly required, that students will explore two different fields of study in these courses, even if they have a clear idea of the thesis work they would like to pursue. Both courses have class discussion components, which are used to develop research skills like reading scientific papers, presenting research, and asking questions to structure a project. The list below outlines all of the components and requirements of the two courses. Written requirements are submitted to the supervisor and the graduate co-chair.

Along with these formal requirements, students work with their supervisors to establish specific expectations such as hours worked in the office or one-on-one meeting times and frequency.


The full schedule of courses and their descriptions are outlined on the department website. Courses are divided into 4 categories. The ‘research’ courses are AST1501Y and AST1500Y, described above. In addition to these, you have the option to take ‘preparatory’ courses (1000-level), in introductory topics, and ‘elective’ courses (2000-level) with a more tighter focus on one aspect of astronomy. Advanced topics are taught in ‘specialized’ courses (3000-level). In undergrad, the leading number of a course code roughly corresponds to the year in which it’s appropriate to take that course, but that isn’t the case for grad courses. You may take any course at any point during your degree, although students typically try to finish their courses in their first two years (prior to the qualifying exam). Each course is expected to take approximately 8-10 hours of work a week, including lectures, reading, and homework assignments, but workload varies between courses.

Over the course of your degree, you are expected to take 2 credits worth of graduate courses (in addition to research courses AST1501Y and AST1500Y. Courses with a trailing ‘Y’ (like the research course) are worth one credit, while courses with a trailing ‘H’ are worth half a credit. Since most ‘preparatory’, ‘elective’, and ‘specialized’ courses are ‘H’ courses, this corresponds to taking 4 courses.

The following courses are the full offering from the department, but not all of these courses are offered every year. Current courses will be available for enrolment on ACORN. Check the top of this page to see current offerings.

Is there actually a prep course limit

Preparatory Courses

Elective Courses

Specialized Courses

Mini Courses

In addition to the regular courses, the department also offers ‘Mini Courses’, which are worth (1/3) of a half credit course (with about 1/3 the time commitment and workload). These courses are meant to focus on an extremely specialized topic that wouldn’t fill out a regular course in the scope of the PhD program. In the past these courses have been offered on specialized technical skills, like running hydrodynamic code or N-body simulations, particular astronomical phenomena, like transients or compact objects, or soft skills like order of magnitude assessment, teaching or giving presentations. These courses may be offered when a prof is inspired about something particular or when students request instruction in a particular subject. Unlike the courses described above, enrolment is informal, occurring by direct email to the instructing professor and the graduate administrator rather than through ACORN. Once you’ve taken three mini courses, they’re entered in to your academic record to give you half a credit towards your degree.

Courses from other departments

You may find an interesting graduate course offering from another department. Taking these course for credit is subject to the approval the graduate chair, but you can find a list of preapproved courses from the physics department on the department webpage. Scinet, a high performance computing centre associated with UofT offers a course in three modules. Each module corresponds to a single mini course, and so you make take one or two as a mini courses or all three for a half credit.

Auditing a course

A course may catch your interest that isn’t necessary for you to complete your program requirements. Auditing courses is permitted, but you should keep in mind that if no one signs up to take the course for credit, then the course won’t run. Different profs will have different standards for auditing students - some may be fine with you just sitting in lectures, but others may require you to make attempts at the assignments, whether they be problem sets or final presentations. Speak to the prof teaching the course you’re interested in to find out what they expect from auditing students.

Qualifying Exams:

You can find a more detailed description of the qualifying exams on the department website

General Qualifier

In the winter semester of your second year, you’ll need to pass the general qualifying exam, intended to ensure that your astronomical knowledge has been broadened beyond the specific focus of your research. The exam is composed of 15 questions, that are answered orally with two minutes of response per question. There is a five minute period following each question during which the panel of three faculty examiners may ask follow up questions. Question are taken from a test bank of roughly 100 questions, which are made available to students prior to the exam. The question bank is divided into five categories: Cosmology, Extragalactic Astronomy, Galactic Astronomy, Stars and Planets, and Physics and Mathematics. Five questions are drawn from each section, of which the examiners choose three to avoid overlap.

In the past, this exam has been split into two parts, separated by a few weeks to give students time to prepare for each section. Students may be awarded a pass, conditional pass, or fail. Failing necessitates a retake of the entire exam, after a period for further study, while a conditional pass requires a retake of one category or taking a preparatory level course.

You can find the 2018 question bank online.

Thesis Qualifier

The thesis qualifying exam is intended to test your expertise in the topic you’ve chosen for your thesis. Prior to the exam, you’ll need to turn in a 10 page thesis proposal, that outlines your planned work and includes a timeline. The exam consists of a 20-25 minute presentation which focuses on how your work will fit in with the current state of the field, and, more importantly, the reasons that you are most qualified to do this work. The goal of the presentation is to convince the committee of five faculty members (including your thesis committee) that you have a clear and concrete plan toward completing your thesis on time, and that the project you propose is appropriate for a thesis work. Your supervisor should be able to help you determine how best to discuss your work. After the presentation, there will be two rounds of questions, where each examiner has about 10 minutes per round. The questions will be inspired by your presentation, but may enquire about the details of specific methods, your plans to publicize your research, or how your work relates to that of other researchers.

Failing the thesis qualifying exam will mean taking it again within a few months.

Thesis Committee

The thesis committee is intended to provide you with valuable context for their project, by incorporating voices of faculty not directly involved in your thesis work. Thesis committees are typically 3 faculty, although that number may increase if you have co-supervisors. Students should meet with their thesis committee in the months of October and March, composing a report of their progress for each meeting. The thesis committee assesses your work on the basis of both the report and the meeting, and assigns a letter grade of A or B, where A corresponds to satisfactory progress and B indicates improvement is necessary.

The thesis committee is useful outside of strict committee meetings. Faculty on the committee may be helpful in resolving disagreements between student and supervisor, or in helping the student develop their skills for the job market. You can find more details on the department website.


As a graduate student, you are expected to do publication worthy research. While there is no formal requirement to publish, the informal expectation is that students will have at least 3 publications by the time they graduate. The thesis proposal you submit for the thesis qualifying exam may include a list of planned publications in the timeline; certainly your supervisor should help you develop a plan to publish your work.


The thesis is the culmination of your work in the program. This is a significant work in excess of 100 pages, incorporating the results of multiple publications. The typical format follows that of a research publication, but on a more extended scale. Each section will likely have its own introduction, background and summary sandwiching any relevant results and methods. A thesis will have it’s own abstract, an introduction chapter, a chapter for each relevant result (whether published or not), and a conclusion chapter that contextualizes the research and explains how the student will continue their work.

This document must be prepared in advance of the thesis defense, according to the timeline laid out on the department website. Note that you should leave one month to complete revisions after your defense is complete. You can see examples of past theses at the UofT archive or on the Astronomy Library’s website.

Thesis Defense

Also called the Final Oral Examination, the thesis defense is the ultimate evaluation of your thesis work. The timeline to this defense is outlined on the department website in great detail. After your thesis committee agrees that you are ready to defend, the committee recommends an external examiner, who will be brought in from outside UofT to assess your work. This must be done at least 8 weeks in advance of the planned date of defense. The graduate administrator will help with scheduling of the examination room. The thesis itself must be submitted to the external examiner 6-8 weeks before the planned defense. An examination committee must be struck, and members must receive the thesis no later than 4 weeks prior to the defense.

The exam itself takes place over a minimum of two hours. Things kick off with a 20 minute presentation. The examination committee then takes turns asking questions, and when they are finished questioning, they vote on whether your defense was successful. More than one negative vote will adjourn the defense. An non-voting member from the School of Graduate Studies will be present to ensure voting proceeds appropriately.


Part of your base funding package at UofT is a TAship in the fall and winter semesters. These TAships are 70 hours per semester, earning at a union specified rate in excess of $42/hour. Duties include running tutorials, holding office hours, running planetarium shows and observing nights, and marking assignments and tests, although they vary depending on the course you choose.

In some cases, a professor you work with might prefer you focus solely on research instead of splitting your attention with teaching responsibilities. A professor may choose to buy you out of your teaching contract, taking on responsibility for your funding that would normally come from teaching.

Conversely, you may wish to earn additional money on top of the base funding package. Additional TAships may be available for you to take on, but you should consult with your supervisor on whether you are making sufficient research progress to allow more time spent on teaching. Note that while students are guaranteed a fall and winter TAship, summer courses are TA’d on a first-come first-served basis, and are a common option for students looking to take on additional TAships.

Courses to TA

Grad students are typically assigned to astronomy department courses, although you may take on a TAship in another department if one is advertised. The undergrad courses that take on TAs are listed below. Note that a trailing ‘H’ in the course code indicates that the course is offered over one semester (Fall, Winter or Summer), while a trailing ‘Y’ indicates a course takes two semesters to complete (Fall and Winter).

Teaching Assistant Training Program

If you’d like to hone your teaching skills, UofT offers an on campus training program, TATP. Take enough courses with them, and you can earn a Teaching Fundamentals certification. If you take more courses and undergo an classroom evaluation, you can receive the Advanced University Teaching Preparation certification. You can find a list of their courses and workshops on their website.


Computer resources are provided by the department in your first year, and by your supervisor in subsequent years. Students may request a desktop Linux machine from the department through Hugh Zhao. Students working in CITA will be provided with a desktop computer to access the CITA network.

Personal Computers

Personal computers are the responsibility of the student to maintain. The department staff may be able to assist with installations and set up, but cannot guarantee support for personal computers. All personal computers can access UofT services like journal licenses when on the ‘UofT’ wireless network, available throughout campus. Printing from a personal computer in AB requires the registration of your MAC address with Hugh Zhao. Printing from a personal computer in MP requires registration of your MAC address with John Dubinski.


SciNet is a high performance computing network associated with several institutions across Canada. Graduate students must be sponsored by a professor in order to access these resources, but they are ideal for batch processing intensive computations. You’ll need a Compute Canada account (as will your sponsor) before you can gain access. You can learn more about how to use SciNet by attending one of their intro sessions listed on their course page. If you’re already comfortable with bash prompt, you can probably find enough to get started on their Niagara Quickstart page.


Sunnyvale is a smaller high perfomance network hosted at CITA. No student sponsorship is required, but a CITA account is necessary. In other respects, Sunnyvale’s batch processing system is similar to SciNet’s. You can find out more on how to access CITA’s network and Sunnyvale in particular in their Quickstart.

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Common Tools

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GASA is the Graduate Astronomy Student Association, and all astronomy graduate students are members unless they choose to opt out. GASA represents the interests and concerns of graduate students to the rest of the department. The full scope of the organization is most clear when the variety of associated positions are listed. All members of GASA are encouraged to take on at least one of the positions below, even in their first year, as an individual position usually represents a fairly minimal time commitment.

GASA Positions

To see who currently holds these positions, check the GASA website. Parenthetical numbers next to a position imply multiple people can hold the position simultaneously.


AstroTours is GASA’s primary outreach initiative, offering an opportunity for students to practice presenting their work to an audience of the general public. An AstroTour occurs on the first Thursday of most months. In addition to a 45-minute talk, attendees can enjoy the sights through the telescopes on the top of MP and planetarium shows in the basement of AB. You can find out more about AstroTours on their website.

Regular Department Events

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There are quite a few department events that occur on a weekly basis, which can be divided into those with a scientific focus, and those without. To see the full suite of events, you can follow one of several calendars.

While the lists below are extensive, the Colloquium is the main required event. It’s expected you’ll attend relevant CITA Seminars, and the Blackboard talks and astro-ph Coffees are excellent ways to stay abreast of happenings outside your chosen field. However, aside from those events it’s up to you (or your supervisor) to decide what’s important for you to attend.

Note that many of these events are not held during the summer.

Scientific Events

Non-Scientific Events


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Funding Package


Travel Grants


Saving Money as a Student

Store Discounts



Health Insurance

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For a nice summary of Toronto living, checkout WalkScore’s overview.


Graduate students have a few on-campus residence options. Incoming graduate students are not guaranteed on-campus housing the same way undergraduates are, but as most grad students opt for off-campus housing, it is possible to find an on-campus option.

In this section, find descriptions of the two major graduate student on-campus housing options Grad House and Massey College.

Grad House

Grad House is conveniently located at Harbord and Spadina, a couple of blocks away from AB, and offers housing for graduate students enrolled in fulltime programs at UofT. They receive more applications than they can accept, but do maintain a waiting list. First year graduate students tend to get preference in the application process, as Grad House provides a stable first step for students first moving to the city.

Rent in Grad House varies from year to year, but works out to roughly what one might expect to pay to rent a bedroom in a relatively new two bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto. Note however that Grad House rent includes the heat, hydro, and water utilities, in addition to internet and air conditioning. Unlike Massey College below, Grad House does not include food in this fee, as residents are responsible for their own meals.

To facilitate this, Grad House features apartment style suites, with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and one kitchen each. The decor has been described as ‘fifty shades of concrete’ (Roman, A. 2018), but the rooms are functional, and air conditioning is a surprising bonus in such affordable housing. With the AC right across Harbord, you’ll have ample opportunity to work off any junk food you might pick up in the convenience store located in the first level of Grad House.

Many thanks to Alex Roman for his descriptions of Grad House life!

Massey College

Massey College is located just a block north of AB at 4 Devonshire Pl and offers a unique experience to it’s fellows. The formal dinners on weekday evenings offer a dining experience where the dress code is strictly more ‘Harry Potter’ than ‘Slovenly Academic’. If you’ve been waiting for your chance to wear robes to school, Massey College may just be for you. In addition to the formal dinners, breakfast and lunch are provided cafeteria style every day except Sundays. Paying the Resident Junior Fellow Fees gives Massey fellows access to their own bedroom and adjoining study, and the fee includes a house cleaning service as well as the cost of the meals. Massey fellows are also invited to special College events, including fancy dress “high table” dinners.

Massey Junior Fellow Fees work out to what one might expect to pay to rent a bedroom in a relatively new two bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto, and the latter doesn’t even include food and utilities as Massey does. However, the application process for Massey College is competitive; there are typically only 20-40 spots available, with about 100 applicants. The process is outlined on their website, with applications accepted up until early May and results announced in June. Your cover letter, CV, and transcripts will be considered along with two reference letters.

The beautiful study spaces of Massey College offer it’s fellows a great atmosphere, and the shared environment fosters meetings across a wide variety of disciplines. However, the College has high expectations for the commitment of it’s fellows - participation in College clubs and committees is expected. If that environment appeals to you, you can join Massey without living there as a Non-Resident Junior Fellow.

Many thanks to Deborah Lokhorst for her descriptions of Massey College life!


Housing in Toronto is pricey, and off-campus options have a range of associated costs. In this section, we’ll talk about what you can expect to rent and at what price point, as well as where you might expect to live.

If you take one thing away from this section, please take this link to a page with your rights when renting in Ontario. You have many rights as a tenant renting in Ontario, and it pays to be familiar with what restrictions your landlord is permitted to make. Note that as of April 2018, your landlord is required to serve you a standard lease that summarizes the information in Rental FAQs in clear language - you can read a template here.

If you feel your rights have been ignored, you can appeal to the Landlord and Tenant Board.

Rental FAQs

I’ve provided a quick list of common restrictions in Ontario housing, but you can find an exhaustive list on the Landlord and Tenant Board website. Note that the below does not constitute legal advice - if you’re uncertain of your rights check the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act.

Can my landlord ask me for a deposit?

Your landlord is only permitted to ask you for a rent deposit, not exceeding the last month’s rent. You cannot be required to supply a deposit for keys, damages, or any other security deposit.

What’s included in my lease?

Read your lease! Every one is a little different - you can look at the standard lease template to get a sense of things that may or may not be included.

What happens when my lease expires?

In Toronto, tenants typically begin by signing a year long lease with monthly rent payments. When that lease expires, you will automatically be renting on a month-to-month basis, but you may choose to sign another long term lease.

Can my landlord increase my rent?

Your landlord can increase your rent by no more than 1.8% no more than once every 12 months. Changes to your rent must be communicated to you 90 days in advance and cannot contravene your lease unless agreed upon by the landlord and the tenant.

Is my landlord allowed to enter my rental unit?

The landlord is only permitted to enter the area you rent after giving you 24 hours advance notice, and only then between the hours of 8am and 8pm. However, landlords may enter without this notice in emergencies, with permission of the tenant, or when showing the rental unit for the purposes of renting to a new tenant.

How do I leave my current tenancy?

You are required to give your landlord 60 days notice before moving out, to allow them time to replace you. Once notice is served, your landlord may enter your rental unit without giving 24 hours notice for the purposes of showings to potential tenants.

Can my landlord evict me if I get a pet?

Your landlord cannot evict you for having a pet, even if you signed a lease specifying no pets. However, they are permitted to evict if you if your pet causes significant damage to the rental unit or drastically lowers the quality of life for other tenants. In addition, landlords may refuse to rent to you on the basis of pet ownership.

Can my landlord evict me to allow one of their family members to live in my unit?

Your landlord is permitted to evict you to make room for themselves or one of their family members, a process summarized as evicting for ‘own use’. In the case that this happens, they are required to offer you 1 month’s rent or a similar rental unit. If you discover that the eviction was not actually for ‘own use’ because the landlord advertised, re-rented, or demolished/converted the unit, the landlord could be subject to a fine.

Who can I talk to about something my landlord is doing that I think is illegal?

Your first step should be contacting the Landlord and Tenant Board to learn whether your landlord is acting outside the law and what your next steps should be.

Finding a rental unit

The rental market in Toronto is competitive, but you have some options when locating a place to live. The next section will summarize tools you can use to find an apartment yourself, but before we dig deeper, I’d like to highlight the possibility of using a realtor. This can take a lot of the stress out of finding somewhere to live, and is often free for the person searching. Regardless of how you choose to search, competition for units means that good listings can be taken only 2-3 days after being posted, so it pays to keep on top of your search. In a following section you can find out more about Toronto’s neighbourhoods to help you narrow your search area.

Before you begin your search, you should be able to answer some basic questions about your ideal housing:

Rental Listing Sites


Below is a list of neighbourhoods in which graduate students have recently lived off campus. The neighbourhoods are ranked in terms of price: $$$ = significantly more expensive than median, $$ = similar to median, $ = cheaper than the median. The ranking system was pretty slapdash but seems to match the general impression of the costliness of neighbourhoods. You can find a good deal anywhere, but some neighbourhoods make it harder than others. Higher typical rents also tend to mean higher costs of living for other things like groceries and medical care.

A map of Toronto neighbourhoods

Getting Around

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While many students opt to live close enough to campus to walk, this can be financially challenging. There are many alternative ways to get around the city.

Public Transit

There are two primary transit options in downtown Toronto, the TTC and GO transit, which connect to other transit agencies in nearby cities.

Transit vehicle schedules are available online as well as through a variety of transit apps (e.g. Transit).

Toronto Transit Commission

This system of subways, streetcars, and buses is the primary public transit option within the city. You can find the full system map here. If you’re interested in reading about developments to the system, Steve Munro keeps an excellent and informative blog.

Depending on your frequency of use, there are few payment options. For anyone living in the city, the Presto card or the Post-secondary Monthly pass are the best options; the others are more suitable for someone visiting from out of town. Even if you feel you will not use transit often, it is worth investing in a Presto Card (described in a section below).

Note that as long as you get the post-secondary ID card, there is no benefit to choosing the Adult Metropass over the Post-secondary Metropass. TTC passes are only valid on TTC vehicles, and do not extend to other transit agencies. Discounts when switching to other agencies from the TTC may be possible with a Presto card.

Transfers/Proof of Payment (PoP):
After paying a cash fare, be sure to pick up a paper transfer (also referred to as proof of payment), which will allow you to switch routes for free provided you are making a one way trip and board the next available vehicle towards your destination. Full transfer rules are here. Presto card users must tap their card at each route switch but do not require a paper transfer. Note that some users have reported double charges from this process, it is worth checking your transactions and disputing unfair charges. Pass holders do not require any form of transfer.

The proof of payment for each of the fares discussed above is as follows:

Proof of payment is especially important on streetcars, where no one checks that you’ve paid when you board. Streetcar riders are randomly checked by TTC Fare Inspectors to ensure they’ve paid their fare. You will get ticketed if you don’t have proof, even if you did actually pay but forgot to pick up the transfer. A common point of confusion for this is at Union station, where its possible to disembark from the subway and walk right to the 509/510 streetcars without passing through any fare gates. If you didn’t pick up a transfer in the station where you boarded the subway, you’ll be out of luck if your streetcar gets checked later on.

The Presto Card:

Local transit agencies are attempting to unify the Presto card, allowing you to have one piece of fare media to use in a variety of different systems. The card costs $6 to buy, and must be preloaded with either $10 (when purchased online or in a participating Shoppers Drug Mart), or $14 (when purchased in a subway station). An online card order will take 2 weeks to deliver by mail, so its worth investigating Presto’s exhaustive list of purchase locations. Once purchased, the card can be refilled online, in participating Shoppers Drug Marts, or at machines in transit stations.

The card is activated by tapping. On the TTC, this action either deducts the flat $3.00 fares, or algorithmically determines that you are making a valid transfer from another TTC vehicle (see the TTC’s Presto transfer rules). This algorithm is not perfect; keep an eye on your balance and dispute unfair charges. In other transit agencies, fares may be charged by distance travelled; in these cases it is essential to ‘tap on’ when you enter a vehicle and ‘tap off’ when you leave it.

Note that a Presto card does not automatically switch to a monthly Metropass when your fares equal the cost of the pass. It is up to you to purchase a monthly Metropass on your card at the beginning of the month if you think you will use it.

Presto card users typically enjoy reduced fares when switching between transit agencies.

Rush Hours

As in any city, there are times of day when more people are trying to get around. At these times, vehicles might be packed to crush capacity, making it difficult or impossible to board. Graduate students are lucky to have typically flexible working hours; if you take transit regularly, it’s worth investigating the times are which your routes are busiest so you can give yourself the option of a peaceful trip to the office. Peak hours for transit are typically 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm. Maximum capacity is usually reached at 8am-9am and 5pm-6pm. As you might expect, crowding is worst on routes going into the city in the morning and out of the city in the evening.

GO Transit



Car-share programs

Taxis, Uber, and Lyft

Air Travel

Toronto has two international airports: Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in the north and the much smaller Billy Bishop Airport (YTZ) on Lake Ontario.

Pearson International Airport

Pearson is a behemoth of an airport, reachable by car or a variety of public transit options, including the Union Pearson Express, a train with $9 fares for Presto card users (see the TTC section for more details on the Presto Card).

Pearson has two terminals, helpfully labelled Terminal 1 (for higher-end airlines and Air Canada) and Terminal 3 (typically budget airlines and often domestic destinations). Both terminals are recently renovated, and they are connected by a free monorail. For a full list of which airline flies out of which terminal, you can check Pearson’s website.

This airport has customs pre-clearance for destinations in the US, meaning you do US customs before you board the plane instead of after.

Billy Bishop Airport

This airport offers flights to domestic and US destinations, mostly via the budget Porter Airlines. It’s conveniently accessible at the foot of Bathurst street, with a free shuttle service between the main terminal and the Line 1 subway Union Station. It’s also easily reachable by public transit, either by the 509 Harbourfront or 511 Bathurst streetcar lines.

UofT Services

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Students at UofT are furnished with a TCard. This card allows you to borrow books from the library, access card-locked areas to which you are entitled (e.g. limited access classrooms, athletic facilities), purchase food if you choose a meal plan in residence, and access the on campus health services. You’ll need the card to gain access to UofT’s online administrative tools like Portal and ACORN. The card also gives you access to student discounts at a variety of cultural and retail locations (see the Saving Money as a Student section).

School of Graduate Studies

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The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) sends out frequent emails with the many workshops and events they run for graduate students, which are primarily located in Grad Room at the base of Grad House on the corner of Harbord Street and Spadina Ave. These events range from career focused workshops to subsidized trips.

The SGS also maintains the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, which runs workshops and courses on academic communication as well as one-on-one writing consultations. This is an excellent service; with enough advance notice they will help you edit your writing to make it truly excellent.

In addition, the SGS offers many courses to help you enhance skills that may not be explicitly taught elsewhere. These courses are offered under the umbrella of the Graduate Professional Skills Program (GPS), and categorized into Communication, Personal Effectiveness, Teaching Competency and Research-Related Skills. Completing enough courses will earn you a GPS notation on your transcript. Highlights for astronomy students include

Sadly there are no links to these courses, as they are offered only sporadically. Checking the GPS link above will reveal the scheduled programming for the upcoming academic year.

Health and Wellness

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UofT Library

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Public Services

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Service Canada

Service Canada provides a contact point for federal government services so you don’t need to apply by mail. You can visit a branch to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN) or renew a Canadian passport. The nearest Service Canada locations to campus are

Service Ontario

Service Ontario provides a contact point for provincial government services like driver’s license renewal and health card applications. The nearest Service Ontario locations to campus are

Toronto Public Library

As they say, having fun isn’t hard if you have a library card. The UofT Library can certainly meet your academic needs, but the TPL has more on offer than astronomy text books. Getting a TPL card requires proof that you live at a Toronto address (addressed mail to where you live will do), and once you have one it’s good for a year. The card gives you access to the TPL’s enormous catalogue, including their collection of ebooks, digital newspapers, and audiobooks. But in addition to this traditional library offerings, the TPL offers access to ‘digital innovation hubs’, where you can use 3D printers, digital design workstations and recording studios. They also have a partnership with the Toronto Tool Library for all of your tinkering needs. The TPL also offers plenty of programming to give you a chance to pick up a new skill or hone an old one, so there’s no reason not to get a card. However, if all of this blatant fawning hasn’t convinced you to get a card, you can still work in any of the 100 branches. I can certainly attest to the fact that the atmosphere in the Toronto Reference Library at Yonge and Bloor is much more positive than that in Robarts. The nearest Toronto Public Library locations are

Things to do in Toronto

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The Royal Ontario Museum

Canada’s largest museum is a marvel inside and out - the interesting architechtural choices made for this building are best experienced in person. The special exhibitions bring extra variety to the usual displays on the museum’s four floors. The geology exhibit is a close favourite of mine, but locals will have fond memories of the bat cave, and the new dinosaur exhibit can’t help but impress. If you want to take a look, visit on a Tuesday with your student card for free entry. The museum is easily accessible from the Line 1 subway Museum Station, or by a 10 minute walk from the DAA.

This art gallery is another architechtural marvel, and is embedded in a neighbourhood of other smaller galleries and art stores. Arrive after 6pm on a Wednesday for free admission (no student id required!). The AGO curates a huge selection of classical and modern art in its light filled space, although my personal highlight is the collection of model ships in the basement. The AGO is easily reachable by the 505 Dundas streetcar line or by walking from St Patrick Station on the Line 1 subway. It’s also only a 10 minute walk from the DAA.

The Don Valley Park

If big city living has you hungry for greenery, look no farther than the Don River Valley Park. While Don Valley in casual conversation almost exclusively refers to the major highway that runs along the valley, the park is surprisingly tranquil. There is an extensive trail system suitable for walking or cycling, and at the right time of year you can visit the river to see the salmon run. At the south end of the park you can visit Riverdale Farm, a working farm hosting beautiful gardens, historic buildings, and a pig and poultry barn. In the north you can find the Evergreen Brick Works, a former brick making factory that now hosts a variety of events to encourage sustainability, including regular markets, swap meets and art exhibitions. The Evergreen Brick Works runs a shuttle from the Line 2 subway Broadway Station, but one can also walk down into the valley from the Line 2 subway Castle Frank Station.


The ultimate test of your navigational abilities, the PATH will take only the hardiest souls to their intended destinations. Much of Toronto’s business district is connected by underground tunnels filled with shops, food courts, and desperately turned around tourists. Hop off the Line 1 subway at any station south of Queen St and follow the signs for the PATH to start exploring.

The Eaton Centre

Sitting between the Times Square wannabe of Yonge and Dundas Square to the North and Nathan Phillips Square to the South, this mall is equipped to help you shop until well after your standard dropping point with four floors of retail, and two food courts. If you feel the need to step outside, there are good odds that either of the bounding squares are hosting an event; if nothing else the strange alien spaceship of Toronto’s new City Hall is worth a look. Nearer to the mall you can also find the Toronto Public Labyrinth. You can easily reach the mall by taking the Line 1 subway to Queen or Dundas stations.

Roundhouse Park and CN Tower

If you’ve seen one Toronto sizzle reel, this area was probably heavily featured. Surrounded by glass walled condos, the Roundhouse Park is easy walking distance from the SkyDome (now often known by the inferior moniker The Rogers Centre), the Air Canada Centre (go Raptors!), Ripley’s Aquarium, Steamwhistle Breweries, and of course, the CN Tower (it’s 553 m tall, if you read the Table of Contents). This area is a short walk from Union Station at the bottom of the Line 1 subway or from the 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront streetcar lines.

The Harbourfront Centre

Just steps to the south of the Roundhouse park awaits a smorgasbord of free artistic offerings spread along Toronto’s waterfront. Two free art galleries, a winter skating rink and summer artisan markets make this area worth a visit at any time of the year. It’s easily reachable by foot from Union Station at the bottom of the Line 1 subway or more directly by the 510 Spadina or 509 Harbourfront streetcar lines.

Toronto Islands

The islands are a surprising escape from the city only a 15 minute ferry ride away from the bustling downtown core. Centre Island is often considered the jewel of the bunch, with public picnic sites, Centreville amusement park (including a petting zoo) and the massive Lake Ontario Pedestrian Pier. However, while Centre Island ferries only travel in the summer months, Ward’s Island ferries sail year-round to service the residents of that island. Visiting Ward’s Island in the spring and fall is my preferred way to visit the lake while avoiding the crowds that throng Centre Island in the summer. You can also visit Hanlan’s Point in the summer for this effect, with the added bonus of the option of visiting the clothing optional beach. You can reach the ferry to the islands by walking south from Union Station at the bottom of the Line 1 subway or by taking the 510 Spadina or 509 Harbourfront streetcar lines.

High Park

The only park in Toronto that I’ve visited that you can get in deep enough to lose sight of the city. High Park is a massive green space to the west of the city. In addition to the wilder woods of the off-leash dog park, you can enjoy their more cultivated gardens as well as the ever popular spring cherry blossoms. The park also includes numerous sports fields, picnic areas and a mini zoo (with free admission). The park can be reached from the Line 2 High Park station, or by the 506 Carlton or 508 Lakeshore streetcar lines.

Ontario Science Centre

Located north of the city centre, the Science Centre offers everyone an opportunity to get hands on with science. Despite my feelings being biased by the frankly horrifying human body exhibit I was forced to witness as a child, I still find myself able to enjoy the virtual koi pond, the kinetic experiment room, and the rainforest exhibit. The Science Centre had virtual reality eagle flight before it was trendy and also boasts a full sized IMAX theatre. The Science Centre can be reached by taking the Line 1 subway to Eglinton station, followed by a bus, or by taking the Line 2 subway to Pape Station, also followed by a bus.

Scarborough Bluffs

Travel far enough east and stick to the lake and you’ll encounter the towering Scarborough Bluffs. Majestic in their slow motion crumble, the parks around their base are popular with adventurers and wedding photographers alike. In addition to the surrounding trails, you can find the Rosetta McClain gardens at the top of the bluffs and a restaurant at their base. You can reach the bluffs by taking the Line 2 subway to either Warden or Kennedy Station, followed by a bus.