Story

Julie Payette
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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Alumna, MASc, Electrical & Computer Engineering

Following my undergraduate studies at McGill University, I worked for two years to make sure that I could afford to acquire the necessary skills and education to fulfil my dreams. One of those was to become an astronaut.

That dream put me in a competitive field, so I chose to undertake a master's degree to equip myself. I looked around at university programs. U of T had a newly formed Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

I arrived in Toronto with my own car. A month later I sold it because living at Massey College was so convenient that I did not need a vehicle. Life at Massey was interesting because there were students from different fields of study: literature, medicine, biology, and engineering—a very rich milieu.

I would encourage students to further their knowledge and to start thinking and analyzing deeply on their own. I encourage students to think about a graduate degree—it is so very different than a first degree. You are autonomous. The work is very rigorous—you have to produce work in classes and for your thesis.

As for being an astronaut, it is not possible to register in an astronaut program. You have to be ready when there is a recruitment program calling for applications. You must develop a basket of skills and talents to impress the recruiters with a strong resumé. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) looks for professional candidates with degrees in science, medicine, or engineering.

Put everything that is useful into your basket of skills and talents—it takes time to prepare. The CSA is looking for people with breadth: sports, music, and culture. Astronauts must be team players. Do what makes you a team player.

I applied for the astronaut program in 1992. I didn't think I had a shot. However, one thing was sure: if I didn't apply, I would never have a shot.

I knew an MASc from U of T would help me. I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to fly in space.

I look on U of T with a warm heart; I return to Massey College often. On one of my flights, the Massey College chef gave me a teaspoon engraved with the Massey College crest. Often, visitors to Massey pocket a spoon as a memento. As a result, there are Massey College spoons all over the planet. However, there is one spoon that left the planet with me and returned! It is displayed in the Common Room.

In 2011 I was privileged to undertake an eight-month fellowship as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. It is a public think tank that conducts research and develops public foreign policy on collaborative large science projects. I was the Quebec science delegate, helping make ties between researchers and academics.

The next frontier? As of July 2013, I am the Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Montreal Science Centre.

See also: Alumni Portrait​

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