We are thrilled to feature another member in our “Meet a Space Professional” feature series.
Dr. Hilding Neilson is an assistant professor at the @dunlap_institute and conducts research on astrophysics and on the intersection of science, astronomy, and Indigenous knowledge. He received his PhD in astronomy and astrophysics from @UofT and BSc. from @smuhalifax in astrophysics and math. As a Mi’kmaw person, Dr. Neilson told Indus Space “I strive to embrace and integrate Indigenous knowledges and methodologies to better understand the physics of stars and the Universe and our place in it”.
1. How would you describe your current occupation (what and where)?
I am a CLTA assistant professor in the Dept of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the U of T.
2. How did you become what you are? Can you describe your journey leading to your career?
I followed a traditional academic path. I earned my undergrad degrees in astrophysics and math at St. Mary’s University and then my PhD at the U of T. I then did two postdocs in Germany and the US before returning to Toronto in my current position.
3. What or who inspired you to explore space exploration the way you have?
When I started at St. Mary’s University I wanted to study engineering and math, but at the time I could not take the engineering courses so I picked up an introductory astronomy course. While I was always inspired by the night sky and the cosmos it was the first time that I got to see all of the open questions and mysteries of the Universe. Astronomy is the ultimate detective story.
4. What would you say to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Being Indigenous in astronomy is hard. Colonization continues today and science has not recognized its role yet. But, one part of being Indigenous is that we carry the knowledges of our ancestors and bring different perspectives to astronomy and physics that enriches our understanding of the Universe. Western science can only become better and more open if we have more Indigenous voices.
5. Share a fun fact about yourself!
I am a big Star Wars nerd.
6. Is there something you still want to do or learn that you haven’t done yet in your career?
Every time I learn something in astronomy and physics, it opens a door to more questions. There is always more to learn.
7. We often talk about constellations to youth attending our programs – is there a favourite constellation you have or a story you can share that celebrates your Indigenous heritage.