Top 40 Under 40 April 30th – Tim Robishaw

Penticton Top 40 Under 40

“Penticton Top 40 under 40 is presented by Prospera Credit Union in partnership with the Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce and JCI Penticton, with support from White Kennedy LLP Chartered Accountants

“It’s not too tough to be inspired when you wake up and realize your job is to solve the mysteries of the universe! There aren’t that many astrophysicists in the world, yet there are a seemingly infinite number of questions about how the universe works,” replied Doctor Tim Robishaw, Astrophysicist for the National Research Council at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO), located near White Lake when asked what inspires him.  Tim is the world’s expert in the study of what is known as “the Zeeman Effect” using radio waves from space, and he lives, right here, in the Okanagan.

Tim uses large telescopes (including the world’s largest telescope) to collect radio waves coming from interstellar space.  In particular, if there are magnetic fields between the stars, a special fingerprint is left on the radio waves that he and his colleagues can detect with their telescopes.  This allows them to understand how magnetic fields influence, or are influenced by, the birth and death of stars and the formation of galaxies.

Tim graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, Honourstim (1)  in Physics and Astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, and has Masters of Arts as well as a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, also from Berkeley. Tim was a post-doctoral fellow and a “Super Science Fellow” at the University of Sydney in Australia before moving to Canada in 2011 to become the Covington Fellow at DRAO. He has just accepted a staff position at the observatory and couldn’t be more thrilled to call the Okanagan home.

After receiving his Ph.D., Tim, like many other graduate students experienced an affliction known as “impostor syndrome”, in which, despite external evidence of their competence, they feel they are not as intelligent as those around them seem to believe and do not deserve the success they have achieved. “Becoming a world expert in a topic is not something that happens overnight, and there is no eureka moment.  You start your training knowing that everyone above you knows an awful lot more than you do.  Then you finish your studies and it’s hard to shake that feeling that you don’t really know what you’re doing, even if you happen to know more about a certain topic than perhaps anyone in the world,” says Tim, with time, he gained confidence and overcame this feeling, because just like in business, people need experience to gain confidence.


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Tim feels science gets really exciting when trying to confirm an expectation or hypothesis and finding that the universe doesn’t operate in the way we expected.  “We don’t tend to think of science as entrepreneurship, but in reality, almost every experiment that is conducted in a scientific endeavour is a massive gamble of time and money,” Tim responded when asked about his advice for up and coming entrepreneurs. “One might think that business is different, that a failed venture will teach you nothing, but that’s not so: there is much to be learned from an unsuccessful business endeavour that will guide you to a possibly more productive path. I’d like to echo the words of the great late twentieth century philosopher, Mr. T, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.””

If he weren’t an astrophysicist Tim thinks he would be doing something exciting, like studying great white sharks or touring the world as a guitarist in a massively successful rock band (note: Brian May, the guitarist in Queen, has a Ph.D. in astrophysics). Time believes that an essential component of being an entrepreneur is that, “your heart has to be in it, and to be willing to take a risk to have any hope of success”.

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