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HELP. UBC or Waterloo for Mathematical Physics?

  1. Apr 1, 2009 #1
    Hey guys, I'm having a bit of trouble choosing my program. Please help me here.

    After spending my first term of university in UofT's Engineering Science program I quit knowing I did not want to do my degree in engineering. I'm more interested in the theoretical side of physics - the symmetries, beauty, and also philosophical implications. I had A+ in the math and physics courses in EngSci, and both required rigorous proofs, so I'd like to think I know what I'm up against.

    Now I have to choose between doing
    a BSc. in Combined Honours in Physics and Mathematics from UBC
    or a BMath in Honours Mathematical Physics from Waterloo
    Please try sticking with these 2 programs.

    The UBC program looks a lot more intense since it is a joint honours program. The load is 6 courses a term compared to 5 in UW. I'm not so worried about courseload. It couldn't get worse than EngSci, but I do want to avoid taking math/physics courses that are not in my interest just to satisfy the degree requirement. For example, labs, and pure math that may never model physical reality. Maybe I am overlooking their (potential) importance? The BMath degree from UW seems to match my interest perfectly with a strong emphasis on theories and zero lab requirement, but will it adequately prepare me for grad school in fields such as particle physics and superstring? UW also doesn't seem to offer many upper year physics courses besides quantum theories.

    I should also note that UW lets me have 6 phys/math electives, but UBC let me choose next to zero physics elective throughout the entire program. UBC does give me 4 math electives, but as I mentioned, I would much rather learn physics.

    There is also the question of research opportunities. UBC definitely has a larger research community, but UW has the Perimeter Institute right next to it. Are those factors relevant to an undergrad? How hard is it to get an actual position from these institutes?

    It would be really helpful if I can get some insight on this, hopefully from some of you who went through these programs, but any help will be greatly appreciated! ><||

    thanks a lot!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2009 #2


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    Dearly Missed

    Lucky you. Waterloo.
  4. Apr 1, 2009 #3


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    Departmental Honours Academic Plans: Requirements
    Applied Mathematics
    Honours Mathematical Physics

    In conjunction with the common degree requirements in Table I in "Degree Requirements," this plan requires at least 20 math courses. The overall requirements must include the Faculty core courses outlined in Table II in "Degree Requirements" and the following courses:

    All of

    MATH 237 Calculus 3 for Honours Mathematics or MATH 247 Calculus 3 (Advanced Level)
    AMATH 231 Calculus 4
    AMATH 250 Introduction to Differential Equations
    AMATH 261/PHYS 263 Classical Mechanics and Special Relativity
    AMATH/PMATH 332 Applied Complex Analysis
    AMATH 341/CM 271/CS 371 Introduction to Computational Mathematics
    AMATH 351 Ordinary Differential Equations 2
    AMATH 353 Partial Differential Equations 1
    AMATH 373 Quantum Theory 1 or PHYS 334 Quantum Physics 2
    PHYS 121 Mechanics and Waves 1
    PHYS 122 Mechanics and Waves 2
    PHYS 234 Quantum Physics 1
    PHYS 241 Electricity and Magnetism
    PHYS 258 Thermal Physics
    PHYS 359 Statistical Mechanics
    PHYS 363 Intermediate Classical Mechanics
    PHYS 441A Electromagnetic Theory

    Three of

    AMATH/PMATH 331 Applied Real Analysis
    AMATH 361 Continuum Mechanics
    AMATH 432/PMATH 453 Functional Analysis
    AMATH 456 Calculus of Variations
    AMATH 463 Fluid Mechanics
    AMATH 473/PHYS 454 Quantum Theory 2
    AMATH 475/PHYS 476 Introduction to General Relativity

    Three of

    AMATH 473/PHYS 454 Quantum Theory 2
    AMATH 475/PHYS 476 Introduction to General Relativity
    CO 481/CS/ PHYS 467 Introduction to Quantum Information Processing
    PHYS 335 Condensed Matter Physics
    PHYS 434 Quantum Physics 3
    PHYS 435 Solid State Physics
    PHYS 441B Electromagnetic Theory
    PHYS 444 Modern Particle Physics
    PHYS 480 Radiation Biophysics
    The Table II they talked about earlier is:
    Table II – Required Faculty Core Courses – Honours BMath Plans except Mathematical Studies and Mathematics/Chartered Accountancy

    All of
    MATH 106 Applied Linear Algebra 1 or MATH 136 Linear Algebra 1 for Honours Mathematics or MATH 146 Linear Algebra 1 (Advanced Level)
    MATH 127 Calculus 1 for the Sciences or MATH 137 Calculus 1 for Honours Mathematics or MATH 147 Calculus 1 (Advanced Level)
    MATH 128 Calculus 2 for the Sciences or MATH 138 Calculus 2 for Honours Mathematics or MATH 148 Calculus 2 (Advanced Level)
    MATH 135 Algebra for Honours Mathematics or MATH 145 Algebra (Advanced Level)
    MATH 235 Linear Algebra 2 for Honours Mathematics or MATH 245 Linear Algebra 2 (Advanced Level)
    STAT 230 Probability or STAT 240 Probability (Advanced Level)
    STAT 231 Statistics or STAT 241 Statistics (Advanced Level)
    One of
    CS 115 Introduction to Computer Science 1
    CS 135 Designing Functional Programs
    CS 230 Introduction to Computers and Computer Systems
    CS 234 Data Types and Structures
    CS 241 Foundations of Sequential Programs
    One of
    CS 116 Introduction to Computer Science 2
    CS 136 Elementary Algorithm Design and Data Abstraction
    CS 145 Design, Abstraction, and Implementation
    One of
    MATH 237 Calculus 3 for Honours Mathematics or MATH 247 Calculus 3 (Advanced Level)
    MATH 239 Introduction to Combinatorics or MATH 249 Introduction to Combinatorics (Advanced Level)

    Looks like a very solid BMath Honours program! Plus by the time you are ready for grad school you may be interested in stuff you are not thinking about now, like Cosmology, Astroparticle Physics, Foundations...
    It should be a remarkable experience to be doing undergrad math physics while being able to walk over and drop in on lectures at Perimeter. They have all kinds of workshops, special series, including stuff for undergrads.
    Another thing is it is cosmopolitan. People you meet at Perimeter are often going back to UK, France, Holland etc. You might run into them later at Utrecht, Geneva, Nottingham, Marseille, Rome...
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2009
  5. Apr 2, 2009 #4
    I am a student at Waterloo and I can say that our physics department is very weak. The school generally don't really care about the physics department and only focus on engineering. I suggest you to not come here for physics. The perimeter institute is not related to Waterloo university at all. There is a chance to take 1 graduate level course at PI but that is all. Alot of ppl think physics at UW is great b/c of the PI but I suggest you to do some research if your sole reason is that.
  6. Apr 2, 2009 #5
    Thanks, that's exactly what my main concern is. So being a UW student would not translate into a easier undergrad research position from PI at all?
  7. Apr 2, 2009 #6
    I'm also a student at Waterloo (doing the Math Phys program you're looking into). Waterloo is not just about engineering! As you probably know, it has the biggest Math faculty in North America. The profs I've met genuinely care about the students. Its relatively easy to get co-op jobs/summer jobs researching with a faculty member.

    The physics courses seem standard...you'll probably get equally good classes anywhere else. However, as a math phys student you'll have the option of taking the Pure Math courses (instead of the Applied Math courses listed in the degree requirements). I'd highly suggest you do this, as every pure math prof I've had has been superb, and the material is far more in-depth. I doubt you'd be able to find math courses like that anywhere else in Canada.

    He's right about PI, though. You won't have much to do with them as an undergraduate, and being from UW probably won't help you get an undergrad research position there. On the bright side, IQC is also at Waterloo. Their faculty teach alot of the undergrad quantum courses, and there's always research opportunities for undergrads there.
  8. Apr 2, 2009 #7
    Thanks for the reply! I know Waterloo is definitely one of the best schools for math, but I do want my studies on theoretical physics, instead of pure math. I looked at the each course description in detail. Should the program be renamed "Physical Math"?

    I'm really torn between the two. UW offers 4 quantum courses throughout the program (QPhys 1,3 + QTheory 1,2) and UBC only have 2, and they are less theoretical.

    Sounds cool. How big is the competition for those positions? Say, being top 10% in the class. Of course there are more factors involved, but I just want to get a general idea.

    Plus. No one commented on UBC yet :(
  9. Apr 2, 2009 #8
    Marks aren't everything for research positions. You need to have high eighties average to be considered, but its also how well the prof knows you. If you do real well in your Quantum class & speak up in class so the prof knows you, there's a good chance he'll accept when you ask about working for him. Out of my friends, everyone who wanted a research position and was willing to work for it got one.

    As for the "Physical Math" comment, I don't think you can draw a line between the two. Every course in the core curriculum is useful for a physicist. If you want more physics courses, consider Mathematical Physics from the Science department rather than Math. The programs are almost identical, except there are no CS requirements or breadth requirements (the Math program requires 5 arts courses). These are replaced with two CHEMS, first year labs (two each semester), and some more physics courses requirements. So you'd be able to use the 5 slots that would've gone to arts to take courses like Astrophys 1-3, or some Optics.
  10. Aug 27, 2009 #9


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    I too am a student in mathematical physics at UW. This is probably too late, but might help someone else.

    As you mentioned, Waterloo lets you take several electives. Depending on your choices it's very easy to make the program more physical than mathematical and vice versa. It's definitely possible to have electives such that you're taking "Physical Mathematics", but it's just as easy to have Mathematical Physics.

    Not only does Waterloo have a huge math department, but one of the world's best co-op programs. It's possible to find research experience w/o co-op, but if you're interested in branching out and seeing what physics is like in the private or government sectors co-op is the way to go.

    I've held research positions at both IQC and Perimeter Institute, as well as on campus with profs. The PI undergrad positions are quite competitive, and are open to international students. It's true that PI seems distant from undergraduates at UW, but they're quite open to visitors and are always giving lectures, seminars and colloquia - just get yourself on the mailing lists. The easiest way to find research at these places (PI might be hard if it's not one of their summer undergrad positions) is to approach a prof and ask. Having an NSERC USRA makes everything easier too - 80% minimum average though.

    If you're interested in doing grad school, particularly in areas like particle physics or string theory, pure math is definitely important and will be applicable.
  11. Aug 27, 2009 #10
    ^ Is it just as easy (or just as hard) for international students studying at Waterloo to get NSERC research money, or is it mostly offered to domestic students?
  12. Aug 27, 2009 #11
    Um. Non-canadians aren't eligible for NSERC. It's a government grant for canadian students to encourage canadian science.
  13. Aug 27, 2009 #12
    That would answer my question :)
  14. Aug 27, 2009 #13
    You might be able to get a corresponding grant from your home country that can be used in a canadian university though
  15. Aug 27, 2009 #14
    ^ I'm from the US, if you know anything about that.

    Anyway, that's one factor among many. Perhaps doing a coop would help balance things out.
  16. Aug 27, 2009 #15
    Ya. You can definetly make decent money (assuming you can get a job)
  17. Aug 27, 2009 #16
    It seems like you've made your decision already to go to either Waterloo or UBC, but out of curiosity, may I ask if you've considered UofT's physics specialist or math/physics specialist progams? I'm in 2nd year doing a physics specialist and a math major at UofT and I'm fairly impressed with it so far. Last term there were already several people who started in EngSci and switched to physics.
  18. Sep 9, 2009 #17
    to be honest, i didn't really considering staying at UT, because at the time i was really frustrated with the lack of communication between faculties (the advisor said i have to do everything by myself, plus they won't let me transfer in the middle of the year). so i just left. UBC let me start during the summer. so i chose to do that instead of staying a year behind.

    on a side note, i went to issyp at Perimeter this august (turns out i'm the right age even though i'm not in high school anymore). and i really fell in love with UW. it's a nice little campus... but it's too late. but i'm sure it's gana be okay anywhere. as far as i make the best out of what's available.
  19. Sep 10, 2009 #18
    Nice little campus? We are talking about the same Waterloo right? Waterloo is many things but it looks like crap. It's all 50's prefab buildings with drab, clashing, color schemes. Even their new buildings where they actually try to make them look nice look like crap (the Davis Centre for example)
  20. Sep 24, 2011 #19

    oyyy I am bumping alot of old posts today
    bear with me
    I am just a little worried about university application coming up soon

    can anybody else give comment on mathematical physics from waterloo
    and math & physics specialist program at university of toronto?
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