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Physics Universities in Canada: Specifics

  1. Oct 27, 2008 #1
    Hey, I've been having an extremely hard time lately in deciding a good program to go for, so I'll tell you my whole situation, and any help/opinions would be greatly appreciated!

    I'm in my final year of high school in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and I've pretty much fully decided that I would like to go into physics with the distant goal of become a theoretical physicist and professor. I am sincerely stuck when it comes to choosing a university to even apply to at all, and on top of that a program. As for the universities, I am going to stay in Canada, but I'm not afraid to move around from province to province and everything. As for the programs, I am interested in what I should take when it comes to a basic bsc. mj physics, mj math/physics, honours sc, and etc. I have read a lot of things saying that it is not really possible to say which universities are the best, but instead you must look at what topics you are interested in. So, currently I am really interested in things like string theory and T.O.E., which I would assume means I should look for programs with good General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics (but I'm not too sure)? Also, if you have any information about how much going all the way through bachelors, masters, and phD is going to put me in the hole wallet-wise, that would be cool. Any info and opinions would be awesome, because I am pretty much at a stand still.
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  3. Oct 27, 2008 #2
    I’m currently enrolled in undergraduate physics are McMaster University (Ontario). In my opinion the school you choose for your undergraduate doesn’t make a huge difference. My friends at UofT, Waterloo and McGill are all studying the same things at about the same pace. My only true suggestion is to find a campus that fits you the best. However if you really are aiming for one of the more "renown" Canadian schools, I suggest UofT or Waterloo.
  4. Oct 27, 2008 #3


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    I managed to get all the way through without any debt. Of course, I had some good summer jobs (Armed Forces Reserves, and a summer studentship through undergrad) and a good part time job through grad school.

    As for programs, now is the time to start going on university tours to get a feel for what different campuses are like. Start with a general progam that gets more specific as you go, rather than starting off with anything too specific. Your interests can change drastically once you're out of high school so it's best to keep as many doors open as possible.
  5. Oct 27, 2008 #4
    As others have said, I don't think which school matters that much in your undergrad years, unless you are very very talented so that you can just go to research with top scientists in some fields...Otherwise, just pick one that is quite decent and have enough courses to fit your needs.

    Now, as a caveat, if you are like me, who like to speed through lots of courses to learn as much theoretical stuff as possible... you'll soon find yourself completely soaked in studying every minute of your life. This is no joke, every time you sit down, go to bathroom, take a shower, before going to sleep...you'll be thinking about how to solve that homework problem, how to prove that theorem... Even then, you'll feel that it's still not enough. Further, no matter how hard you study, there is always someone else many times beyond your level. Learning theoretical physics (specially high energy physics. You pretty much have to know math around the level of a math major and tons of physics) is tough business and incredibly competitive, but immensely satisfying when you understand some deep insights. So, good luck in your studies.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2008
  6. Oct 27, 2008 #5


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    As others have said, the undergrad university doesn't change much, except for potentially having research positions in your field and the likes. All major canadian universities are pretty much equally viewed in physics, so no need to look for a more renowned place, as you won't find any. In theoretical physics, U of A has a great department, and UBC has some stuff as well (and is near you).

    Waterloo might also be good; while its physics department isn't exactly great (although you might hear a lot of hype about waterloo, it's a tiny university in anything outside engineering), there is the perimeter institute nearby, and although you probably wont be able to do any sort of research there, they have a lot of open talks and opportunities to meet well-known theoretical physicists.

    I've never heard anyone graduating out of U of T suggest that anyone else go there; the common idea seems to be to stay as far away as possible. That being said, it is (by far) the largest physics department in the country (which can be both good and bad), and has very strong coursework (which might explain why everyone seems to hate it; students get tired of working twice as hard as those from other universities, and ending up with a GPA much lower)

    Money wise, by the end of your PhD, you should have paid off any debt you might have accumulated by your undergrad. Depending on your spending habits and whether you work part time / during summer / etc., you shouldn't have much debt even after the BSc, and PhDs normally get a fair amount of money (although this depends extremely strongly on your grades).
  7. Oct 27, 2008 #6
    Since you're in BC, I'd suggest checking out the UBC and SFU campuses, just to get a feel for them. I attend UVic, which I like very much. Might be worth coming over for a day too, to take a look.

    Unfortunately I can't say much more than that--I'm quite satisfied studying physics at UVic (and the town is great!).
  8. Dec 31, 2008 #7
    And McGill is not "renown"? :uhh:

    UofT definitely has the best Physics program in the country, I'm not too sure if Waterloo physics is all that "renown", Waterloo and Perimeter aren't the same, but of course it helps having a world-class institute around.
  9. Jan 16, 2009 #8
    Normally how many freshman is there in physics in UofT or waterloo? Like 20 or 100 or ?
  10. Jan 18, 2009 #9
    at McMaster atleast we dont have a first year physics program, you will apply for it in your second year. Generally at McMaster we have 20-30 people in physics per year. (This does not include med phys or eng phys)
  11. Jan 18, 2009 #10
    Hi, thanks for your replay. What did you take for 1st year then? UofT has a 1st year program right? And its under the Math and physical science department (art and science) right? Stupid questions but g2 make sure, thanks.

    I can't decide between EngSci (specialize in physics) or physics. :S
  12. Jan 18, 2009 #11


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    For McMaster, if you go here:
    http://registrar.mcmaster.ca/calendar/year2008/sec_594.htm [Broken]
    you will see the requirements for admittance to the physics program (i.e., list of first-year courses needed): 30 units including
    6 units MATH 1A03, 1AA3 with an average of at least 6.0
    3 units PHYSICS 1B03 with a grade of at least C+
    3 units from PHYSICS 1BA3, 1BB3 with a grade of at least C+
    6 units CHEM 1A03, 1AA3
    6 units from Physical Sciences I Course List (See Admission Note above.)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  13. Jan 21, 2009 #12
    I'm at Queen's in Kingston for Engineering Physics, and I can re-iterate that where you do your undergrad does not matter. When I sat down to choose between schools I applied to UofT, McMaster, Waterloo, and Queen's.

    In the end, I chose Queen's because I wanted to have fun at university. I've never heard of anyone going to McMaster or Queen's and having a negative experience in their 4 years, but I've heard plenty of negative feedback about the academic and peer environment at UofT and Waterloo. It was really my own personal inclinations that led me to choose a certain school.
  14. Feb 23, 2009 #13
    I'm going to go a little out there and recommend University of Manitoba. Small department, big University, you'll pay about half in tuition and living expenses as almost any other university, you'll have access to summer jobs in the physics department easily if you want, tight knit physics undergrad community which get fully funded to attend CUPC every year, and the last year I was there we swept the competitions (won all three poster competition places). You will get to know you're profs well, and as such can get really good personalized reference letters which can go a long way for grad schools.
  15. Feb 26, 2009 #14
    I understand there are a lot of great local options for physics, but if I were from another country I'd go to one of UBC, McGill or UofT, for the name. But I'm sure there are many undergrad programs (at least) just as good through out the country. McGill is quite good for theory apparently, but UofT is probably the best by a good margin, overall.
  16. Mar 23, 2009 #15
    I know a few math grad students and a couple of strong undergrads at UofT (I'm not Canadian), and from them it seems like UofT undergrad preperation is amazing. The one undergrad I know there, as a physics and math student, has had math courses I didn't do until I started the course work for my PhD (in mathematics). She often says really bad things about the place (I think she's mostly joking), mind you, but if you want amazing preparation to go into theory and a huge number of courses, it would be hard not to recommend UofT.

    Id ask the actual students who go there though, maybe I just get a false sense of things, but I would have really benifited from that strong of an undergraduate background. Maybe UofT is only good for theory/math phys prep and bad for experimental/applied physics.

    And I also know that my graduate department looks for UofT applicants over other Canadian schools (McGill is good too though) because they know they have really strong backgrounds. I'd like to hear some of these serious claims that people dont like UofT, seems like a cool place to me.
  17. Mar 27, 2009 #16
    If you plan to go into theoretical physics I highly recommend the mathematics and physics joint specialist program here at the University of Toronto. I'm quite sure it's the most challenging program across the university with the exception of MAYBE engineering science. I cannot compare this program to similiar ones at other universities (there is also a mathematics/physics joint honours program at the University of Waterloo), but I can assure you this program will prepare you very well for the future.

    For your first year, you'd be taking MAT157/240/247 (the mathematics specialist courses), PHY151/152 (physics specialist courses). These will count for 6 half-year courses (MAT157 is a full year course), so they'll take up about 60% of your courses in first year. Keep in mind that these courses are extremely challenging but they are rewarding at the same time. Take a look at Spivak's Calculus (NOT Calculus on Manifolds) to see what you're getting into for MAT157, and for MAT240/247 they use Linear Algebra by Friedberg, Insel, and Spence.

    There are also advanced laboratory courses starting in third year which are not required for the program but of course, it is recommended. In the fourth year, there are several advanced physics courses that are not required for graduation but are highly recommended for those planning to go into graduate study.

    As for upper year math... you'll go through almost everything there is to go through.

    P.S. I think you can storm ahead into the second year physics courses if you did "well enough" on the CAP exam. Look into it in the link below, the links to the course descriptions for the math/physics joint specialist is below. Scroll to the bottom.
    http://www.artsandscience.utoronto.ca/ofr/calendar/prg_mat.htm [Broken]

    P.P.S. This program is HARD. I cannot stress this enough. Good luck!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  18. Apr 1, 2009 #17
    Hi, this sounds like a interesting program. I an offer for UofT Physics, I didn't apply for this program. I was wondering if can switch to this program, at the start of the year maybe? I also heard there's a special course that let you do research on your first year, how do you get into this course? Would EngSci (Physics Option) be better? (Though I'm not a huge fan of bio and chem.)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Apr 1, 2009 #18
    Your offer was for Physical and Mathematical Sciences, you can enroll in any courses you like given that you have enrollment priority (which you do for MAT157/240/247 and PHY151/152). You don't pick your specific Program of Study until the end of first year.

    That "special course" is probably PHY189: "A limited enrollment seminar course for First Year Science students interested in current research in Physics. Students will meet active researchers studying the universe from the centre of the earth to the edge of the cosmos. Topics may range from string theory to experimental biological physics, from climate change to quantum computing, from superconductivity to earthquakes. The course may involve both individual and group work, essays and oral presentations." Not so much doing research yourself but it provides exposure I guess. There are only 20 spots in this class so enroll at the very beginning of your start time if you plan to take it, don't worry about the hard courses listed above because not many people are keen on taking them, they'll have space for sure.

    EngSci Physics Option... the course offerings in the 3rd and 4th years of that program are hosted by the Department of Physics anyway, you'll be in the same classes as math/physics specialists and whoever in the Faculty of Arts & Science decides to take them. The difference in the upper years is that you can opt to take courses in electrical and computer engineering if you want to. As for your first two years, EngSci focuses on breadth rather than depth - you'll cover more material but you won't go as deep into it as the math/physics specialists. The bio and chem courses shouldn't be much to worry about, they're very minimal.

    Oh and finally, a degree in engineering is probably more useful for the future in terms of career opportunities.
  20. Apr 12, 2009 #19
    Hi, can you give me a idea how hard the program is? I'm not very worried about physics but math worries me. For physics I finished studying "Fundamentals of Physics" but not master it, I'm planning to go over it again. So PHY151H1, PHY152H1 shouldn't be a problem. I'm taking AP math this year for AB but I'm writing the BC exam, though I'm not doing very good in the course.(I have just 90, there's no multipliers.) I feel I have good feelings for physics, but not so much for math. Do you think I'm prepared for the math courses? Do I have to take English courses? Can I take computer science, economies and/or philosophy? Should I take 100% course load or more?

    I heard that I can't take as many labs as a Physics Specialist, would that be a disadvantage towards research opportunities? As the work load is increased I'm guess my GPA would decrease? When applying for Grad school, would they know that I'm taking a double specialist? Would I be an advantage? (I would be applying to physics grad school.) Is there any other advatages or disadvatages?

  21. Apr 12, 2009 #20
    How hard? Well, I can tell you that you're spot on when it's the math that worries you :P Hmm... for MAT157 (guessing from the list of covered topics in AP Calculus BC on Wikipedia), you're basically going through everything covered in AP Calculus BC (and maybe a bit more) but with rigorous proofs and challenging questions that need you to think "outside the box". As for how well you're prepared relative to the other students in the class... I'd say you're above average (at least until October, after that I don't know :P)? It's very dependent on how much work you're putting in it - it's said (by Prof. Cohen) that 50% (or more) of your study time in first year be spent on that one course. Do ALL the recommended problems (and more, if you require the extra practice), not just the 2-3 questions per week that you're required to hand in. MAT240/247 shouldn't be too much of a problem.

    2/3 of your courses per semester can be electives. And I'd recommend taking the 100% course load, unless you don't mind staying over the summer to take a few courses so you can graduate within 4 years.

    Do you have any programming experience? If no, I recommend taking CSC108 - taught by Gries. Fun and easy course, not much of a problem to keep up with since all you do is go online to the website and do a few easy programming exercises a week that won't take more than 2-15 minutes (they get harder as the course goes on). The projects might take a weekend away if you plan to last-minute them (like I did).

    ECO100/PHL100 are popular courses so good luck on getting a spot.
    English courses are not required, I wouldn't bother. Philosophy is better anyway :D

    You can take as many labs as you want (especially in 4th year), you just have to stick the lab courses where you'd normally take electives. Not really much space for labs in 3rd year though, 9/10 of the half-credits you take that year will be program requirements :P Besides, there are plenty of research opportunities in the summer. You can also apply to a ROP program before mid-March or so to do extra research in second year if you want.

    As for the questions about grad school admissions, I'm no expert so I won't go there x_x
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