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Questions about studying physics in Canada

  1. Dec 15, 2013 #1
    Hello, this forum has been common visiting place of mine for the past year and I sure have learned alot. I have created an account now as I need some academic guidance.

    Currently, I intend to study theoretical physics at the university level. I am currently studying A-Levels so I am more familiar with the UK system and will apply to universities such as Imperial and UCL. However, I have relatives in Canada and studying at McGill and UBC are viable options for me.

    I am slightly confused because British universities offer separate courses for theoretical physics (UCAS F325:BSc and F390:MSci) with less emphasis on experimental work than the "normal" Physics program that they offer (UCAS F300:BSc and F303:MSci). McGill, UBC, and University of Toronto have seemingly no such distinctions with their undergraduate degree programs having only Physics, and joint honours of Physics with either Math, Chemistry, Geophysics and Computer Science. There is no theoretical physics degree and the core modules in the physics program contains experimental physics. Can anyone who has studied in Canada or UK please shed some light on this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2013 #2


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    In my experience it seems that the Canadian philosophy is to have less specialization in undergrad. Typically physics students start out in first year with a core program that's really not all that different from what other first year science or engineering students take - a full year of physics, calculus, chemistry, and half year courses in linear algebra, computer science and some electives. They move into a physics-specific program in their second year and then in their third and fourth year they have some flexibility in their courses that will allow some specialized exploration as you progress. That way, you're not making the decision as to what sub-field to go into before you're finished high school. You still have the opportunity for the same rigour in a particular area as you progress though.

    It might be worth looking up the course calendars for the particular schools you're interested in, plot our the courses that you would take in the program offered by each and see what the real differences would be.

    As a small additional note - I hope you mean that you have relatives in Quebec AND British Colombia. McGill and UBC are very far away from each other.
  4. Dec 16, 2013 #3
    Hey Descent

    I go to UVic in BC and am working on a Physics Degree. Choppy is right, the Canadian system is a lot more general to start and gets more specific at the higher level courses. For instance in the first year 100% of the courses are mandatory with the exception of maybe one general elective. In second year probably 80% of the courses are mandatory with a few technical electives. In third year there are only maybe 40-60% courses that are required and the rest being technical electives but many courses are suggested to be taken as an elective. In fourth year there might be a few courses that are required but almost all are technical electives that have certain requirement (i.e. 4th year level).

    In the upper level classes not all of them will have a lab component and sometime (although rarely in physics) there will only be a lab component and no lectures. So its your 3rd and 4th year that you get some some control on your degree for if you are trying to be theoretical of experimental.

    Hope this helps.

    - ya the distance from McGill to UBC is greater than the distance from McGill to the UK
  5. Dec 16, 2013 #4
    Thanks for this information. After comparing courses, they are mostly similar with a few differences (no experimental physics in the first two years and a slightly more emphasis on math at ICL) however I don't think it would make a huge difference. After further reading at the respective Canadian university websites it seems an honours degree is a good option as it sets you up for further studies. This is good news and it seems there is now a good chance I will go to Canada as it will be a more affordable option as I am an international student.

    I have relatives only Vancouver but close family friends in Montreal :D
  6. Dec 16, 2013 #5
    For what it's worth, I was told by an advisor at a Canadian university honours physics is much better than regular physics if you want to get in to grad school, so honours is probably where you want to be if you're serious about physics.
  7. Dec 16, 2013 #6
    I'll definitely take that into consideration. What do you think about a joint honours in math and physics?
  8. Dec 16, 2013 #7
    I'm sure you know this but incase you don't. Keep in mind that for Canadian schools there are 2 different tution rates. One for Canadian citzens and one for forgein students (based on the fact that the federal government subsides citzens but not forgein students)

    Where I'm currently taking Engineering I pay ~$5K CAD a semester. The forgein students pay $15-20K
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