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UBC or SFU for undergrad?

  1. Jul 6, 2012 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I don't know if i should be even stressing about what undergraduate school to attend but i don't know whether to choose UBC or SFU. i am interested in theoretical physics, astrophysics/cosmology. i have broken down the pros and cons of each but still i'm stuck in between. I am leaning a LITTLE more to SFU but UBC is very attractive to me as well.

    SFU - 5-10 minute commute
    UBC - 75 - 100 minute commute

    SFU - smaller based classes
    UBC - bigger classes BUT Carl Wieman nobel prize winner has been working on a new education approach http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/ this is really attractive

    SFU - i feel more comfortable on campus ( i have visited both many many times )
    UBC - i feel a small and insignificant

    SFU - no astronomy undergrad program BUT raising money to build an observatory
    UBC - their program IS physics and astronomy

    SFU - undergrad research oppurtunities "ADOPT-A-PHYSICISTS" first year undergrads get to work on research projects http://www.physics.sfu.ca/teaching/ugrad/working/research_opportunities/adopt-a-physicist [Broken]
    UBC - none except NSERC BUT SFU also has it too

    SFU - less theoretical physics professors
    UBC - a LOT more ( i don't know if it matters for undergrad students or not )

    the main reason i would choose SFU over UBC is because i feel A LOT more comfortable on campus but i can adapt if i must. Also, the commute is a huge difference. I am hoping to get into Perimeter Institute's masters program and i don't know which school would be better or if it even matters. in Mclean's magazine SFU is ranked i think 1st for undergraduate programs and UBC is ranked i THINK top 3 schools in general.

    any advice would be great! thanks a lot!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2012 #2


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    Education Advisor

    At the undergraduate level, I don't think it really matters at all, so long as you demonstrate academic ability and (if possible) participate in undergraduate research (although the adopt-a-physicist program at SFU is an excellent idea).

    If you feel comfortable at SFU and overall that the school is a good fit for you, then I think you're making the right choice.
  4. Jul 6, 2012 #3
    I can only comment on SFU.

    You will get pummeled with homework. Most of my 2nd, 3rd year courses in physics, math took 12-15 hours per assignment with a new assignment every week. Usually 10-11 per semester. Typically they are very difficult, which I assume is because of cheating and collaboration. I attempt everything by myself which usually ends in a 60-80% grade. This was pretty discouraging until I saw the tests. Exams are typically much easier. The worst part is you literally don't have the time to learn the material before completing the homework. You must stay a week ahead of the course always.

    Some profs teach from the text, some don't. I had 2 courses were every single lecture was derivations way beyond the scope of the course. Needless to say, this doesn't help at all on tests or homework. These were cases of teaching myself the relevant material.

    Labs... I spent about 20 hours a week prepping, and writing reports. This excludes the 4 hours in the lab collecting data. I strongly recommend you delay your second year labs until 3rd year. Even though there isn't a pre-req, you wont have the background to understand or complete the lab. I made this mistake for my first second year lab, and spent most of the semester combing through texts in the library trying to figure out the material.
    Typically 20% homework, then some split between a midterm and final. There's usually very flexible marking schemes. I've had 85% final, 0% midterm.

    If you can hack it, you will get really smart really quick. Most of my classes are down to the same 10-12 students.
  5. Jul 6, 2012 #4

    thanks for the reply!
    wow sounds intense. would you say that it has made you into a better student? have you learned a lot from the professors? i have all the time in the world and i always work really hard so i'm not too worried about the homework and lab time. i'm most concerned on the education i'll be getting. i want to learn as much as i can. Do the profs interact with students a lot?
    again thanks for the reply! its good to hear from someone who has attended or is still attending? sfu
  6. Jul 6, 2012 #5
    yeah that is exactly my thoughts. i really like the idea of the adopt-a-physicist program as well/ Are all programs as intense as what nsimmons described? it sounds very exciting ( no sarcasm )

    i'm wondering the difference in the education i'll be getting. but yeah i know if i feel more comfortable with myself it will be better but i don't mind getting out of my comfort zone either, just want to know if it is actually worth the extra hours of commute too haha
  7. Jul 6, 2012 #6
    Let me qualify my statements with the fact that I'm old (30's) with other responsibilities. I'm almost 4th year, 3.5ish. I transferred from Douglas College, which was a joke requiring minimal effort, and was a huge disservice for preparation.
    I have absolutely become a better student. Very quickly my thought process changed. I learned how to source and assimilate new information from multiple sources.

    A senior research prof will not have time for students, they make they're disdain for lecturing clear. There is a level of arrogance and condescension, which is subtle, but is to be expected from someone so far in their field. I expect this is similar everywhere.

    The contract staff without research responsibilities are very willing to interact and help where needed.

    Granted my first experience was in 2nd year, so more is expected of the student. I try to give honest impressions.

    I'm taking QM, advanced mechanics and computational in the fall.
  8. Jul 6, 2012 #7


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    I can't comment on the education at UBC; I assume it's of similar quality to SFU's. The main (obvious) difference between the two departments is probably the size - UBC has about 73 profs listed as full-time faculty, while SFU has 30. Three of those professors are listed as being in the field of Cosmology - Frolov, Pogosian and Trottier. It would be worth your time to go to campus someday and talk with them about what opportunities would be available for undergraduate research in the cosmology group. (Send an email to arrange a meeting first, of course.) In my experience most of the professors are pretty nice and enthusiastic, and if you also appear to be enthusiastic about physics and research they'll be happy to talk to you. I always felt like the professors in the department were supportive and helpful.

    I don't know how many professors at UBC study cosmology. I know Bill Unruh studies gravity (but I hear he doesn't take on many students) and Kris Sigurdson studies astrophysics, but beyond them you'll have to look through the department list to figure out who does what. This is likely where UBC will have an advantage over SFU: there may be more options to do cosmology/astrophysics research. However, keep in mind that you may find that your interests change once you actually get to school and take classes!

    Also, note that you don't have to do NSERC research at SFU - you can apply for an NSERC USRA at any Canadian university. There is typically a travel stipend to help out-of-province students travel to their host university. Of course, doing an NSERC USRA at your home university does have the advantage that you might be able to continue doing research with that professor in the fall. There is also the advantage that if you know the professor from a class, they may be more willing to request you as an NSERC student. I had two USRAs at SFU; after my first one I continued working in the lab for the next year. For the second one I switched groups and did my honours thesis with that professor.

    As for homework load, it's been a while, but I don't remember it being horrible. I don't imagine it's going to be a significantly lighter load at UBC. I took the advanced stream intro classes my first year - phys 125 and 126 - and they were what made me want to keep doing physics. (They were hard classes at first, but once I figured out how to study properly for physics classes they weren't so bad).

    The most frustrating thing about the physics program, at least when I took it, was that some of the math and physics class times conflicted. This didn't matter for the regular physics honours degree, but if you wanted to do the Mathematical Physics Honours degree it typically meant taking 5 or 6 years to get the degree because the upper-division class times conflicted. As a result I just did the regular physics honours degree, as there were no serious (or any?) upper division conflicts. Things may have changed since I graduated, though.

    As for the atmosphere of the two campuses, I can comment somewhat on that. A lot of my friends didn't care much for the SFU campus - they often complained it was too grey, and on overcast days it felt depressing. If you don't think you'll feel this way there, that's fine! I never minded the greyness much, and I felt like it was a nice, quaint campus. (It's also gotten a bit prettier since I went there, with some new buildings). UBC is a bigger campus, of course, and I have gotten lost there... I've also found it slightly inconvenient to get to by bus from, say, Burnaby, but SFU has buses to downtown Vancouver and Metrotown that were pretty convenient - though if your commute is a driving commute this probably doesn't matter to you. If you are planning on bussing, you might do a test run of the bus trip - I hear the 99 B line (I think that's the one from commericial drive to UBC) can fill up pretty quickly. You might see how it is in the summer to get an idea.

    Anyways, those are the thoughts off the top of my head. Like I said, you should try to talk to some of the professors you would be interested in doing work with to get a feel for what they're like, and what the department is like. I'll say this much - I'm certainly perfectly content with having gone to SFU.
  9. Jul 7, 2012 #8
    thanks for the reply! yeah i'm a 20 year old living at home so if someone with as much responsibilities as yourself can handle it, that just inspires me to do better!
  10. Jul 7, 2012 #9
    yeah i'm going for physics honours though i might change my mind later on. i am actually up at sfu A LOT because my girlfriend lives up there so that may be why i feel so much more comfortable, and also i used to go to the gym there and when i was younger i had swimming practice up there as well. UBC i feel small and insignificant. i will definetly contact some professors and talk to them about the oppurtunities i will be getting. thanks for all the replies! they have been really helpful! i am 95% sure i will go to sfu now.

    one more thing, what do you guys think about transferring to ubc after 2 years? or it doesn't matter? i know if i stay at sfu i can work with the same professors and get better reference letters...maybe. haha
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