Physics & Astrophysics: Student Testimonials

Rene Piperi

Specialist: Physics and Astrophysics
Minor: Computer Science

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
I've always been interested in the sciences. Ever since I can remember, I have always felt intrigued by a lot of things related to science, especially discoveries that constantly change how we look at things. Physics itself was kind of the core behind these discoveries, and the chemistry side of it didn't interest me too much, so I just had to pick physics. The main factor to finalize my decision was specifically dark matter and energy; two really interesting things which probably still have much to explore about. The minor in computer science I felt I absolutely needed because I am just really drawn in by computers. Just the fact that you can make something entirely new, all your own, is a great feeling. It allows you to really put your thoughts into it, and I chose it to compliment my physics specialist, as a way of later possibly making software specifically for a part in physics and astrophysics.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

The physics and astrophysics program is definitely not as easy as I thought it would have been at first. Despite that, I am still very glad I made the decision to choose this. It has allowed me to think beyond more than just the class. A lot of courses I had taken were essentially - take this formula and reapply it. Physics itself does more, it makes you think. You yourself need to decide how to approach the problem, and go from there (and a lot of times, one attempt won't be enough). My computer science minor on the other hand feels a little easier to handle. The assignments tend to be straight forward, though the path you take to solving those can either simplify, or really complicate the problem. At the end of the day, it's just about really practicing until you get used to smart decisions.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

1) Connections, connections, and connections. Talk to people. No, really, it sounds like a simple thing, but really talk to people. Building a social network is really important. This applies to a lot of programs, but when you get to upper years and would like to do research, you really need to have a wide range of things to look at. Talk to your professors, get to know what their interests are for potential research in upper years. Later you might apply for a TA position, and if the professor knows you and trusts you, well it should be obvious you'd be a better choice for them.
 
2) Time management. This is especially important. Managing your time is extremely crucial. You will have a lot of work ahead of you, more so if you decide to also take the computer science minor. I've had assignments overlap, and without proper time management, I really do not think it would have been possible to finish them properly and on time. You need to take into account many things, even time to relax. Don't just cram everything in last minute and make a mess of your work. Make sure you also plan far ahead where possible. Start thinking about research if you have a specific area of interest in the program and are interested later on. The sooner you plan ahead, the more time you have to improve upon things where necessary.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

After graduation, there are currently no immediate plans for a masters degree. I do plan on doing one down the road, but not immediately after. I currently have a job at a bank with my computer background, though I may do it for a couple years before coming back and finishing my masters (and possibly PhD after that).
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My academic journey has felt a lot like a roller coaster. The first year was really not all that hard to deal with. For the most part, it really felt like review of high school with some new material, but simple overall. The second year was by far the most tough. This was only because the new material taught wasn't really something I was used to. A lot of information to take in made it feel a little overwhelming. In the third, things have felt a little like the second, though my study habits are improved due to the second year, so it really doesn't feel as bad.

Janakan Sivasubramanium

Specialist: Physics and Astrophysics

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

If you are someone who has a strong curiosity about how the world works at a fundamental level, then Physics is the discipline for you! Whether it be understanding the expansion of space-time and the history of our universe or exploring the strange and quirky behaviour of the atomic world, physics gives us a powerful tool to model and describe these systems. If you want to be recognized as a problem-solver and analytical thinker, then physics is the subject for you. If I were to ask you to name three great scientists in history, you may possibly say Einstein, Darwin, or Newton. Two of these three scientists were physicists! Physics has the ability to fundamentally change humanity's understanding about ourselves. Physics is a fundamental science and drives the thinking behind many of the other natural sciences. With all of this said, I found that physics quenched this curiosity and I loved the power it gave me to understand the world. It challenged me to think and gave me a medium to channel my creativity. This is why I chose physics as my program of study.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

One important aspect that stood out about the UTSC physics program is the small-community feel of the department. The typical class size beyond first-year is 15 to 30 students, and all of the students in one year often take the same set of courses. I found this kind of class structure very helpful to meet my colleagues and I felt like there was a strong sense of community. Whether it be working together on the assignments or having a support group of friends to talk to, this feeling of community really enhanced my learning experience throughout my undergrad. In terms of the research environment, planetary science is the most active research at UTSC. If you have a particular interest in these topics, then UTSC physics is a great environment to culture that research enthusiasm.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

(1) EXPLORE A DIVERSITY OF FIRST and SECOND YEAR COURSES
I would encourage you to explore a diversity of foundational courses during your first and second year to get a good starting grip in physics. By studying these subjects, they will not only give you a taste of what your natural preferences are, but they will also help build foundational skills. Along with program requirements, I would recommend you take: first-year astronomy (ASTA01/A02), first-year computer science (CSCA08/A48), Introduction to Probability (STAB52), Introduction to Statistics (STAB57), Introduction Philosophy, Introduction to Scientific Computing (PSCB57), and Current Questions in Mathematics and Science (PSCD02).

(2) REACH OUT AND COMMUNICATE WITH MEMBERS OF UTSC PHYSICS COMMUNITY
Since the physics department at UTSC is a small-community; we have the great opportunity to easily know all the members in the department. I would encourage you reach out to seniors and talk with them about their experiences. You should get in touch with faculty members and visit them during their office hours. Even if you don't have class with them, if you send them an email and arrange an appointment, they are very willing to talk to eager students. Take some time to know their research and teaching interests from their own website (just Google their names) before meeting with them. Talking with senior physics students can be very helpful as well. They may give you helpful advice on what courses to take and an impression of the different personalities of the faculty members.

(3) GET INVOLVED IN EXTRA-CURRICULAR DEPARTMENTAL ACTIVITIES
Over my five years in the physics program, my extra-curricular activities have come to really define who I am, and have allowed me to develop new friendships. Once you finish your first-year in physics, I would highly recommend you join the Physics Centre (PC) tutoring program as a tutor. This volunteer program works by providing free physics help to students by making available tutors on regular shifts. The role is also recognized on the UofT Co-curricular record, and looks great on a Resume when applying for TA positions. The program is ultimately sponsored by the departmental student organization, EPSA (Environmental and Physical Science Students' Association). If you are looking to get further involved beyond teaching, EPSA is a great starting point as well.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 

In terms of career options outside of undergraduate studies with a physics degree, there are essentially three main streams of work to consider: (i) academia, (ii) government, or (iii) private sector. For me, my goal has always been research and teaching at the university level as a professor. This would fall under the stream of academia. To work in this environment, one typically needs to finish graduate school and obtain a PhD in a particular subfield of physics. After a PhD, the first starting positions in academia are generally referred to as postdoctoral positions. At this level, individuals are junior scientist working with a supervisor and publishing in a field. From there on, academics generally begin applying for entry level faculty positions at universities as Assistant Professors, and working and committing to a university. Some academics prefer to commit themselves just to teaching at the university level as Lecturers, and also consider this option straight after a PhD. Research is not only possible at the university level, there are many government programs and companies actively looking to hire physicist such as the Canadian Space Agency, energy sectors in the government, or private research firms. Depending on your special interest, available resources, and funding in your particular field, it may be more desirable to conduct research in these agencies as opposed to working at a university. Another important idea to mention is that there are many physicists now exploring alternative applications outside of physics with their degree. Career paths in the field of financial modelling/engineering and data science are suddenly opening up with potential for physicists. Many hiring financial companies and banks in this field are looking for strong analytical and problem-solving minds that can establish mathematical models and make predictions; it turns out that physicists strongly fit this description!
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 

I think one of the biggest lessons that I can try to convey to you is that the path to my graduation was not the simplest, expected and clean-cut path I initially anticipated. I think many people believe finding a career just comes out of the blue without any thinking or work. In reality, it is a continuous process of trials and testings. I started my first-year at UTSC in the biology program and aimed to apply for pharmacy or medicine after graduation. I don't think I would have ever dreamed that I would have pursued a degree in physics! For me, first-year was a period of exploration. First-year courses, in general, cover a vast range of topics across a discipline and give you an impression of the subject. It was in first-year physics that I discovered my passion for the subject. I began to see the beauty in physics, and its powerful potential and fundamental significance in science. Seeing that I enjoyed physics more than biology and the subject better resonated with my individuality, I switched over to physics. My second and third year physics was the first time each of the core topics developed in first-year physics was taught as a separate course, such as mechanics PHYB54/C54, thermodynamics PHYB52, electromagnetism PHYB10/C50, and quantum mechanics PHYB56/C56 . I found these years laid down the basic foundation and core concepts in physics. On top of the diverse range of physics courses taken, I took a great deal of foundational math courses as well such as differential equations MATB44, linear algebra MATB24, and vector calculus MATB41/B42. During my last two years in the program, I began to specialize my course selections to fit more of my personal and research interests. Many of the specialized courses that I was interested in, like Quantum Mechanics PHY456 and General Relativity PHY483/484, were offered at UofT St. George. I had the opportunity to travel to St. George, and get the downtown experience. I would highly recommend that all UTSC physics students take at least one or two physics courses downtown and get a chance to know the community there. It was an eye-opening experience that added a great deal of flavour to my overall undergrad journey. ** If you have any further questions for me, you may contact me at janakan1234@gmail.com **