Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

AbnormalAlias
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:28 pm

Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby AbnormalAlias » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:27 pm

So as someone who's not very familiar with Canadian schools and has a far from stellar (well, kind of bad) profile, I was just wondering if anyone familiar with them could recommend some of the schools in Canada that are likely to be less discerning with admissions, since rankings don't say everything. I'll copy my profile here in case it helps:


Undergrad Institution: New Zealand, top or 2nd top in country for physics (first BEC in southern hemisphere woo),
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): None (did some chemistry)
GPA in Major: 3.08
Overall GPA: 3.00 (yeah, I know. We don't really use GPAs here, if calculated based on % grades I get 80.4% if that makes any difference)
Length of Degree: 4 years
Position in Class: Average to below average
Type of Student: International(ish, see additional info) white male
Type of Degree Applied For: MSc

GRE Scores :
P: Done in October, think I did pretty well (maybe 800 minimum) but will edit in once scores are out

Research Experience: One ten week summer project in atomic physics, and one final year project in Fourier optics/beam shaping with applications in atomic physics (both at my school), no publications or talks.

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: One 'good grades' bursary for $500

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: Nope.

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Not that I can think of

Special Bonus Points: My supervisor used to work for Nobel winner Bill Phillips? Bit of a stretch...

Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter: Born and raised in NZ but have Canadian citizenship through a parent

Applying to Where: Not decided yet, so I'll just list the ones I'm thinking of (all physics depts, all experimental):

Univ. of Toronto - AMO/Ultracold atoms
Simon Fraser Univ. - BEC or quantum computation, not sure
Univ. Ottawa - Quantum photonics
Univ. Waterloo - Optics/photonics
Univ. Guelph - AMO
Univ. York - AMO/borderline HEP (antihydrogen spectroscopy)
Univ. Manitoba - AMO/borderline nuclear stuff
Univ. Windsor - AMO

PeterH1
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 7:01 pm

Re: Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby PeterH1 » Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:08 pm

Hey. Best of luck with your applications. I am also just applying to grad school, so I can only speculate here, but I imagine you'll find UofT, Waterloo, and probably Guelph (since I believe their program is a joint one with Waterloo) to be quite picky. From what I can tell, UofT is about the size of a small nation, and people seem to flock to it, so I suspect they can only accept a relatively small fraction of applicants. Waterloo is in high demand because of its proximity to (and occasional association with) the Perimeter Institute. Don't let that stop you from applying if you're going to though, I'd be happy to be proven wrong!

Anyway, beyond that, I think the smaller universities like UOttawa and Simon Fraser will probably be less choosy. A good idea might be to contact some interesting looking profs at those schools and see if they'd be interested in supervising your thesis.

I'm curious, by the way. What do you mean by your school not using GPAs? Are your marks recorded as percents on your transcripts, or is there some post-production stuff going on there?

AbnormalAlias
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby AbnormalAlias » Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:41 pm

My philosophy is basically 'apply for what you want, don't expect anything'. I'm going to email all the profs doing research that interests me and see what their response is, since I've heard that Canadian admissions are primarily based on whether a potential supervisor will vouch for you.

And the concept of a GPA just... isn't really used in my country, in the main high school system the only grades are achieved/merit/excellence, if you get above a certain threshold of credits for each you get an overall endorsement (level 1 with merit or whatever) but that's just a sum rather than an average. To get into universities you just need a certain amount of credits passed, with some specific requirements for english and maths credits, and if you exceed that government-set level you're pretty much guaranteed entry to whatever university you want (I think it's even illegal to reject applicants that get university entrance, not sure on that though).
At university you get a letter grade (with +/-) and a percentage grade for each course, but only the letter grade shows up on your transcript. If you just get a plain 3 year BA/BSc, other than looking at your transcript there's no commentary or anything on your grades. The only thing that does involve GPA-like things is honours, which in our case manifests as an extra year of research and higher level courses than normal undergrad. I was the last year at my uni that split honours/normal before graduation, so I just have one degree, whereas now you graduate from undergrad and then do honours as a separate one year bit. When I did it you had to have either a B+ or B- average in your major subject (I forget which, in fact I'd completely forgotten about this until i had to think about it) to get in, but now you just have to have a certain number of papers passed in third year to get into honours. Honours degrees do come in what I think is the typical British selection of flavours: First class, second class first division (2:1), etc etc. I think I missed out on first class by one or two percent, which is a pretty big kick in the teeth heh.

PeterH1
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 7:01 pm

Re: Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby PeterH1 » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:23 am

Good plan. Yeah, I've heard that most placements here are basically worked out before you're even accepted. [Anecdote] I actually have a friend who had really good grades, and was going to wind up with no grad school because he was rejected by all his potential supervisors (though to be fair, I think he was reaching a bit; he's good, but he's not Perimeter good). He was lucky and got a major scholarship later, and when you come with your own funding, no one'll turn you down. [\Anecdote]

That sounds like a really neat educational system you've got there. Do you get the percentage grades automatically when you finish a course, or do you ask for them? I think I could find out a percent if I wanted, but the letter is really the crucial thing for the GPA, so it doesn't really matter to me.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby TakeruK » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:00 pm

Hi, I grew up in Canada, did my BSc there and my MSc there (now at a US school for a PhD).

Your grades/GPA are not going to make you the top candidate but you are also not at the bottom either! The top 3 schools in Canada are UBC (my undergrad), U Toronto, and McGill University. These schools will be more picky -- I know UBC's Faculty of Graduate Studies require a minimum of an A- average in your 3rd and 4th year courses in your field of study. For Physics, this means Physics and Math courses. So, it sounds like you will meet this minimum, because an A- in Canada is 80%. However, in general, I think these choosier schools will want to take the top 1/3 to 1/2 of students, so maybe for international schools, they care less about the GPA and more about your overall standing in your own program. These 3 programs will generally want Canadian students to have an Honours BSc instead of just a BSc, which in Canada means about 10% more courses and a final year thesis, which it sounds like you have!

You will also find that the grades in Canada are different, although some schools are starting to adopt the US GPA system. Many schools, such as UBC, will report your grades as a percentage and a letter grade, although the "real" grade is the percentage. The percentage-to-letter grade conversion is usually a standard faculty-wide and in the Sciences, it is pretty much standard across the whole country.

These grades are kind of a leftover from the UK system (woo commonwealth history!), so a "first class" grade is 80% and up, which means A- is 80%, A is 86%, and A+ is 90%. A B+ is 76%, a B is 72%, and a B- is 68%, etc. going down an increment every 3-4% points.

You have decent research experience and I think overall, you will be a good candidate for the schools you listed. U Toronto is a top tier school but I think you have the profile to at least try and apply. Same with UBC and McGill if you find interest there. Since you have citizenship, this would be great for you in terms of admission -- you won't cost them more and you might even be eligible for a lot more fellowships!

Finally, it is important to know that many Physics programs will admit you directly to a researcher. However, this is more common for PhD programs (UBC's policy is that they will only admit you if a prof says they are willing to fund you for your entire degree). For Masters programs, since it is only 2 years long, you should probably have a pretty good idea who you want to work with but I know UBC will allow their students a few months to decide.

Some programs, like my MSc, will send all applications to all profs in the department. Then, it's up to each prof to decide if they want you, and then they will basically hire you like any other job. When I got my offer letter, it specifically listed which professors were interested in me and that I should choose soon, since they make offers one at a time until all their profs have all their spots filled.

So, I think it would be very important for you to reach out and contact potential professors fairly soon and find out about who matches your research interests. You still have a bit of time, since if they are still the same, the first deadlines are mid-January.

AbnormalAlias
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby AbnormalAlias » Sun Nov 10, 2013 9:04 pm

Thanks for the replies, they're a lot more heartening than all the "I have a 4.0 and a 990 but I'm so worried no one will accept me anywhere :( :(" posts haha

PeterH1 wrote:Good plan. Yeah, I've heard that most placements here are basically worked out before you're even accepted. [Anecdote] I actually have a friend who had really good grades, and was going to wind up with no grad school because he was rejected by all his potential supervisors (though to be fair, I think he was reaching a bit; he's good, but he's not Perimeter good). He was lucky and got a major scholarship later, and when you come with your own funding, no one'll turn you down. [\Anecdote]

That sounds like a really neat educational system you've got there. Do you get the percentage grades automatically when you finish a course, or do you ask for them? I think I could find out a percent if I wanted, but the letter is really the crucial thing for the GPA, so it doesn't really matter to me.


We get a page like so:
Image
with a table including the rest of the grades that I don't really want to post

hermitw
Posts: 40
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:11 am

Re: Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby hermitw » Fri Nov 22, 2013 9:50 pm

I would strongly suggest University of Calgary. Just have a look at the publications of the groups and you will know what kind of research they are doing.

AbnormalAlias
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Canadian 'safety schools' for atomic physics/AMO Masters

Postby AbnormalAlias » Tue Mar 18, 2014 5:20 am

To update this: ended up applying to SFU and York, got accepted at York (which was my first choice), no word from SFU yet but I've accepted York's offer anyway




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