Friday, 4 January 2013

MATH 215 and 316 - Course Review


Differential equations provide a framework for describing processes in terms of rates of change of their components. For example, a bathtub filled with a concentrated solution of dye X can be drained at the same rate as pure water is introduced. Over time, the concentration of dye X goes down. This we can determine intuitively, but we can also model the process with a differential equation, an equation with derivatives as variables, i.e. with dy/dt dependent on y. Here, "solving" the differential equation gives us y in terms of t in simple terms. In the example I have given, it turns out y decays exponentially with time. The neat thing about differential equations is that we can model a system entirely in terms of rates (which are intuitive to grasp). Using calculus, we can then deduce mechanically from those rates the exact behavior of the system.

Unfortunately, solving a differential equation is not always easy. This is where MATH 215 comes into the picture. As a first course in differential equations, MATH 215 introduces the key concepts and methods necessary to solve first and second order linear ordinary differential equations (ODEs). As my instructor put it, this actually constitutes 0% of all possible differential equations, but it gives us excellent tools for modeling systems nonetheless.

Systems often depend upon more than one variable. For example, an extension of the simple "Newton's Cooling" ODE presented in first year mathematics courses is the Heat Equation. Here, heat dissipates along a direction, x, and its "diffusion" is observed through time, t. This requires a description that have rates depending independently on two different variables, requiring partial derivatives. Such a differential equation is called a partial differential equation (PDE). This is the subject of MATH 316.

An Outline of MATH 215

I divide MATH 215 into five distinct sections
  1. Introduction, first order ODEs, and their applications (Midterm 1).
  2. Second order ODEs and their applications (Midterm 2).
  3. The Laplace transform (Midterm 3).
  4. Systems of First Order Linear ODEs (Midterm 3).
  5. Qualitative description of nonlinear systems of ODEs.
The first two sections deal with solving ODEs directly using calculus-based methods. First order ODEs are solved using separation of variables, integrating factors, and other such techniques. Second order ODEs come in many varieties, and are treated in a series of different cases and using specially derived theorems.

The third section covers a different method altogether for solving ODEs, in which the ODE is transformed into different variables that allow it to be solved using purely algebraic methods (including LOTS of partial fractions) and then transformed back.

In the fourth section, linear algebra is used in order to solve systems of first order ODEs. This was tricky at first, because it had been over a year since MATH 223, but I soon found it very clear. Linear algebra knowledge is a must for this, but rarely does the course go beyond 2x2 matrices. The last section worked on the ability to draw vector fields formed by ODEs freehand without solving the ODE in detail. It turns out that many ODEs that cannot be solved in this course can nonetheless be drawn. I found this section to be the most fascinating of the course.

Assignments were given out weekly and typically took me around 10 hours to complete on average. There were 3 midterms. Between the 3 midterm grades and 9 of 11 assignment grades, one of the four is discarded in the calculation of a final grade. The three remaining average out to give 45% of the final grade. Students must pass the assignment component in order to pass the course. The remaining 55% came from the final exam. Please note that these details are relevant to the course as I took it, and may change depending on the instructor. They serve only to give a general idea of structure and grading.

An outline of Math 316

Math 316 starts with a review of ODEs. It then introduces one more powerful method for solving ODEs: the series solution. Using this method, ODEs and their solutions are represented in terms of power series. This is a much more general approach for solving ODEs and can solve many problems that previously introduced methods cannot.

After this, there was a brief section on solving partial differential equations using computational/numerical methods. To keep things simple, these methods were carried out on Microsoft Excel. This involves representation of PDE solutions in discrete rather than continuous form. The excel templates for this section were provided online, and we only needed to modify them to solve the desired problems.

The remaining two thirds of the course dealt in analytic solutions to PDEs. This was first performed mechanically using algebraic and calculus-based methods, and then generalized into eigenvalue/eigenfunction problems under the heading of "Sturm-Liouville" theory, which I found to be the most challenging part of the course.

My experience with these courses

The theory behind differential equations is dense and detailed. However, for physicists and engineers, they serve their purposes mainly by their applications. As a result, these courses can be taught in two ways: (1) by exploring the detailed mathematical theory, or (2) by focusing on the applications and problem-solving aspects of the course. For me, MATH 215 was taught in the former way, and MATH 316 was taught in the latter. Naturally, MATH 215 turned out to be very difficult, and MATH 316 very easy for me. Both were taught excellently and clearly, however, which may account for my fascination with differential equations and consequently the ridiculous length of this post.

MATH 215 was very time-consuming, in particular its assignments. To be honest, the course terrified me. I did not understand much in the first section because it was densely theoretical and I hadn't taken a math course since my first term of first year. I choked on my first midterm exam and received 50%. Luckily, my grade was salvageable, but this would mean I had to complete assignments diligently and ace both remaining midterm exams. This was the first term I seriously considered a minor in physics, and it all hinged on my performance in MATH 215.

I found that the course got clearer and more interesting as it progressed. It became a balancing act between understanding theory and carrying out procedural calculations. As my interest piqued, so did my motivation, and this ended up being my second highest mark of first and second year. With this encouragement, I happily declared a minor in Physics.

Studying for MATH 215 required a thorough review of all concepts of the course, as well as assignments, textbook problems, and past final exams. I also found the course on ODEs from MIT Open Courseware extremely helpful. It is a great course to look at for a preview on MATH 215 or as a supplement. Link: The professor, Dr. George Bluman, was a key asset. His treatment of the content promoted thorough and conceptual understanding. In addition, his devotion to student learning was clear, and his end of term review sessions were incredibly helpful. If he is your instructor, I strongly recommend seeing him during office hours or review sessions as he is genial, patient, and clear when helping to explain difficult problems and concepts.

The following term, I took MATH 316, and found it thoroughly easy in comparison to MATH 215. The course was less theory driven and focused more on calculations. Assignments took about half the time as in MATH 215. Again, this was likely a product of teaching style rather than course content.

Closing statement

In the term I took MATH 215, I also took CHEM 205, CHEM 211, and BIOL 201. An understanding of differential equations gave me a deeper understanding of chemical kinetics in these courses, not to mention a facility with mathematical reasoning. Differential equations constitute a critically important field in mathematics. Their theory brings concepts of calculus into clear focus and their applications to fields throughout science and engineering are countless. It is difficult to get by in the study of physics without a thorough understanding.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

PHIL 230A, 433A course review.

The topic of electives came up recently among discussions with my fellow third year Physiology students. One of the hot topics was PHIL 433. This post is dedicated to the two ethics electives I've taken.

PHIL 230A Introduction to Moral Theory - MORAL & POLI I 

Theories of obligation and value; moral reasoning; normative ethics, descriptive ethics and meta-ethics. Readings in classic and contemporary texts. 

This course is eligible for Credit/D/Fail grading. To determine whether you can take this course for Credit/D/Fail grading, visit the Credit/D/Fail website. You must register in the course before you can select the Credit/D/Fail grading option. 

Credits: 3 

On my second day of classes at UBC, I stumbled into IKB 182 for Introduction to Moral Theory. The previous year, I had found a video of a Harvard lecture, containing material that would eventually find its way into Michael Sandel's series entitled "Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do?" ( It seems that Ethical Philosophy is a cornerstone course in Harvard, and one of the best attended. In my first term at UBC, I was taking a break from the study of basic science, seeking instead to gain understanding of general scholarly thought, whether in mathematics, literature, or philosophy.

I quickly realized that I had no clue what Philosophy really was. I quickly did some research to put Ethics in context. I found that Philosophy is broken into four key loosely related fields:
  1. Epistemology: The construction of a framework for the understanding of truth and reason.
  2. Metaphysics: The study of the reality, existence, time, and purpose. Questions such as "who are we, really?" and "why do we exist?"
  3. Ethics: The study of morality and its applications to human acts and behaviour. Questions such as "what do we ought to do?"
  4. Aesthetics: The study of the origins and perception of beauty.
In the first half of the course, we studied a number of less widely accepted moral theories (egoism, divine command, cultural relativism, natural law theory). In the second half of the course, we studied more established theories (consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics, and pluralism). The discussion of each topic entailed an introduction of the theory and its applications, and evaluation of the theory, including arguments for and against it. The course thus enables students to think critically about the limits of ethical theories.

I have found that, even years later, I still consider what I learned in this class when I discuss ethical issues. It did more than provide a grab bag of frameworks, it was my introduction to philosophy, argument, and logical thought. I came to understand that philosophy is not just about "thinking about thinking" or "thinking about things very hard," but rather was a complex framework of logical reason, an analytical system for the evaluation of abstract ideas. I found PHIL 230 fascinating, and through interesting discussions made contacts in the class from many different backgrounds.

PHIL 433A Bio-Medical Ethics - BIOMEDICAL ETHIC 

Moral problems arising in the health sciences, especially in medicine but also in biology, psychology, and social work. Topics include abortion, death and euthanasia, genetic engineering, behaviour modification, compulsory treatment, experimentation with human beings and animals, and the relationship between professionals and their patients, subjects or clients. No philosophical background is required. 

This course is eligible for Credit/D/Fail grading. To determine whether you can take this course for Credit/D/Fail grading, visit the Credit/D/Fail website. You must register in the course before you can select the Credit/D/Fail grading option. 

Credits: 3 

As with many courses in an applied field of arts theory, this course is divided into two clear parts. We first discussed the ethical theory, principally covering topics in consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics, pluralism, and social contract theory. We then applied such theory to the following topics: (1) euthanasia and physician directed suicide, (2) right to refuse treatment, (3) abortion, (4) 2-tier healthcare system, (5) allocation of scarce resources, (6) alternative medicine, and (7) neuroethics and cognitive enhancers.

Having taken PHIL 230A, I found the first half of the course a relaxing refresher. It allowed me to ease my way back into moral philosophy by considering these theories a second time. A previous course in either ethics or logic/critical thinking/argument is useful, but not a necessity. The introduction is certainly sufficient either way. The second half is where we got to sink our teeth into key issues, topics which Physiology students (and students studying medical science in general) will be fascinated by.

My instructor was Dr. Rana Ahmad, a post-doctoral fellow and an expert in the field of biomedical and scientific ethics. Although she used lecture slides through the whole course, she taught in an open, and discussion-oriented way, and made the course enjoyable, fascinating, and exciting. We used a textbook called "Debating Health Care Ethics" by Smolkin, Bourgeois, and Findler. This book is largely written in a conversational, scripted-debate format, which made it much easier to read than most textbooks, and conveyed its methods very clearly.

Exams were mostly essay-based, with the emphasis on a student's ability to form and communicate sound philosophical arguments grounded in concepts of moral theory. The result was the course was not incredibly time-consuming, but was highly rewarding and informative nonetheless.

In summary

Whether it's metaphysics or morals, philosophy is a topic in which we as humans as intrinsically fascinated. It deals in questions which we consider, consciously or not, every day of our lives. Philosophy as a field is also a teacher, one which guides us by principles of logical thought. It is the construction of a framework by which to comprehend the fabric of our being. Courses such as PHIL 230A and 433A are a fascinating look at classically constructed frameworks for understanding our own moral convictions. Some believe that these moral questions have no true answer. But, whether we go on to become scientists, doctors, politicians, or industrial/corporate workers, it is the consideration of such concerns which is our great teacher.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

PHYL 421?

This is a heads up for anyone who's planning to go into the Physiology program. This does not apply to my year, but it applies for all students who will graduate from the program after me.

PHYL 421 is a new course with the following description

PHYL 421 Advanced Cellular and Molecular Physiology 

Recent advancements in cellular and molecular physiology that have revolutionized our understanding of cell function in health and disease. 

This course is not eligible for Credit/D/Fail grading.

Credits: 3 

Pre-reqs: All of ANAT 390PHYL 301. (and third-year standing.)

    • This course is restricted to students in year: >=3

Of course, this means that students will, from now on, have to take ANAT 390 and PHYL 421. As a result, students will have 12 elective credits in year three, and 3 elective credits in year 4. The Physiology student's courseload has, in effect, been made heavier, and future physiology students will come out of the program with a better understanding of cellular physiology.

For current third year students, the faculty have agreed to waive the ANAT 390 prerequisite. This will not be so for future students. The course sounds exceedingly interesting, but it threatens to make me ridiculously busy next year. What does this mean for students taking a Physics minor?

It should still be possible to do, but this will definitely make it more difficult. I could have fit ANAT 390 into my third year courses. I would have been forced to drop MATH 300 (which I did very well in, so thankfully this was not the case), which was one of my elective courses. Fourth year is tight as it is, and this change means you  may want to save no more than one minor requirement for fourth year (unless you're planning to take an extra term).

As for me, I'm on the fence. The course sounds fascinating and useful, and fourth year physiology courses tend to have relatively high class averages. I have a feeling, however, that I will opt out of this one. I am already forced to take PHYS 301 in conflict with PHYL 430, and I don't think it would be wise to take another 36 credit year.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Math 200 and 317 - Course Review

This is one of those courses that students from a variety of backgrounds still have to take. Math 200 is a course in multivariable calculus. Your standard first year calculus courses cover topics in differential and integral calculus, analytical methods for understanding rate relations and modeling systems. What you may have noticed, however, is that these courses are largely one-dimensional. You deal with some quantity as it varies with respect to some dependent variable. Math 200 is the extension of first year calculus to multiple dimensions.

By multiple, I mean 2 or 3. Concepts remain well within the realm of visualizability, though they are more brain-bending than anything in Math thus far. You will begin with concepts in vector analysis such as using dot products and cross products, lead into partial derivatives (which are just derivatives with respect to one variable, treating all the other variables as constants) and their applications, and then into multiple integration (integrating over a 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional space instead of just along one axis).

Math 200 sets the groundwork for future courses in Mathematics, such as Math 215 and Math 317, and is therefore a cornerstone for prerequisites in Physics. Physical systems are often modelled in one or two dimensions to start with, but most concepts are extended to three or more dimensions when applied to real-world situations. It is key to develop a solid understanding of the analytic approach to such problems, which can be difficult to interpret by visualization alone.

Math 317 (vector calculus) starts where 200 left off. It can be divided into three main parts: (1) analysis of space curves, (2) scalar and vector fields in two dimensions, (3) parametric surfaces and scalar and vector fields in three dimensions. This course builds on the concept of parametrization, showing that if components of a curve's parametrization are known, then one can prove some powerful theorems to analyse such systems. Here, you will study Green's theorem, Stokes theorem, and divergence/Gauss' theorem. Between these three, there lies a considerable amount of abstract conceptual imagery.

Math 200 and 317 are key for the study of topics in classical mechanics and electrodynamics, and are useful for modelling systems in all practically all fields of Physics. I would consider Math 200 a survey course in mathematical concepts, akin to first year Math courses (at least the way I was taught it anyhow), while Math 317 delves deeper into analytical theory. Much of Math 317 follows a "theorem-proof" format, more suggestive of higher level Math courses.

Both courses are central to the study of Physics, and I found them both interesting. I found Math 200 a little dry, but that may have been because I took it as a first year student and was finding my way around the University. Math 317, on the other hand, is the last Math course I've taken (and the last one I'll probably ever take). It has been an absolute pleasure to be in Dr. Ed Perkins's class. His manner of teaching is crystal clear and well-paced, and this course not only was enjoyable and relaxing, but helped to elucidate concepts which I had long grappled with.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Rundown of UBC Physiology and Physics courses I've taken this year

This post is in response to a question posed by a student I am in discussion with for SPAC (Science Peer Academic Coaching). For more information, please visit

I’ll try not to tout either program, but I’ll give a rundown of the details of each and let you come up with your own ideas.


Physiology only offers an honours program, make sure that you’re capable and willing to commit to an honours program prior to signing up (i.e. if you bomb a course and are forced to drop honours status, you have to switch specializations).
You can find all the information about the courses and application process at (or Google “ubc physiology”).
The class size is usually between 10 and 20 students (at least in recent years). You can expect to cover a broad foundation in Physiological sciences, particularly the structure and function of human body processes.

Discussion of required 3rd year courses:
  1. PHYL 301 - General overview of physiology. This is like British Columbia's BIOL 12 human body sections on steroids. The sections of the course are listed in great detail on the Cellphys website above. This is a very popular course, and gives a foundation of understanding in many human body systems. Different sections are covered to different depths, and there is, in my opinion, about a 50/50 balance between conceptual understanding and rote memorization. Different sections are taught by different instructors, which has so far been not a jarring experience. There are two exams, one at the end of term one and one at the end of term two. This course requires a fair bit of studying, but is fascinating and rewarding.
  2. PHYL 303 - Our wonderful physiology lab. Whereas PHYL 301 has some 500 students, PHYL 303 is restricted to members of Hons. PHYL and Hons. PCTH (by option). Preparation for labs and the process of labs are generally fairly low-stress, though lab reports can be significantly more troubling. Weeks alternate between formal lab reports (fit to submit to a scientific journal), and brief results reports/worksheets. Marking is not easy, and this course serves as an excellent introduction to scientific writing. First term labs include a blood lab, a number of electrophysiology (nerve conduction velocity, electromyogram, etc.) labs, an electrocardiogram lab, and a neuroanatomy lab in which we examine and handle donated human brains. A highlight in second term is sessions on surgical techniques. This lab course is excellent for solidifying a number of concepts from PHYL 301, and offers insight on techniques most undergraduate students do not have the privilege to explore.
  3. BIOC 301 - In this course we go through a series of experiments which mimic techniques many students would do in a biochemical research job such as PCR, gel electrophoresis, PCR cleanup, restriction enzyme digestion, DNA ligation etc. We aim to ligate a protein coding segment into a plasmid containing Ampicillin resistance. We then introduce this plasmid into competent bacteria, and plate the bacteria on Ampicillin-containing LB media. In the next term, we will attempt to use the bacteria to grow the protein of interest.
I did not take BIOC 302 this term, and I do not need to take STAT 200 or BIOL 300 this year.

Physics courses

I don't have too much insight on specializing in Physics, aside from doing a minor. In order to complete a minor, one must take 18 upper level PHYS/ASTR credits. I took 2 physics courses and 2 math courses this term, and I found it extremely rewarding. These courses have given me deeper insight on the way science is done and the nature of the universe.

In addition, I find the social atmosphere around the Physics program very warm and supportive. The UBC Physics society is located in the room HENN 307, and is a great place for physics students to hang out, have lunch, and discuss homework.

Taking physics courses had a semi-expected consequence. Weekly assignments. This term, I had to complete  assignments weekly for 3 courses, which took me anywhere from 4 to 12 hours each. I had biweekly assignments for a fourth course. This is on top of weekly lab reports for PHYL 303, and occasional lab reports for BIOC 301. Needless to say, these courses keep students busy, but it does also keep you on track, and prevent last-minute cramming.
  1. MATH 316 - We start with brief review of MATH 215, followed by a discussion of series solutions to ODE's. We then discussed a number of methods to algebraically and numerically come up with solutions to partial differential equations. Weekly assignments took 4-8 hours to do. Very important for applied mathematics and physics courses (particularly PHYS 304, I found).
  2. MATH 300 - I didn't actually have to take this course for any reasons whatsoever. It just sounded interesting. This is a course in complex variables, an introduction to analysis in the complex plane. This was incredibly eye-opening for a number of mathematical concepts which I had not had a complete understanding of before. The course is broken in to 5 sections: (1) Algebraic and geometric representations of complex numbers, (2) functions of a complex variable, (3) integration of functions in the complex plane, (4) sequences and series, and (5) residue calculus. Assignments were weekly and took about 6-10 hours each.
  3. PHYS 304 - Quantum mechanics. I found the quantum mechanics in PHYS 200 somewhat disjointed and hard to follow. This course hammered the mathematical models of quantum mechanics into place. From first principles, we work our way into 3-dimensional radial quantum mechanics, and the mathematical construction of the Hydrogen molecule. Using an algebraic approach, we also develop the trends inherent in the periodic table of elements. This course is also an introduction to a number of mathematical concepts such as linear algebra topics, operator approaches to linear algebra, bra-ket vector notation, a number of well established polynomial sequences, partial differential equations, and more. This course had weekly assignments taking about 8-12 hours each.
  4. PHYS 404 - Medical physics. I found this course fascinating but disjointed. It is divided into six 4-lecture topics, each taught by a different instructor. They are (1) introduction to imaging, (2) MRI, (3) nuclear medicine, (4) radiological imaging, (5) biomedical optics, and (6) radiation therapy. This was not an easy course, and not an exciting one either. It did serve as a good introduction to imaging concepts and radiation physics, as well as a great chance to tie together medical and physical concepts. There were bi-weekly assignments taking 1-3 hours each. There is a term paper (2000-3000 words) on a medical physics topic of your choice.
I will likely do a similar post at the end of next term. Cheers, and take care!
Happy holidays, and Happy New Year.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

MATH 223 - Course Review

MATH 223 Linear Algebra

Matrices, eigenvectors, diagonalization, orthogonality, linear systems, applications. Intended for Honours students.
Credits: 3.  Pre-reqs: Either (a) MATH 121 or (b) a score of 68% or higher in one of MATH 101MATH 103MATH 105SCIE 001

My first task on the Wednesday which marked the start of my classes was to locate the small and aged mathematics building on campus under a blanket of rainy weather.  This is nothing new to a seasoned UBC student, but I was heading to my very first class.

This is my personal addition to the reams that have been said regarding the intimidation of approaching University classes for the first time.  I had a sneaking suspicion that MATH 223 was not going to be easy, and I was not sure I had even close to enough background to handle it.

I'll get some details out of the way.  I attended University Hill Secondary School from 2004 to 2009, a school known by many as one of the consistently highest academically rated public schools in the lower mainland.  My study focus was primarily in the sciences.

I took an accelerated science course in 8th grade, which covered 9th grade material as well, and took Science 10 in my 9th grade.  I then took our school's AP version of Chemistry, Physics, and Biology courses, as well as Math 12 in the following years, and AP Calculus BC at Kerrisdale academy.  I received 4's and 5's on AP exams in Chemistry, Physics B and C (mechanics), Biology, and Calculus BC.  In my 12th grade, I shifted my focus slightly and took many humanities courses.

Long story short, I entered UBC with transfer credit for MATH 100, 101; CHEM 121; PHYS 100, 107, 3 additional credits; BIOL 121, 140, 7 additional credits.  

I had no idea how MATH 223 would pan out, considering I had not taken any University courses in mathematics.  The day before the first class, I read through some basic matrix algebra concepts including matrix addition, subtraction, multiplication, and determinants.  As a result, the first class was relatively comfortable, touching on these concepts and using them to determine the properties of inverse matrices.

Professor Anstee was extremely welcoming and friendly, displaying expertise, wit, and warmness.  I was surprised that he gave us his home phone number rather than his office number.  My impression was that he was quite dedicated to his role as a teacher and cared about his students' learning.

He said something on the first class which both unnerved and excited me.  He looked through the class list, checking on the specialities of the students.  There were students from mathematics, physics, and computer science, all expected.  He appeared slightly confused, however, at the number of students from other fields, and advised that most of us were likely in the wrong course. I smiled, driven by the same academically masochistic drive that led me to take AP courses in high school.

But MATH 223 was like no course I had thus far experienced.  The proofs started at the second class.  I realized quickly that this would be a course in which I desperately copy down chalk markings during lectures in hopes that I might have time later on to actually understand them.

Weekly assignments were difficult.  I cannot put it any way but frankly.  The majority of questions were proofs, which took anywhere between 10 minutes and one hour each.  Assignments were made up of anywhere between 8 and 12 questions, some with multiple parts.  I would often get stuck on questions for long stretches of time.  I would take breaks, ask friends for their thoughts, and come back to the questions after some time, burning up pages and pages of blank paper scribbling every approach I could come up with.

Exams were similarly difficult, but definitely fair.  Professor Anstee was careful to give us exams which were hard to ace, but easy to pass.  60% of every exam would be based on basic algorithmic concepts, and usually required little cleverness (gaussian elimination, the determinant, inverse matrices, Gram-Schmidt process etc.).  The remaining 40% would usually be made up of four 10% questions of increasing difficulty.  These would usually be based on smaller concepts derived in proofs in class, and some were proofs themselves.  Often only 1 or 2 students in the class would get any points at all on the final question of the exam.

My conclusion, the hardest part of this course was the homework.  I spent from 5-10 hours on homework weekly for this course alone (why this course is worth only 3 credits, I have no clue).  Exams were not easy, but doable, and if I had studied more, I imagine I could actually have done well.  Unless you're very confident in your abilities, don't expect to get over 90% in this class, but I think with solid effort devoted to studying for exams, the 80's are attainable.

One last point up for debate is whether this course is better as a base in linear algebra than 221.  After the fact, I barely remembered any but the most key concepts in this course.  I feel that material raced by so rapidly that I had no time to grasp much of the conceptual framework with confidence.  However, where this course was useful was that it challenged me to think at a level of mathematical abstraction that I had never even knew I could.  The homework beat into me a new-found confidence for approaching problems of a mathematical nature, and this, I feel, has helped me immensely in subsequent courses.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Who am I, and why am I here?

This is not a metaphysical quest, merely an introduction.  My name is Eric, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia, located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  I am currently working on an Honours degree in Physiology.

The number of Physiology students at UBC is already quite limited, but what makes me academically different is that I am completing a minor in Physics and Astronomy.  The spectrum of courses I am taking therefore encompasses life science courses as well as math, physics, and astronomy.

I am here (on blogger) because I believe that a personal perspective on one's experience in University can often be an incredibly helpful and thought-provoking tool for others considering their academic paths.  Of course, this is just a thought.  If such a result ensues, I would be deeply thankful that my experiences might help guide or encourage others towards their proper callings.

My specific motivation, however, lies in the fact that, although my choice in program may be unusual, it is likely far from unique.  The next physiology student (or any life science student for that matter) who decides to minor in physics (or any mathematical, analytical, or physical science field) might find use in these pages.

The structure of this blog will be fairly loose, but posts are likely to fall into a number of categories.

Course evaluations

I tend to give detailed online evaluations at the ends of terms.  However, it is disheartening to think that those words cannot reach students deciding which courses to take.  In these posts, I will share my experience with specific courses.  It is likely that these will make up the bulk of my early posts, as I blast through all my first and second year courses.

Note that I will not be making specific reference to my impressions of instructors.  This is partly because I will make little effort to conceal my identity, but mainly because this information is likely to grow out of date as courses inevitably switch instructors over time.  I will, however, make very brief reference to instructors if their teaching style or specific teaching methods significantly impacted my experience in a course, or if I believe that the instructor warrants an extremely high level of applause for their ability.  For all other evaluations of instructors, ratemyprofs is generally decent as long as one keeps in mind its inherent biases.

Courses for which evaluations can be expected are...

Relatively soon:

  • MATH 200, 223, 215.
  • ENGL 112, 120.
  • PHIL 230a, 433.
  • PHYS 108, 200.
  • BIOL 112, 200, 201, 205, 234.
  • CHEM 123, 205, 211, 233, 235.
  • STAT 241.
  • MICB 202.
  • MUSC 167.

After term 1 this year:

  • PHYS 404.
  • ASTR 303.
  • MATH 300, 317.

After term 2 this year:

  • PHYL 301, 303. 
  • BIOC 301, 302. 
  • PHYS 304.
  • MATH 316.
  • ANTH 227.

After next year (tentative):

  • PHYL 422, 423, 424, 426, 430, 449.
  • PHYS 301 (or 305, but not both).
  • One other physics or astronomy course (likely ASTR 403).

Study tips

I am continually discovering more effective study methods.  At some point, I'll share insight on my most significant study strategies from the last couple of years.  Additionally, I'll post study tips as they come to mind, or as I learn them from others.

Due to my interest in study methods, this year I am taking part in SPAC (Science Peer Academic Coaches), and my first big study tip is to check out their website  I highly recommend checking it out.

General experience/day to day life

This is, after all, a blog.  Plenty of exciting stuff happens at UBC all the time, and when something really exciting happens, I'll write about it here if I have time.

In general, I'll try to remember to declare what "type" of post each post is.

Well, I essentially just wrote up a course outline.  Perhaps just writing in this blog would have made all of this self explanatory, but whatever.  In a way, this was as much for me as for you, which hopefully means my subsequent posts will be all the more organized and helpful to whoever might wish to read.

For now, cheers, and adios fellow UBCites.  Enjoy the last week of summer before Imagine day!


P.S. For more information about me and who I am, see