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[11] Pros and Cons of UBC… An Honest Reflection

2011 May 29
by sophiac

Note: I have not yet forsaken my post #10 [course-by-course reviews], but I like to be thorough, so it will take me a while to finish these. However, I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts about this university after finishing my first year of engineering…

The question of the day is…

Is UBC a good university (from an engineering student’s perspective)?

There are many things that differentiate a good university from a bad one, so I guess a more accurate question would be… do the Pros outweigh the Cons?


1) GORGEOUS CAMPUS. I would actually like to spend my life living on the UBC campus (although I am sadly not a millionaire)- it is a world separate from Vancouver (no junkies, WAYYY less hobos [only spotted four throughout the year and they seemed pretty harmless]). The landscaping and the architecture are beautiful, and there is something serene and happy about the campus overall. One slight con: the horrific amount of drunks that frequent the campus at night during the winter session, especially around Place Vanier. I guess first years feel very rebellious upon leaving their homes for the first time, but it does become a nuisance when they decide to trash dorm hallways, ring fire alarms, or scream down the streets.

2) Some Well-Taught Courses: These include Apsc 160 (Ed Knorr) [ A full review is coming up, but briefly: a knowledgeable professor who cared about teaching his students and answered all questions thoroughly and clearly, provided fair examinations, organized his course content well, and was basically the best professor I have ever had! ], all my math courses ( largely due to the well-written textbook, but all of my professors were clear and knowledgeable), and lastly Engl 112 and Bio 112 were also above average (I say this because my experience was good, but I have heard that these two courses differ in opinions depending on the professor). I commend all of these courses for having professors who seemed to genuinely care about their subject and wanted to maximize student understanding of it. They all shared the following qualities: good organization, clear speech, clear writing, clear schedules, and the ability to answer students’ questions thoroughly.


1) Uncoordinated Courses. The 1st year engineering standard timetable does not seem to change much (if at all) from year to year. However, it seems that professors are continually out-of-the-loop as to how much we know from high school and what knowledge we receive from other courses. UBC does not require any knowledge of calculus upon entrance into 1st year engineering. However, students who have never taken calculus before will probably suffer in courses such as Phys 153 (requires: differentiation [taught in Math 100, 1st term], integrals [taught in Math 101, 2nd term], partial differentiation [taught in Math 253, 2nd YEAR], electric circuits/magnetic fields/electric fields [supposedly taught in Phys 153, yet the professor continually refuses to teach material on the basis that we ‘learned this in high school’]), and Apsc 150 (requires: various tidbits of physics [taught in Phys 153, 2nd term], differentiation [taught in Math 100, 1st term] and integrals [taught in Math 101, 2nd term]). I fail to see the point of taking a course where we were supposed to have ‘already learned all this in high school’ [Mr. Phys 153] or having courses test us upon material that the UBC standard timetable has made sure that we learn in a different term, or a different year!

Conclusion: UBC should make Calculus 12 a mandatory course for those wishing to enter Applied Sciences, and UBC should write up a list of what students should have learned upon completion of Canadian high schools and make that list available to high schools, prospective students, and professors! UBC should also re-organize its 1st year courses, so that students are not tested upon material they have not yet learned.

2) Continuous testing, no learning: a major problem in Phys 153. Not a single lecture was given in this course. Before each class, we were required to do readings in our textbook and were then quizzed upon the readings in timed [and marked] pre-reading quizzes on Vista. During the class-times, we answered clicker questions [for marks] about the same pre-readings and then did group activities [for marks] in which we solved problems on those same pre-readings. So the question is…

WHAT DO WE NEED A PROFESSOR FOR?! We paid hundreds of dollars just to be tested on a textbook!

Furthermore, our test results seemed to prove that this method of ‘TEACHING’ was more effective than giving lectures. Well yeah, I suppose that memorizing an entire textbook can’t hurt when you’re being tested on that same textbook- wow, what a discovery! The question is, does anyone remember anything from Phys 153 now that it’s over? No one I’ve talked to does! Our clicker marks stopped being published a week into the term, and the answers to our midterms were never posted. When I told the professor that I hadn’t learned about magnetic fields or electric currents extensively in my Vancouver high school (we just learned about the different right-hand rules and did some basic calculations), he told me it wasn’t his problem and that I should teach myself. Useful professor, eh? I think that the phrase

Just teach yourself!

was the idealogy behind this course. A waste of money. I wish UBC could hire a professor who can teach this material properly, or perhaps attempt to fix the current professors’ teaching skills. Clickers should be used to check the understanding of students and should be for participation marks, as when people receive marks only for the correct answer- they will resort to cheating. And believe me, almost EVERYONE in my class cheated… and then the professor would go and boast about how well we knew the curriculum!

Tips for students: purchase the physics textbook ahead of time and go through all of it on your own during your summer vacation- this way, you can steadily go through all of the material and be ready to be bombarded with questions upon your arrival at UBC. (Wait for the booklist to come out though, as my course had to buy a Mastering Physics code, which is cheaper if you buy the physics books as a package from the bookstore).

Tip for UBC: see honest student opinions by looking at the student discussion boards on Vista. When 90% of them are complaining about the course… you know there is something wrong.

And when there are over 3000 posts… you know there is something wrong.

3) Memorizing Textbooks. Yep, similar to the conclusion from [2], courses like Chem 154, Bio 112, Econ 101 almost guarantee success if you just memorize the textbook. In fact, going to the lectures for Chem 154 and Econ 101 were simply a waste of time, as the professors simply read out loud from the textbook.

Why are we paying these people again?

Conclusion: UBC needs to start firing professors or having them evaluated for REDUNDANCY. If someone reads out loud from another person’s textbook, THEY SHOULD NOT GET PAID. Perhaps a How To Teach University Students course should be mandatory for professors?

Tip for students: Buy the Chem 154 and Econ 101 textbooks ahead of time and start memorizing! (You MUST wait until your booklist comes out though, as different teachers use different textbooks).

4) Lack of English-Speaking Professors. When you ask a professor a question, it would be nice if they understood what they were asking. This applies to TAs as well. What is the use of paying someone that you can’t understand and who can’t understand you?! This applies MOSTLY to my Math 152 professor, and then to: Chem 154 professor and TAs, Apsc 150 professor and TAs, Phys 153 TAs, and finally my Econ 101 TA.

5) Useless Teaching Assistants. In Phys 153, there were 1-4 TAs wandering around the lecture hall at any given time. The only useful TA was the woman [don’t know her name, but she was the only woman there]- she was everything a TA was supposed to be: kind, helpful, patient, knowledgeable, and clear. The other three were her polar opposites: throughout the year, they NEVER managed to answer a single question [they never knew the answer, and never bothered to find out] and spent their time wandering around aimlessly texting people on their phones. One of the TAs, Carlos, had the simple job of entering in marks for the in-class activities. Three times he marked my activity sheet, three times he mis-entered the mark. A simple job, but I guess texting on the cellphone was more important than focusing on people’s marks. The Phys 153 tutorial TAs in my first term couldn’t speak English, couldn’t understand the course material, couldn’t teach (but I guess that’s because of the previous point), and one of them didn’t say a word the entire year. I believe the most knowledgeable TAs seemed to be in Chem 154, followed by Apsc 160.

Conclusion: UBC should do TA evaluations during the year.

6) Rain. It rains a lot in Vancouver. And when it rains, there are rivers of water flowing down every nook and cranny of the campus. Buy rainboots!!!

Conclusion: UBC should fix its roads and sidewalks to provide better drainage.

7) Construction. There is construction almost everywhere on campus, but although that in itself is not a bad thing, it becomes bad when it forces you to be late for class. For example, the construction in front of LSK (near Vanier) changed its open paths so frequently that in one day I had to take 5 different routes to class. At one point I had to circle all the way around campus in order to get to class.

Conclusion: Construction sites should have arrows or signs pointing students to a detour route instead of just leaving students to figure it out on their own, and then changing the construction site every few hours to make sure that students are continuously confused.

8 ) The myths of campus life. You’re an engineer- you’re going to eat, sleep and study (or at least one of the three). Don’t kid yourself. Although some people manage to fit in sports/recreation into their lives, you shouldn’t run and sign up for any clubs or teams until you’ve comfortably settled in to your first year of engineering. Otherwise those clubs will cost you your marks. If you want to fit in a bit more partying into your life, I would suggest joining an ENGINEERING sorority or fraternity (Alpha Omega Epsilon / Sigma Phi Delta). Then you will be surrounded by others with a similar timetable and you will be able to ration your social life much better than by joining a non-engineering frat house.

Final remark: thus, to me UBC was a disappointment. However, other universities might be a lot worse. Therefore, I plan to just suck it up and study hard, but I wrote this post so that perhaps instead of being sorely disappointed, new engineers can be pleasantly surprised when all things aren’t as grim as I wrote them to be. It is better to expect the worst and hope for the best 🙂

11 Responses leave one →
  1. David permalink
    February 23, 2015

    Wow, great insight! I plan to go to UBC starting this year, and this taught me a lot of things I wouldn’t have expected. It’s 2015 now so I guess you have graduated already, how was it?

  2. July 4, 2011

    You’ve got great insights about alpha phi omega fraternity and sorrority, keep up the good work!

  3. Nik permalink
    June 6, 2011

    physics sounds total hell at ubc

    • June 6, 2011

      Yeah it was [for me at least], but it seems that every year they change it, so hopefully next year it will be much better.

  4. June 2, 2011

    way more cons than pro’s lol. but i definitely have a love/hate relationship with ubc as well…

  5. Melinda permalink
    May 30, 2011

    Sigh… I have to agree with you word. for. word. There’s a lot of things that disappointed me about first year.

  6. May 29, 2011

    Universities do not hire professors to teach, they hire them to research. Teaching is something they have to do as a side duty. This isn’t cynicism, this is how UBC (and many other universities) operate.

    If you talk to a High School teacher, they will tell you the training they went through on how to teach effectively. At Uni, you are hired on the strength of your research credentials, and are subsequently assigned teaching duties on top of that.

    I agree with you that this is crap, but I disagree that this is a problem with UBC *specifically*.

    • May 29, 2011

      I am aware that professors are hired for their research, as I have a few family members who are professors themselves. But I believe that it would be nice if they could just take a short course (rather than an entire Education degree) to at least teach them the basics of relaying knowledge to students. I just wish that something could be done to change the ineffectiveness of professors, and as each university is in charge of the people they hire to teach students, I do put the blame on UBC. Perhaps they simply haven’t come up with a good method of increasing professor effectiveness, but hopefully that is something that universities will work on in the future. Or perhaps there is simply a shortage of individuals willing to teach first-year students, as my upper-year friends tell me.

      • May 30, 2011

        You don’t need a full degree in Education to teach in High School either, but many districts do require some sort of formal training in pedagogy.

        The University (any university) has zero interest in increasing the effectiveness of the teachings of it’s professors: this does not increase the bottom line. Take a course (or three) that provide info on the history of the University, and you’ll see that universities (generally) have become businesses, and that students (generally) welcome this shift. Staffing has massively increased over the last few decades, but the quantity of faculty has remained roughly the same. The ‘auxiliary’ staff has something like tripled. That’s, by and large, where your tuition is going.

        Take a look at UBC specifically: when Blake Frederick took action to rectify this, the *students* were the ones that attacked him, and forced him to stop.

        Personally, I don’t think that it would be “nice” if there was a shift in focus back to education as the goal, I think that it’s necessary. Then again, I also think that multiple classes in Ethics and Critical Thinking are necessary for *all* students, but hey… ;P

        • May 30, 2011

          It’s horrible to know that students are supporting this!! My English 112 professor taught us a whole course about the corporatization of the university, but I did not know how far its extent reached to UBC- thank you for your well-written insight on this situation!

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