Integrated Science: the choose-your-own-adventure science degree

When I was looking into schools, I immediately fell in love with UBC. I loved the campus, the proximity to Vancouver, the community that existed within it, and all the opportunities it afforded. It was my dream school, and I wanted nothing more than to move to Vancouver and start studying science.

Unfortunately, they did not have the degree program I wanted.

The human body has always fascinated me, both on a large and molecular scale, so I decided that I wanted to study life sciences at university. I applied to a lot of Life Science or Biomedical programs at other universities, mainly in Ontario, and was accepted to all of them. However, the closest thing UBC had to a Life Sciences degree was the Physiology program, which is notoriously competitive and only accepts a handful of people each year. The Biology and Microbiology programs appealed to me a little, but they seemed to cover a lot of areas that did not really interest me, like plant biology and microbial ecology.

It began to feel like UBC was not the right fit. As I browsed through the UBC Vancouver Academic Calendar, I felt my panic mounting. I thought that I would never be able to study what I wanted to at my dream school.

But then I stumbled upon the Integrated Sciences program. 

Integrated Sciences is an interdisciplinary science degree that allows you to essentially build your own academic program. You pick two or three scientific areas of specialization that would not be offered together in a traditional degree program. Then, with the help of their academic guidelines, you pick and choose the third- and fourth-year courses you want to take within each discipline. All you need to do is design your own program and, with the help of a faculty mentor, write an application stating why those two disciplines should be studied together and how studying them will help you reach your academic goals.

This sounded perfect for me, as I had far-ranging interests within life sciences. Knowing that a flexible program like this existed, I went to UBC confident that I would be able to study anything I wanted.

I completed my first year of general sciences at UBC. Then, the summer after my first year, I applied for science specializations through the Faculty of Science online application. I indicated Integrated Sciences as my first choice, and was accepted shortly after. The process was not complete though: I had until the end of my third year to finish my application and get officially accepted into the program.

The application process was lengthy, albeit fairly simple. I emailed a few professors that had indicated they were open to accepted IntSci students to mentor, and received a response from a genetics professor in the Department of Medical Genetics. With his guidance, I worked on my application over the course of my second year, trying to structure my program and pick which courses I wanted to study.

I changed my mind a few times throughout the application process. Originally I was planning to integrate psychology and genetics, but after I fell in love with MICB 202: Medical Microbiology and Immunology in my second year, I decided to study immunology and genetics instead. I also decided close to the end of second year that I wanted to do an Honours degree, which would require a research project and additional credits in each of my disciplines.

I submitted my application to the IntSci reviewers, and received it back with some comments on areas I could improve. After making those revisions, I submitted it again, and was accepted officially into the program by the first week of my third year.

I really enjoy the Integrated Sciences program, as it allows me to be both generalized and specialized at the same time. I am able to study two different areas of science, which gives me a general understanding of how the two work together, but I also get to be specialized, taking only the classes that are meaningful to me and that will help further my understanding of the genetics of disease.

Now, in my third year, I have begun my first real year of my Integrated Science curriculum, and I absolutely love it. My carefully chosen courses overlap with each other perfectly, and it is very easy to see the connections between my different classes. I feel as though I am getting a well-rounded education that is perfectly aligned with my interests, and I could not be happier with my decision to come to UBC.

If you are a science student who is unsure about what to study, or who has interests that cross discipline boundaries within the sciences, I encourage you to look into the Integrated Sciences program. Aside from accepting my offer to UBC, it was the best academic decision I ever made.

For more information about the Integrated Science program, see the IntSci program website or the UBC Academic Calendar.

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