Discovering what it means to "think like a physicist"

student sitting on bench with book in hand

Beyond pursuing a subject that interests you, choosing what to study at university is about developing your worldview. For Aishwarya (Aish), a third-year student in the Faculty of Science, his studies have cultivated an analytical mindset — and a world of possibilities.

"Like most kids who go on to study physics, I wanted to learn about the world around me," says Aish.

That deep curiosity has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. At just eight years old, he attended an astronomy workshop that set the rest of his journey into motion. 

"I first learned about constellations and space travel. That was my initiation into physics. After that, I ate up encyclopedias like people read Harry Potter books. The more you know, the more curious you are in science."

Fast-forward to today, and Aish is chasing that curiosity through a joint honours in Physics and Economics at Waterloo.

Faculty of Science student at Waterloo.

Your mindset matters most

While it’s tough to capture everything that he’s learned over the past two years, "perhaps the most important is thinking like a physicist," Aish says. "You can always learn a new theory, you can always read a textbook, but the mindset you develop is most important." 

In the Department of Physics and Astronomy, he’s honing his analytical skills under the guidance of some of the best teachers and researchers in his field. 

Every day in class, you interact with an accomplished physicist. That's the thing you miss in a school that isn't geared toward innovation and research.

"There are a lot of great researchers at Waterloo because of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) and proximity to the Perimeter Institute. Every day in class, you interact with an accomplished physicist. That’s the thing you miss in a school that isn’t geared toward innovation and research."

The ability to "think like a physicist" has been a game-changer for Aish, in terms of expanding his possibilities. "I chose Physics because it’s versatile. It teaches you problem-solving and develops that intuitive mindset you can use to work in basically any field."

Experimenting with real-world challenges

Using his electives to do a joint honours in Physics and Economics has opened even more doors for Aish, providing "the option to market myself with two degrees and skillsets."

His complementary studies have already proven useful in two different, but equally exciting co-op experiences.

In his first role as an undergraduate research assistant, Aish worked in an experimental physics lab at IQC. Since COVID-19 policies prevented him from doing in-person experiments, he took on a more theoretical project involving computational modelling that also drew inspiration from biology, statistical physics, and economics.

His second co-op job in the Global Markets Division of TD Bank combined those skillsets in new ways — this time applying his computational modelling experience to analyze TD’s corporate bond trading in order to make better pricing and hedging models. 

The opportunity to apply what he’s studying to the real world is one of the reasons that co-op has been such an amazing learning experience for Aish.
"Co-op forces you to bring all the tools you’ve learned over the years, to bring them together to go deep into problems and solve them in the workplace. That’s the most important part."

Faculty of Science student at Waterloo.

Support is just "one message away"

As an international student from India, Aish says choosing to go to university in Canada meant taking a leap of faith — but it’s all paid off. He’s learned to embrace change, live on his own, manage his finances, and find work-life balance, "all while exposed to such a diverse culture.

"Extracurriculars have eased the transition, including dabbling in Improv Club, practicing Muay Thai on campus, and especially joining the UW Indian Cultural Association where he’s met other students from India with "similar experiences and mindsets."

But Aish says, when it comes to finding community, living in the Science Living Learning Community at Ron Eydt Village was "hard to match."

With so many other students from "different backgrounds, studying different things, there’s a very lively atmosphere." During Orientation week, he says he met most of his friends by simply sitting with a different person every time he went down to the cafeteria. 

For future students who are feeling apprehensive, Aish suggests doing what he did — talking to lots of different people who share your interests.

"People in the Faculty of Science are always willing to help. They’re just one message away from meeting with you, discussing what they’re doing and how they got there."

Discover what to expect during your first year in Science

Aishwarya shares his experience with the differences between high school and university as an international student, what living in residence in a living learning community was like, and getting involved in clubs like Muay Thai martial arts, improv, and the Indian Cultural Association.




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