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Best CS reputation in Canada, UBC or UWaterloo


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I'm very torn about making my decision of attending a master's in Computer Science in UBC or in UWaterloo.

To help me make my decision, I'd like to know which one of those two has the best CS reputation in Canada? and in the US?

also, which province has more software job opportunites Ontario or British Columbia?


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  • 2 weeks later...

I was actually accepted to both UBC and Waterloo as well, so I've spent some time thinking about this question myself. Here's what I've come up with. [edit] Sorry this is so long! Apparently I like to type a lot when I get started on this. Hope some of it's useful. [/edit]

1. Reputation

Waterloo has a very good reputation for its undergraduate computer science program. Note slight emphasis on "undergrad". It's probably the best in Canada (debatably U of T might be better, but I don't think so personally). It seems like Waterloo's CS graduate department is somewhat less impressive. I've had three profs at two different universities tell me that Waterloo is "undirected" and that it's not a great choice for graduate studies.

This is probably partially because of my subfield of computer graphics. In computer graphics, Waterloo has published 6 papers in SIGGRAPH (pretty much the top conference) since 2000, and I'm counting short papers here, and UBC has published 6 papers in the last two years in SIGGRAPH. Plus a random selection of Waterloo papers shows 0 citations (admittedly pretty recent papers, 2008) and a random selection of UBC papers shows citiation counts ranging from 3-8, even for papers from 2009. This is just my own research, but I suggest you do your own. Especially if you're in a different subfield.

I have the impression that Waterloo is very strong at systems, security, parallelism, and lower-level stuff like that. I'm less interested in those topics but depending on where your interests lie you may find one school to be better than the other, reputation-wise.

I've asked a few graphics profs where I should go for grad studies in graphics, and even before I've said that I want to stay in Canada, they immediately say UBC. No question. It's the place to be in Canada. There are a lot of entertainment companies in Vancouver (EA Games, Radical, ...) and a pretty strong connection with the movie industry too. I guess this is a nice segway into the next topic:

2. Job opportunities

While I was an undergrad, about half my classmates went west to Vancouver for internships and half went east to Toronto, I mean other than the ones who stayed nearby. I get the impression from talking with other people that Vancouver and BC in particular is a bit hard to find jobs in, and that a lot of people go east to Alberta for jobs; but I'm not seeing that this is the case for software.

It depends on what you want to do, of course. In Vancouver there's games and entertainment and some financial stuff (trade with overseas); in Calgary there's oil and gas; in Toronto there's pretty much everything else. Toronto/Waterloo has IBM and AMD, RIM and so on. Maybe BC is harder to find jobs; maybe not. Make your own judgements. I don't think there's much of a shortage, in any case.

3. What I think

Well, this whole post has been about what I think but here's another bit: Microsoft and IBM and a lot of companies hire out of Waterloo. I think Waterloo has a much better reputation in the US than other places like UBC (i.e. if they've heard of any Canadian universities maybe it would be Waterloo). Waterloo seems a little bit business oriented, low-level stuff, work that will sell and is useful. In an industry sort of way. Sure, UBC has spin-off companies but I get the impression they would be more focussed on research. Particularly if you're in a more theoretical field.

4. What I think, part 2

Personally I think I'm going to UBC because of their influence in my subfield, but I must say that Waterloo has a lot more money. Like *way* more money. It's pretty hard to secure funding at UBC and Vancouver is pretty expensive (more on that in a moment); Waterloo has many scholarships and they're quite liberal with them. That's just my impression. But still, even after some scholarships, Waterloo is offering me 1.5x what UBC is, and one of my other acceptances is offering me 2x-3x what UBC is. Just something to keep in mind. I can live on UBC's money, but I could be more comfortable elsewhere.

They say Vancouver is expensive: I'm not sure it's all that much more expensive, but you will almost certainly have to live off campus, because they have virtually no housing space. Whereas Waterloo could put you up in residence, if that's what you wanted, which would be cheaper. Still, the grad students at UBC I've talked to, even those without extra scholarships, haven't had too much trouble money-wise (and they're all off-campus). UBC guarantees 19K (the website says 18.5 but they just changed it) to all its CS grad students (if they don't have any other awards/sources of funding).

5. Precedent and location

Vancouver is a really nice place to be. Let's face it. Waterloo is kind of boring. So a few of my classmates have gone off to UBC -- one of them had the same two offers, one from Waterloo and one from UBC, but he said that Waterloo "is a bunker". No windows. Not much of a city. Personally I think it's not a bad place to be, but there's no doubt that Vancouver is even nicer.

6. Last words

I realize I haven't really addressed the question of which of these schools has the better reputation. I think Waterloo is usually seen as much better for undergrad, and some people carry that impression over to its graduate studies even if it's undeserved. Most people I've talked to seem to see them as fairly equal; in most Canadian rankings U of T comes first and UBC/Waterloo are second and third. (That was a bit of a surprise to me once I'd found out, I had the impression that U of T was a huge place that had space for and therefore accepted everyone. Not true. But still, I'm not sure I'd want to be part of such a large school.) I really don't think you can go wrong either way, and I'd consider other factors in making your decision.

Please do let me know what you think, I'd love to discuss. In my case UBC seems a better option because of the subfield speciality, but I'd still like to hear other opinions/what you plan to do.

Edited by vacuo
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I'm originally from Vancouver (well, Vancouver area)... yes, it's beautiful (though rainy) but it is quite expensive to live there. And as was mentioned, UBC is kinda stingy with the money. However, UBC is a great school. I would say it has one of the best reputations among Canadian universities, but I may be biased, being from BC and all.

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Something to consider... Vancouver is close to Seattle, home of Microsoft, Nintendo, Amazon.com, Big Fish Games, Pop Cap games, and more. We also have three Google offices and Facebook.

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Disclaimer: I'm at Waterloo now. The school is pretty great. Some of the main selling points:

- Great funding: Many 10k/year merit based in-course/entrance scholarships for CS grads. No 'salary cap' (Some students make $45 or $50k/year by holding several different awards at once). National scholarships are 'topped up' with an extra $10k/year that stacks with the CS specific ones. Mix this with the very low cost of living, and you can be paid a handsome amount.

- The school is ambitious. This doesn't seem like a big deal until you experience it. The place I did my undergrad was 200 years old, and seemed content to be just another mid-range research university. At 50 year old Waterloo, people (faculty members) talk about trying to become an Ivy League level school. That's their goal. They go far out of their way to improve the school's reputation, and it's really on the rise in that regard. The marketing department wins international non-academic awards. This 'buzz' can be a great motivator.

-Students own all their IP. If you invent something, you own it. The university also has patent support though, where they'll help you patent something in exchange for a cut.

That said, the town leaves much to be desired. It's close to Toronto though, so many students go there for the weekends.

Edited by j3doucet
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I've heard better things about Waterloo as opposed to UBC for theory. It depends on the specialty you plan to do research in. In graphics Waterloo may not be the best choice, but in theory, I'd say Waterloo probably has a stronger department than UBC. I'd check with the professors at both schools and see which is the best fit. I wouldn't worry so much about arbitrary rankings.

Edited by binaryco
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