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Michael Birch

Currently Works in Software Development

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  • Physics is great.

  • Approach professors early and make an impression.

  • Doing a Masters' provides you with skills to work outside of academia.

  • Don't be afraid to try new things.



I was enrolled in the Honours math and physics program at Mac during undergrad. I knew back in high school that physics was my area of study. I really love that it is very straightforward, black and white; in the sense that there was an exact right and wrong answer, and I was pretty good at finding the right answer! Specifically, what I love the most is that with physics, you’re learning things about the real world through abstract and quantitative calculations, which comes with so many surprises!


Personally, the transition from high school into university was very smooth. I thoroughly enjoyed everything I was taking, and thus, didn’t struggle with any motivation issues. Even in high school, I remember myself having a strong work ethic, so studying at Mac didn’t shake me up too much.


I had the opportunity to conduct data research immediately after my first year, and I kept this job for the rest of my undergrad, along with some summer research opportunities throughout my 3rd and fourth year in math and physics. I was also a TA for first year linear algebra, along with some second-year engineering math courses. I was exceptionally lucky with these opportunities, since physics and math are much smaller fields compared to other sciences. One thing I learned was that it’s crucial to approach profs early and make an impression on them before anyone else does. When you approach them at the same time as everyone else, you’ll most likely just get stuck in the crowd.


McMaster University – Masters in Physics:


I knew for sure that I wanted to pursue a postgraduate degree, but there were so many opportunities and places to choose from, and I was way too indecisive. So in the end, I ended up staying at Mac for my Masters. I don’t regret staying here, because Mac truly is a great school, but I did discover that I don't want to continue academic pursuits in physics. What my Masters involved was basically writing software capable of carrying out physics calculations. So now, I have all of the skills to write other programs and apply them to areas outside of physics!


Software Development:


I’m developing systems for big data analysis, in particular right now for financial institutions,but hopefully other fields in the future. Usually people don’t think of this, but all of the digital functions we carry out on a daily basis, they generate absurd amounts of data, hundreds of petabytes every day! But you need special tools in order to convert that data into something applicable.


I always enjoyed programming.  Even from back in high school, I taught myself some few simple program languages. Throughout my undergrad, I kept taking programming courses, and then my Masters was essentially only programming, with physics fit into it.


My goal within the next 5 years is to be still working in data analysis, but in the medical field. Data analysis will have a huge impact on the way we decide on how to diagnose and treat patients, and I want to be part of that transition because I think it will help a lot of people. I’m working for financial institutions at the moment, which is fine but, I think I’d be much happier working within the medical field applying my software development skills.


Words of Advice:


Don’t be afraid to try something that will change your mind! I feel that many people, with regards to careers and schooling, are very afraid to try something new that will change their current mindset. But you really shouldn’t be, because there’s no downside to trying different things, and ultimately you could be happier in the end!

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