New York STEM College Fair

On Sunday October 15 2017 we will be attending a STEM College Fair in New York City.  We are looking forward to the chance to meet some high school students and their parents, and to talk about Waterloo Engineering, co-op education, and studying in Canada.

At the same event last year, held on the campus of Columbia University, we were pleased to meet a number of parents that mentioned that they already knew something about Waterloo because their co-workers were alumni, or their company  hired our co-op students.  We had some interesting conversations with many others who didn’t know about Waterloo or had questions about studying in Canada.

If there are any blog readers from the New York area, Karyn  and I would be happy to meet you at the STEM College Fair.  We will also be around for a couple of days doing some engineering workshops at local high schools and meeting independent guidance counsellors, so anyone who wants to meet us but can’t attend the College Fair can always send us an email ( and we’ll see if we can arrange something.

Silicon Valley STEM College Fair

On Sunday October 8 2017 we will be attending a STEM College Fair in Santa Clara, California.  It’s a great opportunity for us to meet some high school students and their parents, and to talk about Waterloo Engineering, co-op education, and studying in Canada.

This will be the second year for this event, which was held in South San Francisco last year.  Mirjana and I were somewhat overwhelmed with interested people last year and we were talking non-stop for the full three hours.  I was impressed by the number of parents that approached us and mentioned that they already knew something about Waterloo because their co-workers were alumni, or their company regularly hired our co-op students.  Of course there were many others who didn’t know about Waterloo or had never thought about studying in Canada, so we had some good discussions with them too.

If there are any readers from that area, Karyn (our current Associate Director of Admissions) and I would be happy to meet you at the STEM College Fair.  For any readers that can’t make it to that, we will be hosting an evening event on Tuesday October 10th at Bellarmine College Preparatory from 7-9 pm.  Please feel free to come out along with your families to learn more about what Canada’s most innovative university has to offer. You will also have a chance to meet our local alumni and a few of the hundreds of current Waterloo students that are on their work term (internships) at various companies in the Silicon Valley area. Please register Here  so we know how many to expect.  Registration closes on Thursday, October 5th.

We will also be around for a couple of days doing some engineering workshops at local high schools, so anyone who wants to meet but can’t attend those either of those two events can always contact us by email ( and we’ll see if we can arrange something.

Buyer Beware

One of the best features of Waterloo Engineering is that it is direct-entry.  Right from the first day you are in your chosen discipline, all the courses can be tailored to your interests, and all your classmates will be with you in the same classes for the next few years.  All of this makes for a nice social and educational environment.

One of the worst features of Waterloo Engineering is that it is direct-entry.  If you selected a program which doesn’t really match your interests or aptitude, you are somewhat stuck.  In theory you can switch to another engineering program, but in practice this is complicated and may require the loss of one year to re-start and catch up on certain key courses.  If the program you want is over-subscribed and highly competitive, transfers into it may never happen (which is often the case for Software Engineering lately).  Students in this situation will likely suffer a form of “buyer’s remorse”, that feeling of regret when you buy something expensive without really deeply considering all the aspects.

That’s why this time of the admission cycle is quite critical for prospective applicants, and they should be doing lots of investigation to inform themselves about different choices and options.  From our side, we know that applicants are in potential trouble if we get one of the following types of responses  when we ask them why they are interested in a certain engineering program:

  • it’s the most competitive one to get into
  • it just sounds cool
  • my father/mother/cousin/aunt/etc  said it would be good one for me
  • I heard that it’s the best one for getting a job
  • I like math and physics
  • I heard that it’s the highest paying field

None of those answers are “bad”, but if that’s the total extent of the reasons then there is an obvious lack of insight into the program, career opportunities, typical jobs and what they involve.  The only way to get those insights is to spend a few hours to do some research and look at some websites and videos.  Type something like “what do chemical engineers do” into Google and you’ll get loads of information to look at.

Meeting faculty & engineering students at events is another good opportunity to find out more, but you should do some research in advance so you can ask good questions and get better answers.  The Ontario Universities Fair is runs from  September 22-24 2017 and is one good opportunity, for those within travelling distance to Toronto.  Waterloo has their Fall open house on November 4 2017.  If you live far away from Waterloo, look for similar events at your local university or college.  Engineering programs have a lot of similar features across North America or even around the world, so visiting any of them is a good starting point in exploring down your choices.

Some of our most impressive applicants are the ones who clearly know what the program is about, and have some initial ideas about careers and things they would like to try in co-op employment.  Occasionally they have even looked at the upper year courses in the program and are looking forward to taking certain ones.  That requires some effort and thought, but in the end they are much more likely to excel than someone who doesn’t put much thought into picking a program.

Admissions 2018: How it’s going to work

An updated version of this popular post, with some revisions  for the upcoming September 2018 admissions cycle. 

Here is an overview on how the process works and the approximate timelines.  As usual, this is specific to Waterloo Engineering admissions; other programs and universities will have their own unique variations.  Also, make sure you look through our admissions webpages for exact deadlines and official requirements since this is just an unofficial, quick overview and I can’t cover every detail for every variety of applicant and situation. Continue reading

Waterloo does well in PitchBook entrepreneurial rankings

The following is re-posted from Waterloo’s Daily Bulletin website.  Interesting statistics for those who are interested in entrepreneurship.

Ranking season is upon us as organizations have begun publishing their annual listing of international universities.

The PitchBook 2017/2018 Universities Report is the latest to be released. PitchBook compiles a ranking of the world’s top 50 universities that produce venture capitalist-backed entrepreneurs.

This year, the University of Waterloo is ranked #20 in the world for the number of VC-banked entrepreneurs, and is the highest-ranked Canadian university, with the University of Toronto coming in at #31, McGill University at #32, the University of British Columbia at #49 and Queen’s University at #50. This measure ranks universities by most prolific producers of entrepreneurs with venture capital banking and includes companies that received a first round of venture funding between January 1, 2006 and August 18, 2017. Waterloo counted 390 entrepreneurs and 299 companies raising $7.06B. Waterloo’s rank remains unchanged from last year.

In the category of top universities for “unicorns,” or the number of entrepreneurs founding companies that are valued privately at $1B or more, Waterloo is tied for fourth place (and again, #1 in Canada), with only Stanford, Harvard, and Cornell ahead of us. Waterloo is tied with the University of California at Berkeley. Waterloo’s top unicorns included Wish, Pivotal Software, Kuadi Dache, Instacart, and Storm8. Waterloo moved to fourth place from sixth place last year.

In the category of top companies by capital raised, Waterloo is ranked #20 (1st in Canada), the same rank it achieved last year. Waterloo-connected companies listed in the ranking included Wish; Pivotal Software; Kuaidi Dache; Instacart; and Storm8.

Source: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 | Daily Bulletin | University of Waterloo

What U.S. Campus is Most Like Waterloo?

In a recent post about rankings, I showed that Waterloo often appears in the rankings alongside colleges like Penn State, Texas A&M, Purdue, UCLA, Michigan, etc.  So perhaps the next question is, “how does Waterloo look and feel compared to these or other colleges?”.  Rankings are one thing, but if you don’t like the environment then the ranking probably doesn’t matter.  By “look and feel”, I mean the general campus environment (architecture, space, etc.) and situation (urban, suburban, rural, etc.).  Waterloo is a fairly young university (just 60 years old this year), located within a medium sized city (population about 380,000 if you combine the twin cities of Waterloo and Kitchener), so how does that compare with those places? Continue reading

Rough waters turn to smooth sailing for student team

UWAST’s autonomous sailboat in action

Anderson:  I didn’t know we had a robotic sailing team!  I learn something new every day. 
Source: Rough waters turn to smooth sailing for student team | Engineering

By Nancy Harper

The University of Waterloo Autonomous Sailboat Team (UWAST) may be new to robotic sailing, but like every hardworking engineering team with one eye on the horizon, its goal is to win, not just compete.

That mindset served UWAST well in June at the 2017 International Robotic Sailing Regatta in Annapolis, Maryland.

UWAST team members Seamus Johnston, Richard Li and Jessen Liang are congratulated by event chairman Paul Miller (left).

With five main challenges over five days, UWAST members proved they were up to the task of facing seasoned veterans. The team finished sixth overall — not bad for a university that had entered this kind of international competition just once before in 2006.

Team leads Richard Li and Seamus Johnston were joined by Lily Liu, Jessen Liang, Jonathan Parsons, Chris Carnduff, Trevor Van Leeuwen, Dominic Faryna and Julian Howarth, plus faculty advisor Professor Jan Huissoon.

Representing the full spectrum of engineering – from mechatronics and mechanical, to electrical and chemical – members are optimistic they set the stage in Annapolis for future success. Continue reading

University of Waterloo students make a big splash in the 2017 AquaHacking semi-finals | Water Institute

An interesting competition event showcasing environmental water quality innovations by student groups.  Sponsored by the Water Institute at Waterloo, one of the research centres I belong to.

The AquaHacking 2017 semi-final competition unfolded last week at CIGI. By the end of the evening, five teams were chosen to move on to the final competition at Waterloo on September 13. It was a difficult decision for the five judges, as all 17 teams that competed offered innovative ideas that tackled the challenges and opportunities facing Lake Erie.

Source: University of Waterloo students make a big splash in the 2017 AquaHacking semi-finals | Water Institute

Getting to Know Failure

A while ago I came across Prof. Haushofer of Princeton University and his CV of Failures.  It was interesting, and kind of funny if you look at the last entry.  It also reminded me that professors are usually experts in failure, and not because we fail some of the students in our courses (although that does happen).

One of our Engineering Counselors once mentioned in a meeting that many students (especially new students) regard professors with a certain amount of awe and believe that we can do almost anything successfully.  But sadly no, most of us could probably also write a similar long list of “failures”.  These lists would include things such as jobs and promotions we didn’t get, research grants competitions we didn’t win, equipment funding that was denied, awards we didn’t receive, journal manuscripts that were rejected, cool research ideas that didn’t work, research collaborations that fell apart, graduate students we’ve mentored who didn’t excel, teaching innovations that flopped, courses and lectures that didn’t go very well, etc, etc.

Professors are actually so well acquainted with “failure” that we normally don’t even think much about it…it’s just a routine part of the job and life in general.  It’s so routine, we sometimes forget that it’s probably a new experience for many first year university students, when they get a failing grade in an assignment or test, or they don’t get the co-op position they were hoping for.

One can read in various publications about entrepreneurs and business people and their long list of failures before finding something that actually works.  For example, there are a few stories in the University of Waterloo Magazine about some alumni and their experiences with failure.  I guess that the bottom line is that “failure” is a normal part of adult life in pretty much any field.  The trick is to just expect it, embrace it, learn from it, and move on to the next thing.