Ian Thompson, BASc '18, Engineering Physics

Ian Thompson
"The four (or five, or more) years that you will spend as an undergraduate engineer will be a long time, so do your best to openly invite change and exploration."

Ian is a recent graduate of the UBC Engineering Physics program. Throughout his undergraduate experience, he discovered a passion for tackling complex biomedical problems using an engineering skill set. As a student researcher at the BC Cancer Research Centre, he developed biomedical device prototypes for cancer imaging and treatment, and received the J.M. Warren Award, BC’s top undergraduate cancer research studentship. In his capstone project, Ian collaborated with the UBC Digital Health Innovation Lab to design a low-cost syringe pump with the aim of providing reliable anesthesia in developing nations. Outside his studies, Ian is an avid improv comedian and has entertained students in hundreds of shows with UBC Improv. He has been active in mentorship and outreach within the engineering and improv communities. Ian was selected as a 2018 Wesbrook Scholar for his commitment to academic excellence and community building at UBC.

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

Having the opportunity to lead a kind of “double life” and contribute to two very distinct communities (Engineering Physics and UBC Improv) was tremendously fulfilling and led me to meet so many wonderful people. Jumping back and forth from the technical rigor of the lab to the spontaneous fun of the stage never failed to keep things fresh throughout my degree. More than anything, being surrounded by people that I could have fun with, whether working on a physics lab or improvising a musical, really made my UBC experience what it was.

What have you learned that is most valuable?

I have been fortunate to get exposure to a huge variety of engineering and research projects from particle accelerators, to autonomous drones, to cancer research. The unifying, most valuable skill that I learned through all these experiences was the ability to quickly build the big picture. By understanding a project’s motivation — why it matters and how it connects to other projects, technology, and society — it becomes much clearer how to employ the broad technical skill set of an engineering graduate to make a significant positive impact.

What has been your most memorable/valuable non-academic experience studying engineering at UBC?

During my fourth year, I was part of the first cohort of UBC students to attend ETH Zurich (a science, technology, engineering and mathematics university in Switzerland) through Applied Science’s Coordinated International Experience (CIE) program. As a born-and-raised Vancouverite, the opportunity to study abroad and adapt to Swiss culture pushed me out of my element. During the weeks, tackling research-focused master’s courses like computer vision and neuromorphic engineering affirmed my desire to pursue graduate education. Hopping on busses or planes for the weekends, I embarked on some of my most memorable and enjoyable travel experiences throughout Europe. Overall, I couldn’t more highly recommend the CIE program to a student looking to add some variety to their degree and see what education is like at other top-notch institutions.

What advice would you give a student considering engineering?

The four (or five, or more) years that you will spend as an undergraduate engineer will be a long time, so do your best to openly invite change and exploration. The interests you enter with will not likely be the ones you leave with, and by exposing yourself to as many different perspectives, ideas and opportunities as possible, you will improve your chance of finding things you are really excited about.

What are your plans for the future?

In the immediate future, I’ll be taking the summer off to enjoy all the outdoor adventure, freedom, and relaxation that was hard to fit in as an undergraduate. Most excitingly, I’ll be headed to the Northwest Territories in July to canoe the most northern river in continental North America. In September, it’ll be back to reality, when I head down to California to start my PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford University. As a graduate student, I hope to focus on using optical and electronic biosensors to better analyze the human body and address unmet clinical needs.