Graduating physics student joining elite international graduate program

Besart Lajci sitting on a bench outdoors looking directly into the camera.

Besart Lajci is one of the few students from around the world to be admitted to the Perimeter Scholars International program. (Photo by Jay Robb/McMaster University)

Besart Lajci was jolted awake by what he found in his inbox.

“It was like getting ice water thrown in your face,” says the fourth-year physics student.

Lajci had applied to the Perimeter Scholars International program. It’s an intensive and interactive one-year master’s program focused entirely on theoretical physics and offered at the Perimeter Institute in collaboration with the University of Waterloo.

It’s also incredibly hard to get into – every year, more than 200 top students from around the world apply for 25 spots. Full scholarships are available to cover tuition, accommodations, meals and other expenses.

The Perimeter team had interviewed Lajci over Zoom on a Friday. On Sunday, he pulled an all-nighter studying for an exam. He rolled out of bed around noon on Monday and checked his email, never expecting that he’d hear back so soon from the Perimeter Institute.

“Getting into the program is a remarkable achievement,” says mathematics and statistics associate professor Hari Kunduri, who taught Lajci in three courses.

Being in the program means Lajci can keep doing what he’s loved most as a McMaster student – connecting with classmates who shared his passion for all things physics. Heading into exams, they’d find empty classrooms and study together late into the night.

“You have to build connections. It’s the best way to learn.”

At the Perimeter Institute, he’ll learn alongside other exceptional students, faculty and international researchers who’ve invented some of the theories being discussed in class.

Lajci says he owes a debt of thanks to many people. There was his Grade 11 physics teacher who introduced him to theoretical physics. Lajci went on to graduate from high school with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board’s Walter Gasparik Memorial Award, given to a top student in the area of mathematics who displays a good work ethic and positive attitude.

At McMaster, Lajci was taught and mentored by faculty like Kunduri who showed him how to use math to push physics in new directions. Lajci spent a summer working with physics & astronomy professor Duncan O’Dell on a research project that explored condensed matter physics with applications in quantum computing.

Professor Cliff Burgess supervised Lajci’s senior research thesis on black hole – neutron star mergers. Burgess calls Lajci a quick study and intellectually nimble in the way required of a successful researcher. He also says Lajci is more than ready to make the transition from undergraduate to graduate study and independent research where initial goals are ill-defined and problems are open-ended.

Above all, Lajci says he’s grateful for his parents’ support and sacrifices.

They moved to Canada during the Kosovo War – his dad landed a job at a grocery store while his mom works in a long term care centre. They helped put their two daughters through Mohawk College and Lajci is the first in his family to go to university.

His parents never once pushed him to be a doctor or engineer – they’ve always believed in his dream of becoming a theoretical physicist. “They let me grow as my own person.”

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