Computer Science and Philosophy at Oxford

January 27th, 2011 15 Comments

While I get why combining computer science and philosophy into a single program of study, I fear that these graduates may be disappointed in many of the jobs they land after college.

Graduates of this degree will have highly marketable skills. Computer Science teaches you how to program computers, and how to design processes that are effective and efficient. Philosophy teaches you how to analyse complex concepts and the interconnections between them and – crucially – how to express this analysis, elegantly and precisely, in written form. You will be able to program, to reason logically and formally, to analyse complex issues both technical and discursive, and to write clear and coherent prose. You will have the intellectual equipment needed for technical leadership and high-level positions in today\’s highly complex world.

Computer Science and Philosophy – Computer Science at Oxford

Thoughts?


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15 Responses to “Computer Science and Philosophy at Oxford”

  1. Gary Myers Says:

    Do you *really* want fries with that, or do you just think you want fries with that ?
    Seriously, looking back there’s a bunch of stuff I got taught during my degree (Systems Analysis) that don’t really come into play until after you’ve got a few years of work under your belt, by which time a big chunk of it is out of date. I suspect this would be the same and the jobs they’d get would only use half of what they’d learnt.

  2. uvox Says:

    Sounds like a degree in bikeshedding. We’ve all been there.

  3. Jake Says:

    I think the problem-solving/logic skills would definitely be useful, although to your point, the problems fresh grads are asked to solve aren’t usually that challenging.

  4. Jake Says:

    I wouldn’t go that far :) It seems useful on paper, but in practice, most recent grads aren’t asked to think the big thoughts.

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  6. John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises) Says:

    When I first read the story, I assumed that the seller is the college student and the buyer is the hiring company.

    In reality, however, it’s more accurate to say that the seller is the college and the buyer is the college student who is persuaded to buy this degree.

    In a sense, Oxford doesn’t care if the student gets hired tomorrow; the important thing to Oxford is that the student buys an Oxford education today. Thus, Oxford is using every marketing tactic possible to get the student to buy.

    P.S. I doubt the premise that the philosophy degree teaches reasoning and communication skills. I got my first job out of college (as a technical writer) because my college (Reed College) has an undergraduate thesis requirement. The actual degree that was received (Economics) didn’t really matter to the hiring company.

  7. Jake Says:

    Good point about marketing to your audience. Oxford is in the top 20 CS departments at 17 (see here: http://www.arwu.org/SubjectCS2010.jsp), but you wonder why now, especially with economic prospects so bleak. Focus on the core stuff.

    I had a similar experience with an economics degree. However, logic as taught by philosophy, is valued by law schools, so why not by employers? Not the best idea, but not totally off base.

  8. joel garry Says:

    My thought as I read the shpiel was “this will be feeding into law school to make IP lawyers.”

  9. Jake Says:

    Nice. Although technically savvy lawyers are in demand and would likely be helpful.

  10. Observer Says:

    “The actual degree that was received (Economics) didn’t really matter to the hiring company.” Sure, but that’s not the point at all. An average Economics student doesn’t learn to debate and analyse issues verbally in the way that a student of Philosophy does. Maybe you were a natural at it, so you got hired. But students on this new degree are likely to become pretty good at it, even if they’re not naturals. It’s not the degree on their CV that will get them the good jobs, but the skills they’re able to show.

  11. Jake Says:

    Agreed. As an economics graduate myself, I know this to be true :) John is referred generally to the fact this employers frequently do not hire for a specific degree, but rather for a skill set. John could write; his program required a thesis. His first job was technical writing.

    While I like this idea, it does feel a bit markety, and there really aren’t a ton of super high level analytical programming jobs for recent grads. Most of them have to work up to that, which is why it might be disappointing.

  12. JohnF Says:

    When I interview folks for developer jobs, they better have the required technical skills, or they won’t get a “hire” recommendation from me. But given candidates A and B, both with good technical skills, and A has a BS in CS, while B has a BA in whatever, I go with candidate B. Why? Every time, I find that B can communicate in English, written and spoken, while A spouts technical jargon that my managers and users won’t understand.

  13. Jake Says:

    Interesting. This speaks to John’s story about hiring bc of a skill, not a degree. Makes a lot of sense.

    Unfortunately, I think recent grads wo CS paper don’t make the initial cut to get into that interview bc a recruiter is culling them for no CS paper, regardless of skills. Especially now. If you don’t have a CS degree, you’d better have a live web app or something big to show that you’re actually any good.

  14. Observer Says:

    This is Computer Science at Oxford, where the focus is on rigorous theory, not ICT and the latest fads in software design or professional development. If you look at the syllabus, I think you’ll find that relatively little of it will go out of date, in terms of the skills conveyed. I’ve never found that the maths I studied lost its relevance! Besides, when I employ a programmer, unless it’s for something quick and dirty, I’d far sooner take a seriously bright graduate from a top place who can learn quickly and run with things once they’re up to speed, over someone less good who just happens to know the system but will always need their hand held.

  15. Observer Says:

    John, when you say “Oxford is using every marketing tactic possible to get the student to buy”, I think your Economics background is maybe skewing how you see things. Oxford has absolutely no difficulty recruiting as many good students as it wants, spends far more on teaching than it gets in (subsidised by endowment and conference income etc.), and hasn’t “marketed” a new Philosophy degree for nearly 40 years (so it hasn’t at all been following fads in the market). It’s very clear from the web info (e.g. http://www.philocomp.net/home/oxford) that this initiative is being driven by genuine academic enthusiasm.

    P.S. I’m sorry that my earlier reply to this post wasn’t put as a “reply”, so I’ll repeat it here:

    “The actual degree that was received (Economics) didn’t really matter to the hiring company.” Sure, but that’s not the point at all. An average Economics student doesn’t learn to debate and analyse issues verbally in the way that a student of Philosophy does. Maybe you were a natural at it, so you got hired. But students on this new degree are likely to become pretty good at it, even if they’re not naturals. It’s not the degree on their CV that will get them the good jobs, but the skills they’re able to show.

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