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Math or CS?

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  • W3bbo

    In a few weeks time AS students in the UK (myself included[1]) will be making our UCAS applications (woo and yay).

    Now my universities of choice have an interesting offer going on. If you're doing Further Maths, you can get ABB to do a Mathematics degree, otherwise you have to get AAB like everyone else.

    Since I'm doing Further Maths, I can get into my current university of choice, Manchester, with ABB; or I can do Computer Science (they want AAB for CS).

    I'm finding Maths more interesting now that I'm beginning to understand it better, ...but I don't fancy getting a job as a mathematician, I want to be a Researcher in HCI (but I don't have any Psychology qualifications).

    ...plus CS degrees seem devalued recently, it seems more about "how to program" than the actual science of compution (which should be 100% maths), there seems a lot of overlap between Software Engineering and Computer Science (interestingly Software Eng. has higher entry requirements, but I guess it's because it's MEng whereas CS is a BSc)

    So if you're an employer, would you prefer a (talented) programmer with a Mathematics degree or a Computer Science degree?

    [1]"What?! 18 *and* an AS student? How?" I hear you say. Well, truth be told I screwed up the first time round so I'm redoing my two AS/A2 years. I'll be 20 by the time I start university, but I'm at no disadvantage compared to people who take 2-year gap-leaves.

  • TimP

    If you don't want to be a mathematican or do math research, then I would probably recommend against taking the math degree.

    Computer science is as theoretical as the school makes it. Look into the various universities and try to talk to some students who attend them. Some CS programs are almost entirely theory-based with very little actual computer use and some balance theory with a good amount of programming. The reason I stress talking to people who already go there is I initially went to a "pure theory" school because it was "top CS school" and had prestige, but I realized that I wasn't interested in pure theory and ended up transferring to a more balanced (IMO) school.

  • Deactivated User

    Comment removed at user's request.

  • Larsenal

    In some cases there is significant overlap.  In my particular case, I could have added a Math degree by adding one semester.  Would both be out of the question?

    Whatever you do, redeem the time and learn as much as you can.

  • Wil

    Back in the "old days", CS wasn't a separate discipline; to go into computers, you usually got a degree in electrical engineering, although a math degree was a good alternative, and you took as many computing courses as you could take as electives toward your major.  I think this still may be a good idea; after all, even though you don't want to become a mathematician, having that degree will make it possible for you to go into a lot of fields, such as statistics, engineering, physical science, finance, economics, business, etc., as well as CS.  (And the more you know about business and finance, with a string CS background, the greater your opportunities will be in the IT field, certainly.)  Also, CS changes rapidly, but math doesn't.  Much of what you learn in math may well be useful for longer than a lot of what you learn in CS, where you are embarking on a career-long plan of learning and re-learning about the current trends in CS, which of course you could do even if you had majored in something else originally.

  • DoomBringer

    My CS degree came with a math minor.  I was many credits away from a Math degree, but minors are cool.

    As to whether the major is being devalued by universities that teach "how to program in java" instead of decent theory, well, that depends on what university you go to.  I got a lot of theory from the good profs and learned a lot.  Bad profs taught... well, nothing.

  • Dr Herbie

    I would go with Maths, because I think it's easer to go from Mathematician to programmer than from programmer to mathematician.

    What you really need to do is sit down with a detailed corriculum for both courses at Manchester and check what subjects you will actually be covering in each degree.  That's the best way to decide which is most useful and which you would most enjoy.

    Mathematicians seem to have an easier time crossing over to other disciplines; I missed out on several ecological/evolutionary PhD studentships because they went to mathematicians Mad

    These days there might well be a lot of computer work in a maths degree anyway. Plus, if your willing to do an extra year, there are probably plenty of crossover MSc courses to make computer scientists out of mathematicians.


    Herbie

  • AndyC

    Well a good computer science department will teach you much more than "just programming" and I do think there is rather more to the subject than just maths. If you are mostly interested in Computing then I'd definitely go with CS over maths.

    At the end of the day, employers will be more impressed by a good degree than the exact subject you took and it is much easier to get a good degree if you enjoy what and where you study.

    Of course I may be somewhat biased. Wink

  • Angus

    Often you can do part of a Mathematics degree on the subject of Computer Science. Is this the case for any of the degree courses you want to do?

    I, personally, would go for Mathematics; although it depends on the job you want really. If you can find somewhere which has the recommended qualifications for the job you want, then see what you could actually get.

    People tend to forget that there are more employment prospects for a Mathematics graduate than a teacher or Mathematics researcher. Tongue Out

    Angus Higgins

  • Charles

    Do you want to focus on mathematics or computer science?

    If you can't answer that question, then you have more questions to ponder...

    C

  • Massif

    That's a tricky one, there's plenty of overlap in the knowledge you'd acquire so I think it comes down to a few fringe cases of what you get from either. If you choose CS you'd have compiler, AI and algorithm skills that would translate well to working at a hard-core software house. (Think Google.)

    But Maths would give you problem solving qualifications which would lend themselves to a wide variety of interesting problem areas. (I've met someone who studied geometry who wrote programs designing circuit boards to minimise traces for example.)

    I'd opt for Maths, but check on the optional courses you get to do - you may be able to mix a fair bit of CS in there.

  • Rossj

    W3bbo wrote:
    I'll be 20 by the time I start university, but I'm at no disadvantage compared to people who take 2-year gap-leaves.


    Stop with the disadvantage stuff, it isn't a race to the finish Smiley Live a little first ...

    20 eh? At 21 you can get in as a mature student and with lower requirements, so if you don't do so well at A level you could just go work for a year first and use the experience to get you in.

    I actually did the Software Engineering degree, with a focus on real-time but there is a lot more about the none-code aspects of software development than on the CS degree.

    If you are considering Psych as a requirement for your HCI plans, why not do a joint degree?

  • ben2004uk

    Follow your heart. 

    Never looked into a Maths degree as I knew I wanted to do CS.  But on my course, the first year had Formal Systems as a core requirement, then in the second year you get the pick from a wide range, including maths based subjects and AI.  Then in the final year you can do cool stuff like High Performance Processor Design & Parallel Processing and Quantum Computing if you wanted... most Universities offer enough on the CS degree to please everyone.


    BUT!

    University is more than just what degree you get, its about life experience and building personally.   Are you planning on moving away from home/home area?

    If you do Maths, just be sure you have a real passion for it, you will be doing it solid for three years.  With CS you will get different exposure to different areas.

    If you want to chat on MSN, feel free to ping me Wink


    EDIT: Btw, if you pick one and you don't like it - you can change Smiley  Visit both departments open days and speak to the people their to see what they think as every uni is different.

  • webmonkey

    Dr Herbie wrote:
     Plus, if your willing to do an extra year, there are probably plenty of crossover MSc courses to make computer scientists out of mathematicians.


    Herbie is correct, you can get on a CS Masters (assuming you can stand another year of education) from pretty much any other degree. A degree in maths and then see where you are, if you feel you want/need the CS do a masters.

    Having said that, I'd go for whichever you'd enjoy more, three years is too long to be doing stuff you'd rather not be!

  • ben2004uk

    Would it not also be possible to do a MSc in Mathematics also ?

  • webmonkey

    MSc in maths yes, not sure if it would be possible as a conversion from CS though. It may well be, I've never looked into it.

  • harumscarum

    I say math. They make great writers.

    I really wonder how many math majors get a genuine "math" job. You could get the same software engineer job being a math major.

  • W3bbo

    webmonkey wrote:
    Herbie is correct, you can get on a CS Masters (assuming you can stand another year of education) from pretty much any other degree. A degree in maths and then see where you are, if you feel you want/need the CS do a masters.

    Having said that, I'd go for whichever you'd enjoy more, three years is too long to be doing stuff you'd rather not be!


    ....I'm wanting to do a doctorate and I haven't even started uni, am I certifiably insane?

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