U.S. COMPUTER SCIENCE STUDY

The beginnings of the modern computer date back to the 1600s when Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and scientist, developed one of the first mechanical calculating devices. It is only within the past decade, however, that computer technology has become essential in the work environment. Almost every profession is deeply affected by the computer revolution: physicians consult computer-based expert systems to help diagnose illnesses; musicians compose and perform music using computers; and students and professionals in every field use electronic mail to communicate with both colleagues and strangers. With so many applications for computer technology, it is not surprising that the demand for computer professionals has been steadily rising.

Computer science is a broad discipline that involves the study of the structure, functions, and applications of computers and related technologies. At the advanced level, computer science can involve the study of highly specialized subfields such as knowledge engineering, cognitive science, or management information systems.

Students interested in pursuing careers in computer and related fields will find that many educational opportunities exist. Depending on one's professional goals, training for various computer careers can range from vocational education programs in such areas as data processing technology and computer maintenance; to bachelor's degree programs that prepare programmers, database managers, and systems analysts; to graduate programs focusing on cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence, robotics, or software engineering.

Historically, computer science instruction evolved in mathematics and electrical engineering departments, and while many universities have since established separate computer science departments, it is not unusual for computer science programs to be based within departments of mathematics and statistics, electrical engineering, or business. In some cases, each of these departments may offer separate computer degree programs.

The emphasis of a computer science program can sometimes be determined from the title of the program: those with titles such as data processing, management information systems, or information science are usually business- oriented; computer science, software engineering, or engineering and computer science programs tend to be oriented toward science and engineering; and those titled computer and information science usually provide a mixture of orientations.

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, the titles of computer science and related degree programs may be used differently from one institution to another. Programs often have similar titles, and different titles may be used for similar programs. For example, the course work leading to a B.S. degree in computer science at one university may be same as the computer science curriculum leading to a B.S. degree in mathematics or engineering at another institution. Some universities offer specialized graduate degrees in computer science subfields such as cognitive science, robotics, and artificial intelligence; however, the same courses may be offered elsewhere as an area of concentration in a graduate computer science degree program.

Prospective students should carefully evaluate each program based on its course offerings rather than by its title or the department within which its courses are offered. When researching computer-related degree programs, it is especially important to look at specific courses and areas of concentration offered by departments of computer science, mathematics, engineering, and business as well as those offered as part of interdisciplinary degree programs.

Advising students about computer science study can be difficult because many gray areas exist where computer science and other disciplines such as engineering, business, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics, and psychology overlap. For example, artificial intelligence has close ties with cognitive psychology and linguistics; computer graphics is tightly linked with fine arts and industrial design; and the student of robotics must understand basic engineering concepts.

Significant overlap also exists among the various computer science specializations themselves, with differences measurable only in level of emphasis. Knowledge engineering, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence, often considered separate areas of study, are all involved in the effort to understand and recreate human intelligence and reasoning. Likewise, computer information systems, management information systems, and information science all focus on the nature and efficient flow of information within organizations. Even the well-established division between hardware and software begins to blur when one considers specializations such as systems analysis, robotics, computer engineering, and other subfields that require in-depth knowledge of all major aspects of computer science.

Because the computing field is so broad and complex and because it always changing, it is advisable for students to obtain a broad base of knowledge that includes training in both hardware and software before pursuing specialized study. While the specializations offered by universities will no doubt change as technological advancements are made, computer professionals with a comprehensive background in computer science will always be in demand.


"U.S. Computer Science Study" was produced by the staff of "The Advising Quarterly," a publication for professionals in international education worldwide published by AMIDEAST. The handout was last updated in 1994; if you have comments or suggestions on its improvement, please contact "The Advising Quarterly," AMIDEAST, 1100 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; Phone: 202-785-0022; Fax: 202-822- 6563; E-mail: 62756567@eln.attmail.com. (Please include this information if you use this material.)


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