Computer Science

Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

The Computer Science tripos takes in about 100 students a year, which makes it a fairly small course on the scale of the University, and means the students tend to be fairly tight knit. We have great lecturers, who always provide entertainment, of some form or another, and are very approachable, always willing to answer questions. Contrary to what some students of other triposes believe, CompScis (computer science students) are a pretty social bunch, and you will find that the majority of them are involved in various societies and sports team, at the college or university level.

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What about the Computer Science course at Cambridge appealed to you?

Emily, Computer Sciences, Churchill College, 3rd Year
Emily
Churchill College, 3rd year

I liked that there is a wide range of things taught, from the really practical programming courses, to the hard-core theoretical ones in things like denotational semantics! Since coming here, my favourite thing has been learning about a variety of different things, some of which I never thought I’d be doing, and this opens lots of doors for the future. The group project in second year, and then the individual project in third year are great opportunities to manage a larger project and get more experience with this. The individual project especially is a chance to choose something that you’re interested in to spend a good chunk of time on, and the range of projects done each year is something amazing!

How have you found the structure of the course?

Isaac, Computer Sciences, Clare College, 3rd Year
Isaac
Clare College, 3rd year
What appealed

Like most courses, computer science starts broad and gets more specialised over time. Apart from the option in first year to spend a quarter of your time studying another subject (maths, psychology or a natural science), almost everything in the first two years is already decided for you. I thought that this might feel a bit restrictive, but it’s actually fine – all the different things you study are so varied and interesting that it didn’t even cross my mind! In third year, though, you get to choose the topics you want to do from a huge list, and spending a quarter of the year on an individual project on anything you like really lets you specialise if you want to. The optional fourth year is pretty similar, with an even huger list of topics and a more substantial project, all of which really are at the cutting edge of research.

What is your faculty/department like?

Laurane, Computer Sciences, Murray Edwards College
Laurane
Murray Edwards College

In first year the lectures are in town on the New Museum site, and we have our practicals in the Computer Lab (the Computer Science department) housed in the William Gates Building on West Cambridge site. In second and third year, all our lectures, practicals, and supervisions take place in the Computer Lab. The William Gates Building is a large, open and airy space, and with large windows all around, it lets through plenty of natural light, making the department a great place to study. The lecture theatres are large and comfortable, even more so once you have experienced the wooden benches of first year lecture theatres! The building also has its own catering facilities, which is very helpful as (depending on how close your college is) you will often spend most of the day at the department. Even though the West Cambridge site is a bit removed from the city centre, it is a very nice area. Neighbours of the Computer Lab include various scientific departments, like the Cavendish Laboratory for physics, or the Vet School. The University Sports Centre is also around the corner, as well as West Cafe, another great place to study, with a great view over rolling fields.

What types of work do you have to do?

Emily, Computer Sciences, Churchill College, 3rd year
Emily
Churchill College, 3rd year
The Department

All courses are lectured, and then depending on the length of the course there will be some number of supervisions to go with them. Generally all the information needed is given during the lectures and in the lecture notes, but there are always a wealth of books to supplement that if you so wish (although as a general rule, us CompScis don’t read so many of those!) There are programming and hardware practicals (‘ticks’) in first and second year where you have to complete some number of exercises and then get them ‘ticked’ by someone. This involves having a brief five minute chat with a ‘ticker’ to discuss your solution and to check you understand. Supervision work is generally questions from exercise sheets and exam questions, but some courses also have some more practical questions that expect you to implement a simple solution to a problem (for example, in first year you might be expected to code the answer to a problem in ML, or in third year to implement a filter for some signal in MATLAB).

Do you have career plans?

Isaac, Computer Sciences, Clare College, 3rd Year
Isaac
Clare College, 3rd year
Laurane, Computer Sciences, Murray Edwards College
Laurane
Murray Edwards College
Emily, Computer Sciences, Churchill College, 3rd Year
Emily
Churchill College, 3rd year
Career Plans

Isaac: I’m doing the Teach First Leadership Development Programme for the next couple of years, which involves teaching in a school in challenging circumstances, as part of Teach First’s mission to remove the link between socio-economic background and educational opportunity. After that, I’ve got no idea – I’ll wait and see how I feel!

Laurane: I want to specialise in Human-Computer Interaction, and I am currently applying to Master's programmes to do so. The University of Cambridge does not have a specific Human-Computer Interaction Master, so I have applied to various universities around the world, and who knows where the wind will take me! After that, I think I would like to spend a few years working for start-ups, or maybe start my own. The plan does not go further at the moment.

Emily: I’m going to work for a software company in London next year called Softwire. I interned there this summer (between 2nd and 3rd year) and LOVED it so I’m really excited to be going back. Although a lot of what I did there was not a direct application of the degree, I liked being able to see how the degree has given me a really solid foundation to build on, and enabled me to pick up new languages, concepts and technologies fairly quickly.

What about your course would you change?

Laurane, Computer Sciences, Murray Edwards College
Laurane
Murray Edwards College
Isaac, Computer Sciences, CLare College, 3rd Year
Isaac
Clare College, 3rd year
Emily, Computer Sciences, Churchill College, 3rd Year
Emily
Churchill College, 3rd year

Laurane, Isaac and Emily: As night owls who enjoy coding into the early hours of the morning, we should not be forced to wake up for 9ams! Nor for Saturday lectures in the first year...

Typical timetable of a 1st year Computer Science student

Isaac, Computer Sciences, Clare College, 3rd Year
Isaac
Clare College, 3rd year

Lectures are in the mornings, and any practical sessions are usually in the afternoons. Computer science students have quite a lot of supervisions compared to some other subjects (around four a week, although it varies), and you schedule them with your supervisors and supervision partners to fit in your free time, so most people do them in the afternoons. Other than that, you’re free to do what you like! Some people prefer to do all their supervision and practical work (you can do it outside of the sessions too) during the day, leaving the evenings and weekends free for socialising, society meetings, going to talks, etc, but it’s completely fine to spread your work out throughout the day and evening too – in my opinion, the independence and freedom with your time is one of the best things about studying at university. In later years, you spend your time in pretty much exactly the same way, apart from guided practical work begins to be replaced with work on the group project (2nd year) or individual project (3rd/4th years).

- Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
9am Physics Lecture (Dynamics) Mathematical Methods Lecture Physics Lecture (Dynamics) Mathematical Methods Lecture Physics Lecture (Dynamics) Mathematical Methods Lecture
10am Computer Science Lecture (Foundations of Computer Science) - Computer Science Lecture (Foundations of Computer Science) - Computer Science Lecture (Foundations of Computer Science) -
11am - - - Supervision (Physics) - -
12am Computer Science Lecture (Digital Electronics) - Computer Science Lecture (Digital Electronics) - Computer Science Lecture (Digital Electronics) -
1pm - Physics Lab Session - Supervision (Physics) - -
2pm Digital Electronics Practical Session Physics Lab Session Supervision (Foundations of Computer Science) Programming Practical Session - -
3pm Digital Electronics Practical Session Physics Lab Session - Programming Practical Session Supervision (Mathematical Methods) -
4pm - Physics Lab - - - -

What has been going on at Computer Science?

- Recent Events -

3rd Oxbridge Women in Computer Science Conference

This annual conference aims to bring together junior and senior female computer scientists at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and includes talks by key speakers from academia and industry.

Cambridge 2 Cambridge Cybersecurity Challenge

International cybersecurity challenge between Cambridge and MIT, featuring workshops and a hackathon competition, giving students hands-on experience of real-world security challenges.

Demo Day

Second year students showed off their group projects. From an automatic game generator to an eye test system and a stock market simulation, they were all very interesting and impressive!

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