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Computer Science at

Oxford and Cambridge


Luke Ong Graham Titmus
Oxford University University of
Computing Laboratory Cambridge
www.comlab.ox.ac.uk Computer Laboratory
www.cl.cam.ac.uk

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Contents
 Oxford & Cambridge University
 What is Computer Science?
 Details of the two courses
 Admissions

Most of this presentation applies equally


to both Oxford and Cambridge.
When just one logo appears,
the information applies to that university only.

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Research Assessment
 Oxford and Cambridge are two of the top CS
departments for research
– the following grades are taken from the five-yearly
Research Assessment Exercises (1996,2001 & 2008)
which are graded: 1 2 3a 3b 4 5 5*
 Cambridge scored the best possible:
5*, 5* and 3.35 GPA
– Highest ranking in 2008 assessment
 Oxford scored 5* & 5 and 3.15 GPA
– Overall 3rd in research power

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Teaching assessment
 There are many good Computer Science
teaching departments in the UK:
– Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Imperial,
Kent, Manchester, Oxford, Southampton, Swansea,
Warwick, York
• all scored 23/24 in the government’s Teaching Quality
Assessment
• all rated above 80% by the Guardian University Guide 2002
• do you trust either of these measures?
– you need to check what they have in their syllabus
• is it good Computer Science?
• is it what you want to do?

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Contents
 Oxford & Cambridge University
 What is Computer Science?
 Details of the two courses
 Admissions

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What is Comp Sci?
 Programming
 Science
 Art
 Engineering
 Mathematics
 Linguistics
 Psychology

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Computer Science…
 ... will save the planet by providing systems
that are
– sustainable
– dependable
– adaptable
 … teaches general skills
– analysis
– problem solving
– abstraction
– design
 … produces extremely marketable graduates

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Graduate profiles
Paul Cunningham
A-levels in Maths, F. Maths, Physics & Art
PhD in verification of self-timed hardware
Started own company with £2.5m capital

Sonali Tandon
A-levels in Maths, Physics & Chemistry
Working for Citigroup’s Technology Division
in London
Isabel Kingsmill
A-levels in Maths, Physics & Chemistry
Working for Detica in Guildford on data and
signal processing

Computer Laboratory
Contents
 Oxford & Cambridge University
 What is Computer Science?
 Details of the two courses
 Admissions

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Teaching and learning
 Students belong to a college and a faculty
 Attend lectures in their faculty
 Taught in small groups in college

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Teaching: our aims
 To give our students an understanding of
fundamental principles that will outlast
today’s technology
 To produce graduates who will lead
development not merely cope with it

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Cambridge History
 Mathematical Lab
founded 1937
 EDSAC May 1949
 Practical computer
– 650 instructions/s
– 1k x 17 bits
– paper tape input
– teletype output
– 4m x 3m
– 3000 valves
– 12kW

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William Gates Building

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Cambridge phenomenon
 Cambridge has developed rapidly over past 15 years
 New technology and start-up companies
 Many spin-offs from University research groups
 IT companies around Cambridge - Silicon Fen

Source: Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre

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Computer Laboratory
 Staff
– 35 teaching officers
– 35 contract researchers
– 10 computer officers
– 15 administration and assistants
 Students
– 150 research students
– 30 post-graduate Diploma
– 25 MPhil in Speech and language
– 340 undergraduates

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Syllabus

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Courses
 Programming
– Java, C++ (object-oriented)
– ML (functional)
– Prolog (logic)
– C (procedural)
– Assembler
– Verilog (hardware definition)
– Comparative Languages
 Hardware
– Digital Electronics
– Computer design
– ECAD, VLSI
– Quantum Computing

 Mathematics
– Underpins theory and many applications
– Post A-level functions, sets, number theory, probability

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Courses II
 Algorithms
– Data structures and Algorithms
– Complexity
 Theory
– Computation Theory
– Logic & proof, Semantics, Information theory, Specification &
verification, Types, Concurrency, Finite Automata
– Automatic Theorem Proving
 Systems
– Operating Systems, Real time systems
– Networks, Distributed Systems
– Middleware (Transport, Trust), E-commerce
– Compilers
– Databases

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Applications
 Graphics
– HCI
– Vision
– Human behaviour animation
 Security
– Chip analysis, Protocols, Crypto, Steganography, Privacy
 Language, speech and information
– Natural Language Processing
– AI
– Information retrieval
– Bioinformatics
 Sentient computing
– Sensors, Tracking, Augmented Reality, Vehicles, Sports

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Professional skills
 Professional practice & ethics
– ethical theory, professions, computer misuse
 Software Engineering
– failures, life cycles, quality, tools, management
– design, formal methods, specification, proof
 Intellectual property law
 Business studies
– how to start and run a business
– finance, project management, sales & marketing, exit
strategies

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The functional approach
 Calculating factorials
fun factorial 0 = 1
| factorial x = x * factorial (x – 1);

 Calculating the powerset


fun powerset [] = [[]]
| powerset (x::xs) =
let val ps = powerset xs
in
ps @ (map (fn (y) => x::y) ps)
end;

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Cambridge Course
 Three years
 1st year ½ CS, ¼ Maths, ¼
option from elsewhere Year 3
 2nd, 3rd years 100% CS Computer Science

 Select most 2nd year


courses, half the 3rd year Year 2
 100 students per year Computer Science

– plus 40 part-time in 1st year


 General principles Year 1 CS CS Ma Opt
– not vocational training
Computer Science
 Self-contained
 Draws on many disciplines
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First year choices
Year Natural Science Computer Science
3

Year Natural Science Computer Science


2

Year CS Ma NS NS CS CS Ma NS CS CS Ma Ma
1
Computing option Computer Science Computer Science
in Natural Sciences with Physics, with Mathematics
Chemistry, CS CS Ma Psy
Geology,
Computer Science
Physiology,
with Psychology
Evolution
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Course components
 8+8+4 = 20 weeks teaching per year
 12 one-hour lectures per (6-day) week
– plus similar time in review and private study
 6 hours of practical work
 2 or 3 supervisions of one hour each
– plus 4 hours of preparation each

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Practical skills
 First year Practical exercises
– hands on, time management
 Second year Group projects
– specification & acceptance, reporting, tools,
management, team work, deadlines, presentation
 Final year Individual projects
– deadlines, dissertation, presentation

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Computing Laboratory
• Founded by Leslie Fox (1957)
• About 50 academic staff
• Home to different groups

Wolfson Building

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Oxford Research Themes
 Programming Languages
 Foundations, Logic and Structure
 Numerical Analysis
 Automated Verification
 Software Engineering
 Computational Biology
 Information Systems

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Oxford Courses
 Computer Science
– Computer Science firmly based on Mathematics
 Mathematics and Computer Science
– similar, but with more Mathematics

 All courses (except theory and mathematics)


have compulsory assessed practicals.
 Option of 3-year BA or 4-year MCompSc /
MMathsCS degrees.

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Course components
 8 + 8 + 4 = 20 teaching weeks per year
 10-12 one-hour lectures per (5-day) week
– plus similar time in review and private study
 4-8 hours of practical work per week
 2-3 hours of college tutorials per week
– Personalised: 1 tutor to 2 students
– Intensive: up to 8 hours of preparation time
 Advanced classes for 3rd & 4th-yr topics
 Year-long individual project (for 3rd & 4th
year)
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First Year Topics
 Imperative Programming
 Functional Programming
 Design and Analysis of Algorithms
 Digital Hardware

 Calculus
 Linear Algebra
 Logic and Proof
 Discrete Maths
First four have practical exercises.

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Year By Year
 First Year
– Imperative & Functional Programming
(former is about languages like C and Java; latter is
also a good language for talking about algorithms)
– All courses are compulsory.
– MCS have Maths courses instead of some CS courses

 Second Year
– Core courses: Object-Oriented Programming (in
Java), Concurrency, Networks, Operating Systems
– Other options. E.g. Graphics, Numerical Computation,
Architecture, Compilers, Programming Languages,
Models of Computation, etc.

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Year By Year
 Third Year
– Individual project (= 25% of time)
– More options; e.g. Intelligent Systems, Security,
Optimisation, Databases, etc.
– MCS has more Maths options & no project.

 Fourth Year (= optional Masters year)


– Longer individual project.
– Course work assessed by take-home mini-projects.
– Yet more options! E.g. Computer Animation, Financial
Computing, Quantum Computation, Computational
Linguistics, Information Retrieval, etc.

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A Variety of Options
 Automated Verification  Information Systems
– Automata, Logic & Games – Database Implementation
– Randomised Algorithms – Computational Linguistics
– Software Verification – Information Retrieval
– Probabilistic Model Checking – Knowledge Representation
 Foundations & Logic  Intelligent Systems
– Lambda Calculus and Types – Machine Learning
– Categories, Proofs & – Computer Animation
Processes
 Programming Languages
– Quantum Computer Science
– Program Analysis
– Game Semantics
– Concurrent Programming
 Computational Biology
– Executable Biology
– Bioinformatics

These options are closely linked to our research themes

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Example Project Topics
 Medical Image Analysis
 Biologically-Inspired Computing
 Robot Soccer Simulation
 Natural Language Processing
 Quantum Computing
 Compilation of Security Protocols
 Formal Hardware Verification
 Chess Playing Program

Computer Laboratory
Contents
 Oxford & Cambridge University
 What is Computer Science?
 Details of the two courses
 Admissions

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Oxford Admissions
 College based
 We consider:
– GCSE results, AS level module marks, and A-level
predictions; or equivalent international examinations
– school record; extra-curricular activities (e.g.
national + international competitions)
– personal statement & references
– common written test in Nov (and possibly individual
college test before interviews)
– at least two subject interviews – problem solving
 Common Database, Pools & Open Offers
– redistribute uneven applications between colleges
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Cambridge Admissions
 Very Similar
 We consider
– GCSE results, or equivalent international qualification
– AS level module marks, A2 predictions; school record
– personal statement
– reference
– two subject interviews (>90% interviewed)
• unseen problem solving
– written tests
• UCLES Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
• individual college tests
– computing background within and outside school
 Winter and Summer pools
– redistribute uneven applications
between colleges Computer Laboratory
Prerequisites
 3 A grades at A-level
– more than 3 A-level or AS-levels highly valuable
– not counting General Studies

 Mathematics to A-level
– is absolutely essential
 Further Maths
– nearly essential, if your school offers it

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Other A-levels
 A Physical Science
– is desirable
 Computing A-levels
– Computer Science
• good, similar in character to university-level CS
• but very few schools offer it
– ICT, Information Technology,…
• quite different from university-level Computer Science
• not relevant

 Other subjects
– up to you e.g. history, languages, etc
– traditional academic subjects best

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Computer Science at
Oxford and Cambridge
Luke Ong Graham Titmus
Oxford University University of
Computing Laboratory Cambridge
www.comlab.ox.ac.uk Computer Laboratory
www.cl.cam.ac.uk

Computer Laboratory