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Editorial: Undergraduates benefit from studying computer science

Monday, October 14, 2013

Enrollment in computer science classes at Brown has doubled in the past eight years, a recent Herald article reported. Not only are 12 percent of all undergrads enrolled in computer science classes this semester alone, but the number of concentrators has also increased by 35 and 22 percent in the past two years, respectively. Given the growing influence technology and computers hold in our lives, we view this trend as a positive sign and hope enrollment in computer science continues to rise.

Innovations in the computer industry have led to sweeping changes in the way people educate themselves, communicate with others and coordinate projects and resources. It is therefore imperative that students, before entering the professional market or pursuing graduate education, gain some fluency in working with computers. We encourage students to take a computer science course or two during their time at Brown, even if they are not planning to seek jobs in the field.

Computer science classes at Brown — particularly the introductory courses — are known for their heavy and demanding workloads. The most recent Critical Reviews for the introductory classes — CSCI 0150: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science,” CSCI 0170: “Computer Science: An Integrated Introduction” and CSCI 0190: “Accelerated Introduction to Computer Science” — report average weekly time commitments of 11.6, 9.3 and 17.6 hours, respectively. But we urge students not to be daunted by these large time commitments. The language of computers and technology is one that will be spoken by an increasing number of people around the globe, and those who can boast fluency will surely have a leg up in whatever arena they choose. Additionally, Brown’s S/NC grading option is perfect for a field like computer science, as it allows non-concentrators to focus on the subject material without worrying about the grade they might receive.

Even arts and humanities concentrators can benefit from taking a computer science course. It may be difficult to see how computers can influence certain fields of study at Brown, but that does not mean studying them lacks value. We don’t know how computers will continue to change our lives — but we know that they will.

The Department of Computer Science has even anticipated the possibility that computer science can seem esoteric or irrelevant: Certain classes are tailored for non-concentrators, such as CSCI0931: “Introduction for Computation in the Social Sciences and Humanities” and CSCI 1950C: “Advanced Programming for Digital Art and Literature.” With these options available and tailored specifically for arts and humanities studies, students in these disciplines have little excuse to avoid computer science.

Computer science can seem irrelevant to many and intimidating as a field. But the discipline doesn’t merit this reputation. It’s a practical and important science rewarding enough to justify the effort it can require. For these and many other reasons listed, Brown students—regardless of goals, concentration or background in computers—should properly consider exploring the computer science department.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to

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