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Computer Science at Bowdoin?

student197student197 Registered User Posts: 131 Junior Member
How is the computer science department at Bowdoin? What are the pros and cons of pursuing CS at a school like Bowdoin as opposed to a bigger, well-known school? Where do CS majors from Bowdoin tend to go after graduation?

Replies to: Computer Science at Bowdoin?

  • Br2850Br2850 Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    I am curious as well. Someone please answer this question.
  • pbearalldaypbearallday Registered User Posts: 16 New Member
    Hey guys, sorry for the tragically late response, but I haven't checked out this site in a while as my college search grows into the distant past.

    Anyways, I'm a rising junior, declared as a CS+Math double major though I'm skeptical I'll actually finish the CS major, At this point, I would anticipate ending up with a Math major and the equivalent of a physics/CS double minor (you can't actually double minor) or a Math-CS joint major with a physics minor.

    The CS department is I believe the fastest growing on campus, and with the college being a bureaucracy (not to mention a small liberal arts school with a young CS department), so change is slow coming. That said, the pure volume increase in majors and applications to take classes has forced a number of stopgap measures that include hiring 3 visiting professors in the past two years. The administration has been unusually stubborn/hesitant to hire any more full professors despite a clear and profound need, but having personally talked to a couple of admins and trustees this past year and with the unsustainable rate of visiting professors we're currently employing, I personally think change is well on its way.

    On to where the CS department is right now. While I don't have much of a basis for comparison, I think the Comp Sci major at Bowdoin is definitely inferior to the better programs around the country. It may be the schools weakest department relative to its peers, though in good part because every other department is so great! Now, having talked some trash and with some more trash-talking to come (I've given this rant a couple times), I feel I should mention that even if you are a comp sci major for sure, you shouldn't let this post alone stop you from going to Bowdoin. Even as someone who's a major and spent last summer and is spending this summer interning doing CS, I am very, very happy at Bowdoin and do not at all regret my decision. If you have the opportunity to go to MIT, Cal Tech, Carnegie and know you're a CS major, then maybe major department should be enough to eliminate Bowdoin relative to those schools. But otherwise, as I'll explain later down, it shouldn't knock Bowdoin down your list much if at all.

    So anyways, we ran last year at 4 professors because one was on sabbatical, which was particularly bad b/c in my opinion he's the best in the department. But this year with his return and the addition of another visiting professor we'll be up to 6, which I think will help a lot. Now that I think about it, all that I've said so far might not even apply to you - a lot of the issue with the CS department stems from how bottom-heavy it is. But as the class-year distribution evens out, we won't see the ridiculous increases in the upper level classes that we've seen over the past two years (when I took data structures in 2013, we had 22 students and could have taken more. This past semester, they had over 44 and more didn't get in), so the department should be more prepared.

    On to the good things. The influx of students leading to the increase in professors has allowed a more diverse selection of upper level offerings, which is still obviously not up to scratch with state schools but is a big improvement. The professors are extremely friendly, extremely smart, extremely accessible, and care greatly about teaching, which is not something you'll get at a lot of the alternatives, even the MITs and the CalTechs. The classes are, for the most part, well taught. If you do attend, my biggest recommendation is to take Data Structures, the keystone class in the major, with Eric Chown.

    Which leads me to the reason this absurd essay I've typed doesn't matter at all. Especially if you get a good Data Structures experience, I truly believe you can teach yourself whatever you need to know about CS to do what you want. The best way to learn CS is to get thrown off the depend without a paddle, and to use a combination of Google, stackexchange, and asking questions of older students and professors (who are all always available and willing to help cause they're Bowdoin people) to build a cruise ship (or in most cases a makeshift raft but that's just computer science). CS majors at Bowdoin are liberal arts students first and CS majors second, and pride themselves on the ability to learn quickly and adapt. They know how to make the most of the experience, which reminds me of our Robocup team. Google them, its a fantastic opportunity to get practical experience working on a large code-base that I would say almost makes up for the department's flaws. Not many other schools (and no other liberal arts schools) have a team, and few if any other opportunities match this one in terms of usefulness. I have literally been asked about Robocup in every single interview I've done and it's taught me loads.

    So to summarize this essay, if anyone is still reading and believes I'm a CS major cause what CS major would ever write this much by choice? The Bowdoin CS major is not great, but it is certainly sufficient and rapidly improving (we had our first hackathon this past year and it went great!). Bowdoin CS grads go on to do very well for themselves - the trend as far as I can tell is toward startups probably because Bowdoin programmers tend to be very versatile, adaptable, and able to do things other than just stare at a computer and code (like talk to people). All the CS alumni I know have good jobs and good paying jobs they're happy with, because even though sometimes the major lacks I think the students are consistently high quality and know how to make the most of it. It's also due to the alumni network, which is soooo useful and very responsive and helpful. I personally have finagled two internships in CS, one this summer and one last summer, which I can talk about more if you message me.

    Departments not great, but it's good enough. If you like Bowdoin, don't take if off your list because of the CS department.

    Feel free to message me if you have any more specific or personal questions.
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