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2011 October 28

News from Stanford CS

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:18
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I got the annual alumni letter from Stanford Computer Science today, and I noted a few interesting factoids, along with the piles of rather uninteresting news about people I didn’t know:

  • Stanford has seen an 83% increase in computer science undergrads over the past three years, which they attribute to their new undergrad curriculum, which started in 2008–09.
  • The CS program is swallowing the Computer Systems Engineering program, making it a track in CS.
  • The CS department estimates that 90% of all Stanford undergrads take at least one CS course.
  • The admission rate to their PhD program is about 10.3% and to their MS program is about 18.4% (but their co-terminal masters has a 96.7% acceptance rate, which they attribute to clear guidelines about who will be accepted, so few futile applications). Both grad programs have higher acceptance rates than Stanford undergrad admissions (7%), but CS grad programs are hard to get into at Stanford.
  • The PhD program has started doing 3 lab rotations in the first year, as is common in some other fields (like the UCSC bioinformatics program), but Stanford thinks that they are the first pure CS department to do rotations.
  • Stanford has eliminated their comprehensive exams in CS but not put in place any course requirements.

I’m not hugely impressed with the growth in undergrad enrollment: UCSC computer science grew 140% in 3 years without swallowing computer engineering, which also grew 122% (yes, both more than doubled from 2007–08 to 2010–11). [planning.ucsc.edu/irps/majors/2010/Historical_3QtrAve_UndergraduateDeclaredandProposedMajors(HC).pdf]

Having 90% of undergrads take a CS course without it being a requirement is pretty impressive.  But Stanford does require a general education course in engineering or applied science, and CS may be providing the easiest of such courses, so their success here may be from offering some courses seen as super lightweight ways to meet a requirement, rather than from real interest in learning anything.  I wonder if they have ever bothered to check that, or if they even care.

I’m pleased to see that Stanford is finally doing lab rotations in CS for the PhD students.  I did that on my own (thanks to fellowship funds) when I was a grad student at Stanford, but many students were left to flounder or work for the first lab that would take them. I generally spent more than a quarter on each project I worked on, but a more disciplined quarter on each would probably have gotten me through the program faster.  Not that I was in any hurry—being a Stanford CS grad was a great experience, and I would have stayed longer if my funding hadn’t dried up.

Stanford’s elimination of the comprehensive exam, while continuing their no-courses approach to grad school tells me that they have gone into depth only at the expense of breadth.  What I valued about my time at Stanford was the enormous breadth of research to be involved in.  They seem intent now on producing very narrowly focused researchers, which will probably mean that future Stanford grads will be less adaptable and thus less valuable in startups or faculty positions.

 

 

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