Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Broadly, one can think of computational science (CSci) as applied computer science — that is, the application of computer science to solve problems across a range of disciplines. In their textbook Introduction to Computational Science, Shiflet & Shiflet offer the following definition:
“The field of computational science combines computer simulation, scientific visualization, mathematical modeling, computer programming and data structures, networking, database design, symbolic computation, and high performance computing with various disciplines.”
This stands in contrast to “traditional” computer science (CS), which largely focuses on the theory, design, and implementation of algorithms for manipulating data and information, or computer science and engineering (CSE), which also includes the analysis, design, and fabrication of hardware (devices and systems) that are used in computing.
Disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering historically have not placed much of an emphasis on computing coursework, and yet many graduates of these disciplines find themselves in jobs where they are nonetheless expected to develop tools (such as software and databases) for the modeling and simulation of processes and behavior, or for the manipulation, storage, and representation of data. Without proper training in computer science, graduates may have a difficult time building these tools so that they perform efficiently and are easy to maintain. The relatively new field of computational science therefore seeks to fill the knowledge gap between computer science and those disciplines that require the application of computing skills. As an undergraduate curriculum, CSci can be considered a hybrid of computer science, applied mathematics, and engineering, along with some specialization in a particular discipline to which a student wishes to apply these skills.
Are you fascinated by science? Are you interested in applying math to the “real world”? Have you ever done any computer programming for any reason, or have wanted to learn how? Maybe you are interested in all of these fields, but you are having a hard time finding a major that gives you skills that span all of these disciplines. If that’s the case, then Computational Science might be the major for you! CSci is the newest major at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, and we’re really excited about it. In fact, USCB is one of just a handful of schools in the U.S. that offer an undergraduate degree in Computational Science!
So why study CSci at USCB as opposed to another school? Here are just a few reasons to consider:
- As a four-year baccalaureate campus of the University of South Carolina, USCB offers the benefits of a small college environment while having access to the resources of a major university!
- With small class sizes, you can expect to have a lot of one-on-one interaction with professors who are extremely willing to help you learn and grow!
- We have a dedicated computer lab for exclusive use by computational science students.
- USCB is inexpensive for both in-state and out-of-state students! (see "10 reasons to skip the expensive colleges")
- Our professors are friendly, dynamic, and are engaged in exciting research projects in which undergraduates are encouraged to get involved!
- Our award-winning professors have interdisciplinary expertise spanning a diverse array of science and engineering fields.
- Our program director, Dr. Yiming Ji, was selected as one of the 2010 “Rising Stars” among the faculty throughout the University of South Carolina system.
- We are establishing a number of unique interdisciplinary collaborations, such as with Hospitality Management, Coastal Ecology, and Studio Art, which you typically won’t find at other schools that have undergraduate programs in CSci. We also are engaged in collaborations with biology and bioengineering faculty across the state of South Carolina.
- We are actively pursuing partnerships with regional and national companies and other organizations to offer internship and scholarship opportunities for our students!
- USCB has a number of clubs and organizations in which to get involved and make lifelong friendships with your fellow students -- we are even planning to start a new student chapter of the Association Computing Machinery (ACM), the leading professional organization in the computing field!
- Our on-campus housing offers some of the finest facilities and amenities available to undergraduates at any college, including apartment-style living with your own private room!
- The use of our on-campus fitness center, complete with cardiovascular equipment, weight training, and fitness classes, is free for students!
- The beaches and waterways of the South Carolina sea islands, including Hilton Head Island, are just minutes away!
- A multitude of cultural opportunities abound in nearby Savannah, Georgia -- just 25 miles away from the USCB Hilton Head Gateway campus!
Students will have the opportunity to apply their skills in CSci to other disciplines via program concentrations and minors. For example, we are presently developing a concentration in Computational Biology that will involve additional coursework in chemistry and biology as well as specialized elective courses in computational biology and bioinformatics. For students who wish to apply their skills to business and finance, USCB offers a minor in Business Administration. Please visit Degree Requirements for details, and if you have questions in the meantime, you may contact the program director, Dr. Yiming Ji, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CSci curriculum is rigorous and highly challenging, and it’s not for everyone. While we will do everything we can to help you learn the skills you need to succeed, you should nonetheless expect to devote considerable time and effort to do the work that’s required of you. It may sound intimidating at first, but if you can successfully complete the program, then you can expect to have a number of highly rewarding job opportunities to choose from!
Many of the skills you will learn in our program are functionally identical to what you might learn in a traditional computer science curriculum, including algorithms, data structures, discrete mathematics, programming (in a variety of procedural and object-oriented languages), software testing and optimization, and database management systems. Therefore, with a CSci degree from USCB, you can certainly expect to be well-qualified for many of the same entry-level jobs that require a degree in “traditional” computer science. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, computer science job opportunities continue to grow, and offer some of the highest starting salaries of any bachelor’s degree [Bureau of Labor Statistics 1, 2, 3, 4][Best Jobs in America].
It’s important to recognize that the applied/interdisciplinary nature of the CSci program means that you will have a much more diverse skill set than the typical computer scientist coming out of college, which opens up a much wider set of career possibilities. Upper-division courses in applied mathematics, simulation, modeling, visualization, and high-performance computing will help prepare students for jobs that are typically reserved for other science and engineering disciplines. Students specializing in Computational Biology can expect to find jobs in life science companies as well as government and private laboratories. You may be called upon to help develop computational models of biological processes, or you may help to research and develop new computational methods to help organize and analyze the massive volumes of biological data that are being generated at a rapidly accelerating pace. Students who choose to minor in Business will develop a broad portfolio of skills that can readily prepare them for such jobs as quantitative analysts or management information systems professionals.
These are just some of the potential career options uniquely available to CSci graduates. Of course, we also encourage all of our students to consider graduate school to deepen their knowledge, gain teaching experience, and refine their research skills in a particular area. Indeed, because many of the specialization courses we offer are modeled after similar courses usually only offered at the graduate level, it may be possible for students accepted into a graduate program to bypass many of their required graduate courses and get a head start on their research. Thus, Computational Science has the potential to provide distinct advantages over other majors for students who are considering graduate school!
The Computational Science faculty each have their own research programs in which undergraduates are encouraged to participate based on their interest, ability, and initiative. Click CSci Research for more information.
In addition, for the second year in a row, USCB will host a Computational Science Summer Research Workshop. This four-week tuition-free workshop is designed to expose students of all majors to what CSci is all about and provides opportunities to gain hands-on research experience in a particular area in CSci field. In 2010, the focus was on the latest research on computer networks and the Internet, while this year’s workshop will focus on scientific applications of digital image processing. Qualified students are even compensated with a nominal research stipend for their participation!
USCB has a number of clubs and organizations that help foster extracurricular involvement and social engagement for students of all majors. However, we are also planning to establish student chapters of technical organizations, starting with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Expect more information to be posted by Fall 2011!