Higher Education in UK

Written by Waseem Ahmad on. Posted in Blog, Computer Science, Studying Abroad

UCL - Portico BuildingToday marks the end of my 2nd week of modules here at UCL. During a presentation about academics in Brittian compared to United States, our speaker illustrated an analogy between baseball and cricket. She explained how trying to compare the two sports leaves you confused and you have to accept them as entirely different games. When I tell people that I’m taking two modules from Computer Science, one from Management Sciences and Innovation, and one from Science and Technology Studies, they are fascinated and surprised! The norm over here is to take all of your modules from the department you were admitted in.

When it comes to having a preference between the British system and the American system. I would definitely go for the American. Someone once told me that a Bachelors degree teaches you how to learn, a Masters degree gives you good understanding of a discipline, and a Doctorate allows you to produce your own knowledge. I completely agree with this. You can’t learn to consume knowledge in the broadest sense if all of it comes from a single discipline or department. A holistic approach to knowledge during the undergraduate level makes for a more well-rounded person. Furthermore, a sharply defined programme of study would inhibit newer interdisciplinary fields from emerging such as Computational Biology. The British universities are aware of this and are taking steps to change their system and mimic the American model, although it will take time. For example, UCL has launched an Arts and Sciences undergraduate degree ‘designed to provide breadth and depth, with students able to fashion their own degrees in a combination of humanities / social sciences and sciences / engineering.’

I’m taking the following classes at UCL:

  • COMP3013 Database and Information Management Systems
  • COMP3058 Artificial Intelligence and Neural Computing
  • HPSC1011 History of Modern Science
  • MSIN1002 Communication and Behaviour in Organisations

For History of Modern Science, I have a single paper and a final exam, each of which comprise half of my final marks. In America, I’ve usually had fewer exams and more papers to write with a more balanced weight for grading. Communication and Behaviour in Organisations is like a typical American class (the professor has studied from United States). Not surprisingly, it happens to be the most exciting, engaging, and interactive module I’m taking over here. But I won’t get into details about that.

The modules that I’m most concerned about are my Computer Science modules. Artificial Intelligence has turned out to be disappointing because there isn’t a single programming assignment. Its all theoretical study with a final exam at the end that entirely determines the marks for the module. The nice thing about having programming assignments in the class is that they keep you motivated to follow up with the theory and practically use it. When programming, you have to write a series of instructions so precise that there can be no doubt of exactly what you are trying to achieve. So programming forces you understand the concepts taught in the class in a very rigorous manner. And of course, you get to make something useful and become more marketable to employers. I might find some interesting programming assignments and things to experiment with on the side by following a coursera course.

Finally, my databases module is a bit more interesting because we have to make a web application during the term that uses a database. The requirements of the project are a bit restrictive as we have to use PHP and MySQL on the server side – the engine that powers the website. We are free to do whatever we like on the client side – the user interface that determines the look, feel, and interactions. Another requirement of the application is that it has to leverage Google Maps in some manner to show geo-data. My teammates and I are making an application that connects people together for carpooling by showing common routes on the map in a user friendly manner.

While I am not very fond of the system and structure of education over here. The actual knowledge imparted by the professors lives up to the university’s name. And on the bright side, I won’t find myself working into the wee hours of the morning because of an endless torrent of projects and assignments. This gives me a wonderful opportunity to do things that I’ve never found time for such as getting better at cooking, reading books for leisure, staying healthy, and making more friends. Most importantly, I will take this time to integrate into British life, learn more about London, and travel as much as possible!

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Waseem Ahmad

I love technology! I love how it improves our lives by allowing us to instantly communicate with people across the globe, access tremendous amounts of data in an instant, and produce and consume meaningful information. Computers give you the power to take tasks of enormous size and complexity and simplify them. I find computing very exciting and challenging which is why I'm working at Facebook as a Software Engineer. I recently completed my Bachelors in Computer Science from Rice University.

I've moved a lot as I grew up. So I've lived in 8 different cities across the world and hope to live in and travel to many more. Currently, I live in San Francisco, CA. When I'm not working or exercising at the gym, I'm always ready for an adventure! I love coffee, good conversations, movies, biking, reading, writing, flying remote control aircrafts, and most of all, the company of good friends.

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