Computer Laboratory

The Computer Science Option in NST/PBST

Students in the Natural Sciences or Pyschological and Behavioural Sciences Triposes have the option to spend a quarter of their first year studying Computer Science. This option recognises that computers are a vital ingredient for almost all science today and it is designed to give future scientists exposure to the fundamentals of Computer Science which will be most relevant to the later career.

The option is popular: each year around 45 NST students and a few PBST students take it. Although the material is challenging, it is valuable and the course has good feedback.

Please note that all students taking the option should complete the pre-arrival online course, which is designed to cover the fundamentals of the subject before you arrive.

Full details are available on the Preparations page.

If you're not sure about taking the option, we encourage you to do the online course since it will give you a taste of what the full course is like. There is no obligation whatsoever to study the full course by signing up for the online course.

Topics Covered

The option focusses on programming and algorithms. In the first term you learn two languages (ML and Java) in detail through a combination of lecturing and practical assignments. The second term is devoted to understanding algorithms, which is really a learning a formal approach to problem solving. You see a variety of clever ideas, learn how to assess an algorithm and implement your own. The final term looks at the issues that are inherent in using computers to manipulate numbers.

The full course information can be found on the Official course webpage.

Comparison with the Computer Science Tripos

Students studying the Computer Science Tripos 50% course take two papers in Computer Science (CST1 and CST2), plus maths for Natural Sciences and an option. Someone taking this option would study the whole of CST1 alongside the Computer Scientists, but not CST2.

Each year a number of NST students elect to switch from NST to CST after doing this option in the first year. This is supported by the department and involves catching up the material covered for CST2 over the vacation. This has been done many times with success. It is not the recommended route into Computer Science however!

Further details

If you have any qestions about the course or would like to discuss whether it is appropriate for you, please talk to your Director of Studies at your College. You are also welcome to contact the course organiser, Dr Robert Harle, by email.