Alex Lockwood

Computer Scientist Undergraduate that enjoys coding, mathematics and problem solving.

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My First Year of University
Jun 10, 2018

As some of you may be aware, I am currently studying Computer Science at University of Southampton. I recently finished my first year of the course and decided to publish my thoughts and feelings as a way to reflect upon what I can improve on for next year.

Arriving in Southampton

The journey to Southampton was, to put it lightly, a bit of a mess. As I live a considerable distance away from the city, we had to be up at the crack of dawn to even have a chance of arriving on time. This was not helped by the fact that I decided to bring what was essentially my entire life’s possessions to Southampton in the process. The one mistake that I know not to repeat next year is to not bring everything in one go and either cut down on what you bring or bring your valuables down in multiple trips across multiple days.

Once I was fully settled in to halls, the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and its associated student society ensured that we were fully settled in to the course by giving us team building exercises and other activities.

Semester One

Every semester, at least for the first two years, we have four modules to complete with each module requiring 150 hours worth of work to be given the credits for said module. This semester, we started off with Programming 1, Computer Systems 1, Foundations of Computer Science and Professional Development. Personally, I thought that this semester on the whole was a strong start and a great introduction to Computer Science in higher education.

Programming 1, Computer Systems 1 and Foundations of Computer Science I believe represent the key areas of computer science for a new undergraduate student; the software, the hardware and the mathematics respectively. These modules allowed for students to understand the underlying concepts in each sector and find what works best for them and what they need to improve on. This was very well done by ECS as a whole.

However, Professional Development (although extremely useful for years to come) proved to be quite dull. I won’t lie, the courseworks were very useful! Perfecting a CV, honing your presentation skills and being able to create a technical report are key skills that anyone who wants to work in the field of computer science will need for years to come. However, the lectures were much weaker in comparison to the other lectures that were being given around the same time, as they weren’t as well reflected in the assessments that we were given. The assessments molded the lectures, rather than the lectures molding the assessments. This is reflected by the number of students that appeared for lectures as time went on. Plus, a lack of content meant that external researchers had to be brought in to provide additional lectures on their research field. The quality of these varied based upon the researcher present.

I understand that Professional Development is required in the first year for accreditation from the IET and British Computer Society, but at least make the lectures given more engaging!

Semester Two

I will admit, semester two felt like it dragged on longer than it should have. Perhaps it was the long Easter break that made it feel like the semester was taking an eternity to finish up. Furthermore, this semester was affected by the strikes from the University and College Union leading to some modules to fall behind in terms of teaching and marking.

In this semester, we had Algorithmics, Data Management, Programming 2 and Software Modelling and Design. The strongest module without a doubt this semester was Algorithmics. Building on the mathematical foundations set in Foundations of Computer Science last semester, it had engaging lectures with a variety of content that ranged from new algorithms with psuedocode and implementation details, to complexity theory with time complexities and memory complexities.

Data Management was a fairly interesting module, but the lectures tended to vary from extremely interesting to quite dull.

Programming 2 was a marked step up from the basic content of Programming 1, introducing new material within Java that I had yet to cover in detail. The actual lecture content was interesting, but the courseworks proved to be difficult. As well as this, it did not help that a large proportion of the lectures were not covered due to the aformention strikes by the UCU. Furthermore, a substantial complaint that I would make is that the proportions of the marks given to each coursework didn’t adequately reflect the amount of effort requried for the coursework.

I know that I am going against the common consensus of the course with this, but in retrospect I fairly enjoyed Software Modelling and Design. Yes, I will agree that at first it comes across as a dull set of lectures. However, I believe that it is quite useful in understanding the steps required to make software for clients. The Event-B in itself is useful in gaining an alternative perspective on how to develop foolproof software which requires high safety tolerances. However, I will agree that the Event-B coursework was a tad dull and suffered due to the other more pressing courseworks that were assigned around the same time.

Retrospective

Overall, I think that my first year was very productive. A good amount of work was placed into the course when required and also outside of the ‘classroom.’ However, I still feel that my procrastination was at an all-time high; this is something that must be worked on for next year if any decent results or extra-curricular activities are to be accomplished.

To add on as well, burnout was a predominant issue for me at the start of the second semester; the exams from the first semester had worn me out to the point that I had a lot of catching up to do for the first part of the new semester. All in all though, this year went rather well. On to next year!


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