Tiffany's diary entry - Summer 2012

Tiffany talks about her experiences on her computer science MEng course and how much the first and second years have differed.

Tiffany Booth As I said in my introduction computer science is no picnic. After enjoying it immensely at A level, I have to say I was in for a bit of a shock when I started my first year of university. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a big pond; I found myself surrounded by many people who were much more intelligent than me and at times I did doubt my aptitude for the course. Whenever I felt like this, however, I would remind myself that I got above the grades I needed to get in, and that I wouldn't be here if I was unsuitable for the course, and, as it turns out, my first year ended up being very enjoyable.

The good thing about Lancaster for computer science is that the course is very “hands-on” in terms of lab sessions. There are several dedicated labs in the engineering building, accessible only if you are a computer science student. We also have 24-hour access to the building through the back door - which I found invaluable when I was doing all-nighters in second year to keep up with deadlines!

First year experiences

In the first year we learned the basics of Java, which is the main language taught at Lancaster. We were also taught several other languages, such as JavaScript, XML, HTML, CSS and assembly language (MIPS), as well as the theory behind different data structures, software engineering, and discrete mathematics.

My timetable consisted of about 14/15 hours per week, which is more than most people have, and on top of that I had a lot of coursework, again, more than most people I knew, but I enjoyed the year nonetheless, and was safe in the knowledge that you can't get a good degree without a bit of elbow grease. I've since learned that first year computer science at Lancaster has completely changed, so, if you're thinking of going, it won't be very similar to mine!

As with the majority of most universities, the first year doesn't count for anything, so I only had to get 45 per cent in my exams to move on to second year. That was where the real work started.

The going gets tougher

I definitely liked university much better when I was in first year. I had a great time going out twice a week with my flatmates, living on campus and being five minutes away from lecture theatres and knowing that the work I was doing really didn't matter. When October 2011 rolled around and the first term of second year started, I found myself in a cold, damp, rented house, with a half hour journey to campus, and the knowledge that everything I did this year mattered.

This was also made worse by the fact that I knew I had to get a 2:1 overall - otherwise I wouldn't be allowed to continue on to my fourth year and would instead be forced to graduate after three years with a bachelor's degree.

The second year was infinitely more challenging than the first. I did modules in networking, human computer interaction, software project management, software design, professional development and project skills, languages and compilation, distributed systems, multimedia computing and, to top it off, a group project. I struggled with stress quite a bit due to increased contact time, taking on a part-time job and the sheer volume of coursework I had, but I made it through unscathed.

The group project

One module that I should make special mention of was the group project. We were put into groups ranging from five to seven people big. Our task was to design, implement, test and present an Android application for a smart phone which would use GPS satellites and Google Maps navigation to direct a user to places around campus, be it a lecture theatre, friend, or event location. This was a very true to life task, in that the server/back end was written for us and had to be integrated into our front end. Our group is presenting our finished application next week, and we hope to bag one of the prizes that have been donated by IBM.

Decision time…

My lectures have finished now, and second year is coming to a close. There's still work to be done, however: I'm waiting for a decision to be made regarding my final year project choices, and will have to have written a dissertation proposal in two week's time. There's also a presentation and demonstration of our Android application to prepare for next week. My exams are now over and done with earlier than most, with results coming out on the 6th of July. Here's hoping I've got a 2:1!