Frequently Asked Questions

Information for Undergraduate Students



Do women get into CS simply because they are women?

Definitely not! And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. In fact, due to the increased number of applicants, the admission process for Computer Science has become more selective. Gender is NOT a factor in the selection process. For example, for the class of 2004, the number of female applicants actually tripled.

Why do guys seem to do better? Why does it seem like they "just know it"?

Actually, studies show that girls are equal to guys in their ability to understand the material. Some recent research here shows that men and women are often more alike than different in the way they relate to Computer Science. Check out the research papers on the About Us page. The reason why the guys may seem to learn faster is because some of them talk about how easy the material is and some guys had previous experience that can help them learn the material.

I have no idea what to do for a minor or double major. Do you have any suggestions?

Pick something you like! It can but doesn't have to relate to CS. HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) is interesting but hard to get into, but well worth it. Closely related minors are robotics, math, ECE, etc. Some other options are multimedia, business, and others. You can try out some classes in different areas such as entrepreneurial classes for technology and business communication. You can always check our minors page as well!

What can I do after graduation ... if I don't want to code?

After graduation, you can get a job or go to grad school. Jobs in the industry aren't all coding and cubicles. You have other options such as consulting, web development, software engineering, software architect (upper level design), and much more. Check out what's available in the Career Center. To find out if you want to do research, try doing some research with a professor.

I feel like all of my life is CS, I am becoming a major nerd. What should I do to find my balance?

  • Consider taking some fun elective classes.
  • Become involved with campus organizations or the Pittsburgh community.
  • Get a job that you would enjoy around campus.
  • Ask others about what they do to find balance in life.

Does one have to like programming to major in computer science?

You don't have to love it, but you really need to have some interest in it. A lot of the foundation for the broader areas of CS is built by writing code and being able to solve problems. As one of my advisors said, you must be able to program and have good programming skills because it's an essential skill in computer science. Not everyone is born to program well, but like anything else if you practice it gets easier and you become a better programmer.

Is there a 4 year integrated bachelors/masters or a 5 year masters program in Computer Science? Whom should I approach for more information on this?

There is a 5th year masters program that is very selective and open to applications in the fall of your senior year. Mark Stehlik can give you more information, but if you're interested, you should definitely start looking into research because the masters program is not just courses - you have to have a research project as well.

I want to buy a computer, but which kind should I go for -- a laptop or a desktop?

CMU has wireless access across the entire campus, so laptops give you the flexibility to work wherever you want. However, desktops are cheaper and if you are the kind of person who wants multimedia surround sound, then go for a desktop.

Undergraduate Classes

What can I do about hard classes like Matrix Algebra, Calc in 3D, and 15-251 (Great Theoretical Ideas in Computer Science)?

All these classes can seem very difficult at times. It is important to consider the resources available to students who need extra help. Seek help from the TAs and professors. They want you to succeed as much as you do. Take advantage of office/cluster hours. Contact other students in your class and form a study group. The #1 tip to doing well in Computer Science: Start early! (Really, we've learned it the hard way that you MUST start early.)

How manageable are the 200-level classes?

The 200-level classes are just the next step up in your education. As long as you feel confident in the skills taught in the 100-level sequence, you should be ready for 200-level classes. In the 100 level classes, a wide range of experience is evident, but this is not as prevalent in the upper levels. Most people have never studied ML or C, so 15-212 and 15-213 provide an even ground for the class.

I can't stand my 200-level courses, how is it like after 200-level courses?

The 200 level courses give you the fundamentals such as programming skills, understanding of data structures, etc. that you need to do the fun stuff in CS. After the 200 level courses, you'll be ready to take the skills you learned to do the fun stuff in computer science according to your own interests. You'll also find it easier to get jobs where you do practical and interesting work where your knowledge can be applied. You can also work with a professor in different CS departments (Human-Computer Interaction, Language Technology Institute, Robotics, etc.).

Fun courses in/related to CS:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Database Applications
  • Building Virtual Worlds
  • Introduction to Computer Music
  • Technology Consulting in the Community

What are some fun non-CS courses?

If you want to improve your communication, and presentation skills, take business courses such as Business Communication or Interpersonal Communication. Feel like you're losing your right brain? Take courses in CFA (College of Fine Arts) such as Acting for Non-Majors (extremely fun class, but very popular, sign up fast during Online Registration). You can also take multi-disciplinary classes in HCI (Human-Computer Interaction).

Want more suggestions on courses? Women@SCS hosts a Pre-Registration event each semester before Online Registration for the following semester's classes. Stop by for advice from your fellow students! You can also e-mail us!

What exactly is Computer Science?

A big part of CS does involve programming but that's not necessarily the biggest aspect of the field. Programming serves as the basis for much of what computers are able to do today, and also teaches fundamental problem-solving skills. Nevertheless, if you are interested in a more non-programming related field such as human-computer interaction, there certainly still are many opportunities for you to succeed as a CS major. CS is a wide field with different areas and applications. A person can specialize in one area and still get a successful job. For example, professional hackers specialize mostly in Unix, shell scripting, and cryptography while web developers love HTML, PHP, and MySQL. Another major part of CS is discrete mathematics. Problem solving through abstract representations of the concepts and question is a skill that CS majors develop here at Carnegie Mellon University.

I don't seem to be performing as well as I did in high school. Is this just me or is everyone in the same boat?

Being here, away from what has always been familiar to you, kind of makes you feel more intimidated, but once you get into the routine, your performance will improve and it will all work out. Though you definitely should strive to do as well as you did in high school, don't be surprised if the results aren't quite there. The bar is MUCH higher in college and you're in the company of some very smart people.

If I get a B or lower in a CS class, does that mean that CS is not the right major for me?

Not at all, because even if you do get below a B, you are still learning, and if you understand what is going on, or have an interest in the field, then you should pursue it. People have gone into CS with out any experience whatsoever. At the same time, a C or lower in a basic class (intro programming) would be a serious indication of future problems. The curriculum at CMU is programming intensive and although not liking programming isn't so bad, not being able to do it will cause problems in later courses. Even if you dread it, you should be able to programming decently well to do well in the CS program, or at least have the willingness to get the help or extra tutoring you need.

Research and Jobs

Should I do research? What are the costs and benefits?

Doing research is very worthwhile. By working with a mentor or a professor, you can gain a different perspective on how computer science can be applied. You'll benefit tremendously from working with a mentor. The cost may be some time commitment, but it's time well spent because you're doing something that you're interested in.

How can I find research projects and advisors?

See research in Computer Science.

When should I start looking for internships?

Start looking for internships as early as possible. Some get posted to Handshake in early October and the earlier you start, the better chance you have of catching all the internship opportunities. Make sure you have a resume put together and proofread it before the Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC) in the fall and the Technical Internship Expo (TIE) in the spring. Start passing your resumes out there - and ask about the internship opportunities. As a freshman, it's a little hard to find an internship but that shouldn't stop you from looking. Probably your best bet is to look at local companies or smaller companies in the area. Sophomores and juniors have a better chance of finding a good internship. It's easier to find summer research jobs at school and they are just as good as having an internship.

I want to get an on-campus job. What kind of job should I get that allows me to practice my CS skills? Does being a TA help?

Being a TA is a great experience because you get to learn the material more in depth and you get to help others understand it. However, it might be more time consuming than other jobs (office hours and grading papers/labs can take a long time). One can be a System Administrator in a specific department in a CS institute. For example, the Robotics Institute has several departments. A website developer working on the Women@SCS or SCS websites is also a great job. Many CS professors and graduate PhD students are looking for undergrads to do work on projects. Log onto Handshake and check the CS related on-campus job postings.

How do I make my resume and contact employees? I need career consulting.

Kevin Collins, the SCS consultant in the Career Center, is a great resource and can give your resume tips. There is a section online in the Career Center website on how to make a good resume. They even have some samples there. I bought a few books on resumes, and recommend "Vault Guide to Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews". The ISBN number is 1581311346.

What kinds of jobs are there for people graduating with degrees in computer science?

Examples include IT specialist/professional, software application developer, software technician, system administrator, hardware specialist, database manager, system analyst, web developer, modeler, hacker/code breaker, network administrator, professor, and research scientist. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Women@SCS -- Find more about us.

What kinds of things do you suggest to get more CS women involved in your activities?

Definitely publicize. Set up a distribution list (dlist) of all the women in the Computer Science department and send e-mails to inform them about activities! Use the word-of-mouth method and tell all of your female friends about exciting activities you are planning. Ask other women in the department for their input on what activities to run so that more people are involved in the activity planning process.

How did you get so many people to join your committee?

We opened up the committee to anyone who is committed in helping this program succeed, and just as importantly, to anyone who is committed in succeeding in the field of computer science. The commitment and success of the Women@SCS organization here at CMU is a testimonial to the dedication and time that our members put forth for the group. As the organization has played a bigger role in sponsoring events such as a Halloween party and Pre-Registration advice sessions on campus, and also expanded our visibility to the community through outreach programs such as the Roadshow, more and more people have decided to be a part of this organization.

We usually hold an ice cream social type activity early on in the semester, and explain the programs and activities we offer. We ask for people to contact us if they want to be involved in the committee. Usually, we get several responses there. We have a Big Sister/Little Sister program which is really popular. We plan sister movie nights, dessert socials, dinner and fun events like ice skating. Then we have the Pre-Registration events which are helpful for all. Thus the key is to organize activities and events which everyone finds helpful and entertaining at the same time. Also, a lot of people who find out about the committee through word-of-mouth decide to come to one of our meetings and become involved.

Tell me more about the Big Sister/Little Sister program. How can you start the program?

The way we started ours was by e-mailing all of the upperclassmen and asking them if they wanted to mentor a freshman, and we asked them to provide us with basic information about themselves. Then we e-mailed the freshman describing all the information of the different eligible big sisters and asked them to pick their top three choices of big sisters. We matched people up on a first come, first serve basis.

How do you find time to do all these activities and events?

It's not very time consuming if you can get enough people involved in the planning process. The way the committee is set up, we have different members working on different projects at the same time, so it ends up not being too time consuming. We have regular weekly meetings at a time which is convenient for most of the members on the Women@SCS undergrad committee. We always have a set agenda which is decided beforehand, and we decide events based on popularity, assign different responsibilities to different people, and then communicate via e-mail.

Why are women 'different'? If the end goal is equality, why do you think women merit special attention?

Women are not different. Technical fields like Computer Science do not have a long history with women. Although the situation is improving, they still are not very popular with women. Most of the women are discouraged from pursuing these fields by myths like 'it is too challenging' or 'you will not do well'. Organizations like Women@SCS try to present to the world the real picture which is that women are as good as men or even better in these fields. CMU is a great example of this.

Why do you think technical fields are still underpopulated with women, while fields like medicine and law are closer to 50/50?

Most of the people in society have notion that technical fields are for men. This attitude is reflected in their behavior when they dissuade their sisters/daughters from going for engineering or computer science. Because of the less number of women enrolling in these fields, the success rate has also been less. There aren't many role models or examples to cite to encourage others. This has been one of the setbacks.