I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do. I really enjoyed philosophy at school but felt I wasn’t strong enough with maths or physics to do one of those two joint degrees. CS & Philosophy was a really new degree combination at the time, and the more I looked into CS the more I thought I would really enjoy it. A great thing about this course is you don’t need to have studied either before, but just have a strong aptitude for maths.
In terms of what I enjoy most about my subject, I love the combination – when you get sick of a coding problem sheet there’s an essay to work on, and vice versa… Oh, and also I love my tutor Peter, he’' incredible. It’s really amazing and humbling to be taught directly from such a huge figure in philosophy. Studying the Turing module in first year was incredible. The 'lectures' were just 12 of us talking to Peter about really fascinating ideas and discoveries from the last century about computability.
Two things really appealed to me about this course. The first was the chance to learn about the mind and AI, and the second was being able to work in both the sciences and arts. Personally, I find the overlap of these two subjects fascinating. Answering questions like 'could a computer think' requires knowledge of more than just one subject. But if you aren’t so interested in that there are heaps of options so you will never be bored. My best experience of studying the course happened in first year. When I heard that you study Turing's famous papers and Godel's incompleteness theorems, I thought my tutor was joking. But two years later I still find it one of the most rewarding courses I have taken.
At first, I dismissed CS and Philosophy – I wanted to study Computer Science solo, not expend half my effort on something else! But several months later, I read Stephen Law's The Philosophy Gym and the questions around ethics, freedom and paradoxes had me hooked! Four months and a fun interview later, I received an offer! To make time for philosophy you miss out a couple of CompSci modules (mathematical and hardware courses), but I think it's well worth that sacrifice. Essay writing has been tough, but surprisingly fun.
Computer Science and Philosophy. Do you see the links? Artificial Intelligence and Logic are just two of many. Though taught separately, a shared analytical approach means that students suited to one subject can almost always transfer their skills to the other. As well as lectures, CompSci has practical assignments and problem sheets, whereas for Philosophy you read lots and write essays. Oxford is a world leader in both subjects, and weekly tutorials allow discussion of your ideas with world renowned academics – this is especially valuable in Philosophy. Mathematics is foundational so you must have studied it before coming, but neither Computing nor Philosophy experience is expected. Once here, your time is split approximately 50/50, but courses on ‘Logic’ contribute towards a mathematically focused first-year.
Where am I? by Daniel Dennett really makes you think about the mind in new ways.
The Imitation Game is a film of an incredible story and lots of its themes turn up in the course.
I ended up applying for CompPhil after reading The Philosophy Gym by Stephen Law. I heartily recommend it!
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.