My personal view
* the first part of the article reflects my own subjective views and my personal perception over the facts stated
** this article has been written in English so it can also be accessible to students and teachers abroad
I probably should be proud or ecstatic or at least glad that I’m close to accomplishing a goal in my educational career.
But I’m not.
Looking back on the last four years, I can only feel disappointment. And the only pride I have is that it is going to be over soon.
In my first year at the university, I expected things to be interesting, challenging, exciting. I wanted to study computer science since I was 15. I expected all students would be challenge to research, to innovate, to come up with practical solutions to practical problems.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We were leveled. I think that’s the best word. We were encouraged, if not forced to be the same. To attend the same courses, with little or no choice for what students consider most interesting. Don’t make the mistake of confusing “being the same” for “team spirit”. Not by far. We were almost always given individual assignments, with strict policy against working with each other, helping each other on homework projects.
In most cases, all students were given the same assignments, with little or no room for choice, innovation or any kind of personal touch (like choosing a subject for a project).
Let’s get one thing straight: computer science is a vast field. It includes electronics, networking, object oriented programming, service based architecture, distributed and parallel programming, web programming, web design, interface and usability design, mobile devices, numerical methods and so much more. You can’t be good at all of them. And you most definitely can’t be the best in more than say… two fields.
Nevertheless, the curriculum at PUB basically prevents us for choosing what we’re interested in the first three years of study. That’s right. All the hard, serious subject are mandatory. And the only choice one has is between subjects that bear little importance and are treated by students and teaching staff as irrelevant (marketing, the history of religion, economy, cognitive philosophy).
Before entering the second year, I and a friend of mine made an appointment with the faculty dean’s office, to see if he can approve exchanging a particular course (Analogue Electronics) with another course from another faculty (Numerical Methods). We were told that such thing was impossible and that we can’t exchange such an important course as Analogue Electronics for … well … basically anything. I and my friend accepted the facts, even though we had no interest/skill in anything doing with electronics.
I have passed both electronics exams from the first try. To this day, I have no concern about and no knowledge of the inner and outer working of the transistor. And I’d like to keep it that way.
Throughout the first three years I went from excitement to disappointment over and over again, as I still hoped things will get better, more interesting, more practical, more hands-on, more challenging. But they didn’t. Some courses sounded great, but they all were just the same: the same piece of homework for all students (not projects, it was called homework), the same lack of preoccupation for practical problems and the same obsession for theoretical/didactic examples repeated over and over again.
It is said that “Loosing all hope is freedom”. My recent experience showed that to be true.
For the forth and final year we chose our specialization. There were five:
- C1 – computing system architecture (networking, distributed and parallel computing, VLSI)
- C2 – embedded systems (multi-processor architectures; signal processing; fault tolerance;
- C3 – compilers, operating systems, artificial intelligence
- C4– artificial intelligence, automated learning, graphic manipulation
- C5 – information technology: databases, software project management, web programming, e-commerce, integrating information systems
At first glance, C4 sounded most promising to me: I always was fascinated by what artificial intelligence can become and I also did a lot of experimentation with graphical manipulation in high school.
C3 was by far the most popular and the hardest specialization.
But the first three year at PUB taught me that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
So I chose C5 – not because it was fascinated, but because it sounded practical, hands-on and applicable in the real world for … you know… real problems. And it was the best academic choice ever. (I strongly recommend it).
But why ? Because we were no longer given homework, but projects. We were allowed and encouraged to work in teams. We were given the freedom (yeah, you read that right, freedom, how unexpected) to choose our own project topics for most courses.
The only question on my mind was:
Why couldn’t this have happened from the first year ?
Why did we have to literally waste three of our respective minds’ best year to be force fed information that was to be discarded days after passing the exam?
Why were we prevented from choosing important courses in the first three years?
Why were we discouraged to work in teams ? Does anyone really think that real world tasks and projects are so often related to individual assignments nowadays?
To end this personal part of the article, I would like to make something really clear: I don’t think that the Computer Science Faculty at PUB is all bad. What is disappointing however is that it refuses to be so much better and that it wastes a great part of the potential that it has.
I would like to point out the few courses I attended which left a strongly positive impression on me:
- USO (Use of Operating Systems) lead by Conf. dr. ing. Razvan Rughinis, first year
- M3 (Applied Mathematics) lead by Professor Octavian Stanasila, first year
- RL (Local Networks) lead by Professor Nicolae Tapus, third year
- ISI (Integration of Information Systems) lead by Professor Dr. Ing. Mariana Mocanu, forth year
- IOC (Human-Computer Interfaces) lead by Professor Stefan Trausan-Matu, fourth year
A more objective view
Here are some bullet-pointed facts:
- During the four years it takes to graduated with a BS in Computer Science, students are allowed to exchange up to three courses with courses from other faculties.
- There is no official protocol for requesting, approving or rejecting a course exchange. All such requests from students are frowned upon by most faculty members, especially by two who have the decision power to accept/reject such requests.
- Fact: several students were denied course exchange requests without any explanation. The aforementioned students wanted to take the only mobile computing course, that is taught at another faculty (FILS), also within PUB. Still no explanation was granted.
- The C3 specialization (which includes operating systems and compilers) is without doubt the hardest from the five. Nevertheless, the faculty decided to also make artificial intelligence as a mandatory subject in this specialization. If any of you can see any link between compilers&operating systems (low level programming) and artificial intelligence (high level algorithms), please leave a comment below with a brief explanation.
I have yet to find any plausible/objective explanation for these decisions that are literally forced upon students.
Moreover, most prestigious universities from Western Europe and the United States pride themselves on giving students the opportunity to choose courses, often from a wide variety. I strongly believe is that if the Politehnica University of Bucharest (particularly the Computer Science and Automated Systems) wants to reach towards the high standards set by universities abroad, it needs to enforce the same policy on freedom of choice and enabling creativity.
My aim is to start an open dialogues on this page regarding such policies enforced by the faculty, which undermine students’ creativity, innovation potential and freedom of choice.
I have nothing to gain from such an open dialog (and hopefully I’ll have nothing to lose). I have only one semester left and I do not expect any changes deriving from this dialog to take place in the next six months.
However, I would be proud to know that future generation can benefit from choices I was denied.
Call to action
Please leave comments below with your opinion on the limited choice over courses to attend students at PUB are given.
I would be most grateful if faculty members chose to participate in this open dialog.
Moreover, I urge you to repeatedly ask your teachers and any competent faculty members about:
- The possibility to exchange mandatory courses with courses from other faculties.
- The official protocol for accepting or rejecting such a request.
- What are the objective reasons for which the faculty has chosen to make certain courses mandatories for specializations for which they are not relevant (for instance, artificial intelligence being mandatory for those studying compilers and operating systems)?
I would appreciate if comments were written in English, so we also encourage students abroad to participate in this dialog.
Last, but not least, share this article with your friends: students from PUB and other universities, high school students.