Department of computer science competes with industry to retain students - Purdue Exponent: Campus

Department of computer science competes with industry to retain students

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 10:00 am

Purdue is doing all it can to remain atop the wish lists of top prospective computer science students.

Computer science has become a growing, pervasive field. Not only are computing firms like Google and Microsoft expanding, but others in the industry, such as Eli Lilly, Amazon and Caterpillar, are hiring computer scientists en masse.

Purdue wants to break down the perception that computer science students can only be found in front of a desktop. In fact, students are out programming Android phones and robots by freshman year.

The University consistently draws some of the top students in the country despite having competition like Stanford University, where computer science has become the most sought-after degree.

Sunil Prabhakar, head of the computer science department, announced Thursday at the President’s Forum that the department of computer science would begin looking into increasing its enrollment and faculty by 27 percent.

“We stay on top of the curriculum,” Prabhakar said. “We were among the first in the country to introduce concurrent programming, which is important in most modern devices with more than one core on every chip. You can run multiple parallel threads of execution, but that takes a separate set of skills and is more challenging, and we start doing that in our freshman class. It was revolutionary and a little risky.”

Despite the strength of its computer science department, Purdue has difficulty remaining as a more attractive option when students decide whether to pursue a graduate degree or go into industry.

“Students who are two, three or even four years away from getting their Ph.D.s are being lured away,” Prabhakar said. “Many times, faculty advise them to finish their degree, but we have many instances of individuals who have gone on to Apple, Google or others before finishing Ph.D.s.”

Behind pharmacy, a professional program, the second highest paying degree earned at Purdue is a bachelor’s in computer science, averaging $74,320 in 2012, as well as a near 100 percent placement rating.

Jeff Avery, a graduate student in the department of computer science, said he is remaining in the program because it was a goal he set for himself to achieve his dream career.

“A number of my friends in computer science have left,” Avery said. “Most leave because the paychecks are better than a graduate stipend.”

However, Avery wants to continue his academic career at Purdue to earn his terminal degree and work in the field of cyber security. He was drawn to Purdue from his home state of Maryland because of its reputation in cyber security networking.

“To a lot of students, a buzzword is ‘big data,’” Avery said. “Purdue has one of the largest computer facilities in the country. It allows for you to practice for high-computing-power jobs.”

Prabhakar said the image people have of a computer scientist sitting in front of a computer screen all day simply isn’t true. He emphasized that computing skills are helpful in any career one would want to pursue.

“Consider what individuals like Bill Gates and (Mark) Zuckerberg did to build incredible companies with such influence on the world, with minimal equipment, all you need is your creativity, and this is an incredibly creative field,” Prabhakar said. “I think most people miss that and think of computer science as drudgery, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

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