M.Sc. Theoretical Computer Science: Beyond Conventional Computer Science
It is well known that PSG College of Technology offers a wide range of courses varied according to the different needs of the Industry. Each course has something special to inculcate in the young and brilliant minds of the country who take up the course with a correctly placed trust on the reputed institution and the renowned quality of education it has been providing for decades together. The five year integrated M.Sc. Theoretical Computer Science is yet another innovative programme introduced by the college during the year 2007 in collaboration with leading software houses. So, what is so special about M.Sc. Theoretical Computer Science (or M.Sc. TCS in short)?
“M.Sc. TCS is designed and offered to blend mathematics and computer science in the right proportions.” said Dr. R. Nadarajan, Professor and Head, Department of Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences, to The Hindu, when it published an article on the course in the year 2012.
The very name of the course would trigger anybody to think of it as one, which deals with enormous theory. In reality, it is only partly correct. Theoretical computer science is a division of general computer science and mathematics which focuses on mathematical aspects of computing. “It is the theory that describes what can be observed”, said Albert Einstein. M.Sc. TCS has been designed to augment human resources for the R & D divisions of software industries.
“I believe that theory is the base for technology to expand. Theoretical knowledge of a subject reveals the scope for expanding the breadth of the domain and thereby discovering new things”, says Shamshu Dharwez (M.Sc. TCS, 2008-13).
“The course has great potential, just like the students it takes.” says Venkatesan (M.Sc. TCS, 2008-13). The selection process itself is different. Instead of the regular Anna University counselling, students are short listed on the basis of their 12th standard board marks for a personal interview. Candidates clearing the latter are taken in. This procedure of selection is followed for one another course – M.Sc. Software Systems (erstwhile Software Engineering).
A common anxiety that is prevalent amongst both the students and their parents, irrespective of the course is what would follow after graduating. This course is mainly research oriented, but it does not limit a student to opt for research alone. A student can choose to work in the R&D of a company or become a developer or even pursue higher studies. The R&Ds are mostly looking for PhD holders. Even then, Varun Prakash (M.Sc. TCS, 2007-12) got an intern at HP labs for his 7th semester internship. The course offers the needed resources to become proficient in whichever path chosen. The syllabus for the course is framed after many rounds of consultation with TCS researchers in I.M.Sc., IITs and IIMs, and a few foreign universities.
Getting groomed well in theoretical as well as practical knowledge through the course of 5 years, students who pursued TCS have created their very own record with the placements. Much like Softies, the students who belong to the well established counterpart course, M.Sc. Software Systems (erstwhile M.Sc. Software Engineering), the techies get placed in top companies that visit the campus too, never failing to maintain the 100% placement mark all the years since inception to date.
“The structure is such that the more you study and get exposed, the inner yearning to learn more in depth, comes. Motivation from faculty and visiting research institution for summer internships bring the passion for research out, in enthusiastic students” says Niveditha (M.Sc. TCS, 2009-2014), who has published a research paper on Social Network Analysis. She was one among the 3 people from Indian institutions who got the opportunity of attending the Laureate forum at Heidelberg University, Germany. The other two people were from I.M.Sc. and IISER.
The Two Internships
The curriculum includes two internships – one during the 7th semester and the other during the 10th semester. History has it that students have done their internships at top notch institutions and companies. If you are joining a company as an intern, you get to know about how the software sector works even before you go for a job or start a company. A corporate company will teach you about professional ethics and a start-up is best for shaping you as a developer. This, indeed, becomes the unique selling point of the course.
Sridhar Venkatesan (M.Sc. TCS, 2007-2012) is currently pursuing PhD at George Mason University. He shared with us, how the course had inspired him in his decision to pursue PhD.
“Before joining the course, I had a simple plan: Get good grades and settle for a good job in a software company (like most Computer Science undergraduate students). However, soon after joining, we were constantly being told that this course is expected to nurture research aptitude to solve real-world problems in the field of computer science. Most of us didn’t have a tad bit idea of what that meant at that time. Within a few days, it became very obvious that we were surrounded by enthusiastic faculty group who were willing to work towards a common goal of instilling us with the necessary knowledge to solve research problems. And, such enthusiasm is contagious, especially when it spreads through a team of faculty members lead by Dr. R. Nadarajan. Maintaining a good academic standing, faculties (especially Dr. R. Anitha) encouraged me to try my hand at research. I was always interested in problem solving and with the department’s encouragement, I decided to pursue a six month research internship at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata; a decision which I am very happy about even today. Results from my work were eventually published in good journals. One of the prominent features of the department is its connections with eminent research institutes in India. I was able to take advantage of these connections and did a summer internship at IIT-M which stirred my passion for problem solving even further. After these valuable research experiences, I was confident to take research as my career path. As a first step towards that goal, I decided to pursue my PhD.”
Since its inception, three batches of students have passed out. Even in this short period, the course has gained widespread fame and demand in many companies and their R&Ds. Students were/are interns at leading institutions like IITs. In a span of seven years, the course has produced a separate class of theoretical computer scientists to the industry. Benjamin Franklin once said “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning”. M.Sc. Theoretical Computer Science has grown and progressed over the years and I trust that it will continue to do so in the coming years.