Frequently asked questions

Answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is Informatics?

Informatics is the study of the structure, the behaviour, and the interactions of natural and engineered computational systems. At its simplest, informatics is computer science, but it is also a much wider discipline covering:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science
  • Software Engineering
  • Cognitive Science

By studying informatics, you will look at how information is exchanged in its widest sense, both artificially; in computers, but also in nature through the human mind.

Why is the Informatics Degree five years?

We offer a unique five year Master of Informatics (MInf) course that covers diverse topics such as computer science, artificial intelligence, linguistics, cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology and biology. The course offers students the chance to study these subjects at more depth than a BSc or BEng and allows students to enter into a PhD upon completion.

What is the difference between a BSc and a BEng?

There is no difference in content between BSc and BEng degrees and both are accredited by the British Computer Society. Employers also treat both degrees the same, and either a BSc or a BEng in Computer Science from Edinburgh will carry weight anywhere in the world. The choice of the BEng is designed to work for those students who come from countries where computer science is seen to be an engineering discipline rather than a science one.

What are the entry requirements for the European Baccalaureate?

Please visit the web pages of the International Office for Information on what international qualifications we accept, by country, including the European Baccalaureate, and information on English language requirements.

I am not sure what degree to choose AI, Cognitive Science or Software Engineering?

If you intend to do a single honours, you can register for the BSc in Computer Science (G400) and make up your mind at the end of the 2nd year what your honours specialisation will be.

If at the end of your second year you've decided you want to become a Software Engineer or specialise in AI, you can easily change degrees and your Director of Studies will advise you what honours courses to take. This is what we mean when we say that our degrees are flexible in structure.

The degrees for which you need to be more specific in your registration are Cognitive Science and the combined degrees, for example Computer Science and Management Science or Artificial Intelligence and Psychology. For these degrees you will need to study your joint discipline from the first year.

If it turns out that you do not like one of the disciplines you are studying, you can switch to a single honours degree in the other discipline from the second year of study.

What programming languages are taught?

In your first 2 years of study you will be taught two very different programming languages, Java and Haskell, from complete beginner level. In subsequent years various courses may introduce new languages/libraries/frameworks in support of their material, but typically these will only be sketched and you will be expected to do further reading and pick up the details yourself.

What is Cognitive Science?

The Cognitive Science Programme is jointly organised by the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences (PPLS) and the School of Informatics. It is a new interdisciplinary degree which attempts to understand the human mind. It focuses on abilities such as reasoning, perception, memory, awareness, emotion, attention, judgement, motor control and language use.

The Cognitive Science Programme consists of two new degrees:

1. MA Cognitive Science (Humanities)- School of PPLS

Emphasising theoretical and experimental approaches to the philosophical, linguistic and psychological nature of language and the mind.

2. BSc Cognitive Science- School of Informatics

Emphasising mathematical and computational approaches to the study of the human mind.

Cognitive Science students may apply for the degree in either School and choose courses from both, allowing them to combine the study of core computing and human science subjects with their choice of specialisation.

How much maths is there? Why?

There is a fair bit of Maths, both explicitly (in years 1 and 2) and implicitly. Informatics uses more "discrete" maths (eg logic, sets, graphs, algebra probability etc) than many other disciplines. Continuous maths (analysis, calculus) has important applications too.

Discrete maths is important both because its specific content is sometimes needed in CS topics (eg analysing algorithms, proving things about programs, modelling real problems (eg with graphs)) *and* because good ability in and familiarity with careful manipulation of symbolic information is crucial.

Do you assume I have done some computing before?

No, we start from scratch but students need to be able and bright to keep up with the course.

Bringing computing equipment with you

The School of Informatics, and the University in general, provides computer laboratories where you can do all coursework, so there is no need to bring a computer with you. Many students, however, like to be able to work in places other than the labs and do bring computers of various sorts. If you are considering buying a computer to bring to university, you might like to bear these things in mind. Your first decision is whether to buy a desktop, a laptop or a tablet computer. A tablet is of course the most limited; you won't be able to do much coursework on one. Most students find laptops the most versatile, but like many aspects of this decision this is very personal. Ergonomics is important: you will type quite a lot and should choose a set-up that lets you do so comfortably. In laptops the trade-off between the convenience of a large screen and the weight of a machine you will carry around needs careful consideration. For most purposes, any modern processor will be fine; amount of RAM tends to be more important and if you're going to upgrade anything you might consider this first. Coursework is unlikely to require you to have more disk space than comes as standard on any machine you buy now.

Informatics' standard operating system is Linux (currently based on Scientific Linux 6). Most of the software used for courses is open source and cross platform, but you might find running Linux sometimes makes it easier for you to run the same version of the same software that is used in the labs. Note, though, that the computing staff don't offer support for students' machines, and problems with your own computer would never excuse losing work or missing a deadline; you need to be prepared to administer, secure and backup your own computer (good skills to acquire anyway).

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