Perspectives: Competition Within Your Major

As a first year computer science (CS) major, I’m quickly realizing the fierceness of the competition between students. However, this competition should be perceived among students as a motivating factor, not as a burden.

Computer science classes require dedication, determination and, above all, time. Students have commitments including research projects, on and off campus projects, and hackathons, so efficient time management is essential for success.

This is where the difficulty arises. Aside from computer science classes, students also need to focus on writing classes and GE requirements, thus increasing the class workload. All of this must be maintained while developing a strong extracurricular background and fluency in several coding languages. As a result, a student with a perfect GPA and no extracurricular activities is less likely succeed in the workforce than a student with a slightly lower GPA and extracurriculars showcasing the necessary skills.

In today’s world of science and technology, employers demand prowess in both coding and web development. While there are common languages like Java and Python, CS majors also need to be able to code in other in demand languages such as JavaScript, which is commonly used to create interactive effects within web browsers. Different programming languages have different syntaxes, methods and concepts, and mastering the nuances of each language is essential to be successful in the workforce.

I experienced this firsthand after shadowing two companies during spring break. I helped develop and modify web pages and coding in HTML and JavaScript. The challenge in programming arises from knowing the right tools to use in the specified language and the only way to get more comfortable with programming is with time and practice, which is difficult to balance on top of the other commitments we have as CS majors.

However, mastering these programs simply isn’t enough to succeed. If anything, it’s an expectation, not a rare accomplishment among job applicants. As the number of students pursuing the computer science major increases, the workforce is being exposed to more and more computer science experts, leading to refined recruitment. Since recruiters deal with several similar resumes, unique extracurricular activities are now more important than ever.

While student experiences start in the classroom, many of the most enriching and satisfying opportunities come through participation in extracurricular sponsored events, interdisciplinary student teams and student organizations. An ideal job candidate should have a spirit of teamwork, problem-solving and organization skills, leadership skills and, of course, an excellent CS background.

All of these skills can be accomplished with time and experience. While it is more competitive today in the industry than in previous years, employers’ increasing requirements should be greeted with open arms.  As CS majors with many opportunities open to us at UCI and beyond, we should feel motivated to become well-rounded job candidates.

Apurva Jakhanwal is a first-year computer science major. She can be reached at ajakhanw@uci.edu.

 

Before my first finals week at UCI, an upperclassmen gave me the following piece of  advice:

“Raw percentages don’t matter anymore. It’s not about getting the lowest A, it’s about getting the highest F. Just ride the curve.”

She had a good point.

Most of my required classes as a biological sciences major follow a grade distribution such that 17-20% of students will receive A’s, and 17-20% will receive F’s.

The thought of being enrolled in courses specifically designed to “weed us out” can be intimidating, especially when the class average on an exam can be lower than 50%. As expected, this fear has created a sense of competition and anxiety among students.

However, lately, I’ve been trying to think of this idea of competition on a more macroscopic scale. I’ve been trying to humanize it.

With most biological sciences majors hoping to enter the healthcare profession — especially medicine — maybe the rigor of our classes is due to the very nature of those careers.

There are many careers that are more challenging than healthcare, and many people smarter than healthcare professionals. But what makes healthcare unique is that at its core, it encompasses careers that require complete trust in another person.

Consider medicine.

In the worst-case scenario, a physician is the only barrier between a patient’s life and death. Understandably, if that patient was your parent, child, or friend, you’d want them under the most capable, well-trained hands as possible.

For a physician, that’s a huge responsibility. As medical students, they’re not just being tested on the contents of a textbook; they’re being tested on material that could potentially save someone’s life.

As far as I’m aware of, there isn’t a class that can measure a person’s readiness or ability to be entrusted with another human life. But with UCI requiring biosci majors to take biochemistry, organic chemistry and organic chemistry lab at the very minimum during our sophomore winter quarter — affectionately nicknamed “hell quarter” — I’d like to believe that professional schools have us go through these measures to develop the character that’s crucial in the future.

Very few doctors have a perfect GPA or MCAT score, but all of them at some point have hit road bumps in their academic careers. Perhaps how they addressed them and recovered from them is more important than the road bumps themselves.

A good doctor isn’t necessarily an organic chemistry guru who spent summers building orphanages in third-world countries. A good doctor is someone who can face the unknown with compassion, tenacity and strength, qualities that are continuously emphasized by our faculty and our peers.

While brutal at times, competition is a vital part of my major. Even more important, though, is the understanding that while perfection should be striven for, it doesn’t always have to be achieved.

 

Brittany Pham is a second-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at brittaqp@uci.edu.