Oxford takes around 12 people every year for Computer Science and Philosophy. Doing a Computer Science and Philosophy degree leaves you in a small minority of people, so it is difficult to glean an insight into what studying the degree is like!
What will my schedule be like?
In your first year you will have approximately 10 lectures a week, a mixture of computer science and philosophy, although computer science takes up 80-85%. Although you are exposed to some pure philosophy, most of the philosophy is orientated towards computer science: such as logic, and investigations into Alan Turing.
What work will I do for Computer Science?
For computer science, especially in the first year, you will answer problem sheets that contain mostly mathematical questions. You will have up to 3 of these per week, plus a logic problem sheet that falls more on the philosophical side. These problem sheets are designed to take between 6-8 hours a week, and require an understanding of the lecture content – attained by further reading and assimilation of the lecture notes.
For example, you may have a logic problem sheet following up on a logic lecture. You will have to reread the chapter in the set text to fully understand the content. Currently at Oxford this book is Halbach’s The Logic Manual. You can also find further resources and reading on the extended reading list, and the internet will also provide lots of explanatory videos and worked examples.
Having spent about 4 hours doing this, you will then try and attempt the sheet. Don’t expect to get everything right immediately – or even ever. The problem sheets are designed to challenge and stretch you; they are not like the exercises in your school textbook!
You will then hand in your problem sheet to your tutor, and they will mark it before the tutorial. For problem sheets (including the problem sheets you get for Computer Science modules as well), the follow-up tutorials will be between an hour and two hours, and will usually be in small groups of two or three.
The tutor will generally go through some of the basic content, getting you to explain concepts either verbally or on a whiteboard. They will then go through the more complicated areas of the sheet that you or your tutorial partners struggled with. After a tutorial, you will want to spend some time assimilating and re-attempting these harder questions.
What about philosophy?
Because you’re studying philosophy, you’ll also have essays to complete. An essay will come with a weekly reading list, and you want to ideally complete between 4 and 6 pieces of the reading on this list. You will then have a choice of essay questions, one of which you must write for a tutorial. These essays vary but approximately 2000-2500 words is the average for a first-year essay.
In your first year of Computer Science and Philosophy, you will study general philosophy. An example of a question you may answer is:
Is it a contradiction to suppose God does not exist?
This will be accompanied by a suggested reading list. In this case, this may include works such as Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and Swinburne’s Is There a God? You will not be expected to read the whole text, but the reading list will come with recommended chapters and sections that will help you answer the essay question. To get an idea of what philosophy reading will be like, take a look at our philosophy recommended reading.
How is the course examined?
You will sit 5 written exams at the end of your first year, spanning all of the computer science and philosophy content that you have so far covered over the year. The philosophy papers will be essay-based, whereas the computer science and logic papers will be more mathematical, asking you to analyse and prove conjectures. You may get some long-answer questions in the computer science papers, where you will be asked to explain a programme or algorithm, but these will be 10-mark explanations, not full essays.
Conclusion: is it all worth it?
As you can tell, Computer Science and Philosophy is an intense degree, but as with all subjects at Oxford, if you structure your week carefully, then you will have bundles of time to engage in other extracurricular activities! It is also incredibly rewarding, and the joint honours provides you with a huge range of knowledge and understanding.