Should I take a hard college course that is not needed but may be useful later?
January 19, 2011 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Should I take a hard college course that is not needed but may be useful later?

I am currently finishing up my last semester for my biology bachelors degree.

My current plan is to get into a physicians assistant program after I take a break from college (I have been going for awhile now). I am currently enrolled in all the prereqs for PA school and have some room to take additional courses which will not affect the amount I pay but will increase my workload (playing for 12 credits is the same as paying for 18 credits).

I have taken a computer science course because I think it may be extremely useful in this economy for in case I don't get into PA school or for part time work and such.

I am currently enrolled in the second class compsci 225 (Intro to compsci second semester), biochemistry, human anatomy and physiology, and some kinesiology courses.

Since this is my last semester I cannot take all the classes necessary for a computer science minor.

My question is:
Is it worth it to take the second class of computer science? It is not necessary for my degree, I have a partial interest in it, but the work load is enough that it may affect my grades in the other classes (I will also be working part or full time) and am not sure if I can keep up in all 3 of these hard classes.

Just from the first semester I am able to write small applicatoins, simple programs for phones (which is why I took programming in the first place) and know quite a bit more about java and its usefulness.

I have a feeling most answers will revolve around focusing on one path, PA school. I think it is very important but with today's economy I think diversity is a very important asset, and having a backup plan makes me feel safe.
posted by Takeyourtime to Education (14 answers total)
I say no. programming is not really helpfull unless you are going to do it for a career.

Also programming is something you can do yourself outside of school. I say your money is better spent somewhere else.
posted by majortom1981 at 3:33 PM on January 19, 2011

I can't speak to the value of taking the course, but can you audit it or take it pass/fail? That way you would be able to take it, but if you felt it was compromising your other grades, you could spend less time on it without it bringing down your gpa or having it look bad on your transcript.
posted by geegollygosh at 3:42 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a professional software developer. Most employers either are looking for someone with a full BS in CS or EE or a significant amount of professional experience. One additional CS class will not really improve your chances of employment as a software developer. If you want to learn programming as a hobby, there are many good books available in addition to web sites.

Also, the "hard" CS classes generally don't come until later in the curriculum (e.g. compilers, operating systems).
posted by kenliu at 3:43 PM on January 19, 2011

Is it worth it to take the second class of computer science? It is not necessary for my degree, I have a partial interest in it

The answer depends a lot on what the specific content of the CS course is; "Intro to CS" sounds like kind of a puff class if it's not followed up by algorithms, data structures, etc., and so I doubt it would be worth much as a credential. But if the stuff you learn in the course is really useful, then it could be good in a substantive way.

Realistically in a vocational sense it probably doesn't matter much if the miscellaneous "part time work" you're going for ends up being, realistically, administrative or data-entry related. They would care about more prosaic things like expertise with MS Office, which I doubt is on the list in your CS program.
posted by rkent at 3:44 PM on January 19, 2011

Since it doesn't increase the amount you pay, you might try switching to an audit. Typically, the prof has to approve the paperwork so that you're not taking a seat from a student who wants credit. Just explain what you've told us and also say that you want to hear lectures on basic concepts that autodidact programmers frequently miss out on: design patterns, recursion, computational complexity, etc.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2011

I say no. programming is not really helpfull unless you are going to do it for a career.

I disagree - I think if you are going to be using a computer for any significant amount of time it is extremely useful. I think anyone in any field of science, or in a profession that uses computers should take a programming class in their undergrad.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 3:52 PM on January 19, 2011

I'd audit it. Even if you aren't getting the full credential (the minor) you can list it as something you're knowledgeable about in the computer skills section of your resume.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 3:57 PM on January 19, 2011

What about other options that might be more broadly useful in your intended career or in some other career down the line? A statistics course, for instance?
posted by gurple at 4:01 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

So look I say this as an SW engineer. Taking a second level programming course won't do you much good, even for learning programming, if you're not taking the classes that follow it. Those courses are designed to be part of a large curriculum not really taken in a vacuum.

If you want to take a single course, I'd look for something a bit more self contained. Is there an HTML/Javascript class? Intro to Linux? Intro to Matlab?
posted by bitdamaged at 4:02 PM on January 19, 2011

If you ever seeing yourself doing anything researchy, it might be useful. If there is anything bioinfomaticsish available to you, I'd steer that route myself.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:02 PM on January 19, 2011

My dad has been a PA since the inception of the program. His use of the computer consists of paperwork and Medal of Honor. Programming would be as useful to his work duties and his employers about as much as a biology degree would be to a cartographer who specializes in geology.

But, I rolled significant machining coursework into engineering, engineering into cooking, and cooking and engineering into economics, so dependant on how you write your future narative, it could be fun, if not useful too.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:10 PM on January 19, 2011

I agree with others that one more CS course will not get you hired in anything related to software developing, so it's not a good "backup" for that. However, I do think programming is extremely useful, especially if you ever want to get into any sort of science research, so it might make you more marketable in that area, if you wanted that to be a backup. However, if you wanted experience in that, a course in the CS department may be less useful depending on the material covered (because it's supposed to be part of a series, as mentioned). Are there programming courses geared towards scientists and engineers? That might teach you application of programming (which can easily be learned on your own, as well). Another good thing to know is statistics, if you haven't taken that already.
posted by lacedcoffee at 4:52 PM on January 19, 2011

So, another professional programmer here.

That course is literally completely useless as any sort of career-building thing. Anything short of years of individual study, or a full degree, is useless.

However, there are computers all around us. And knowing how they "think" is a valuable skill to have. My ex-wife, a nurse, regularly mentioned that she was glad she'd taken an intro programming course simply because it gave her such insight into what actually went on with the computers around her. It also gave her confidence in working with them. And trust me, there's plenty of computer skills now required in a hospital thanks to electronic medical records.
posted by Netzapper at 7:13 PM on January 19, 2011

I'd say don't take a CS course. Take advantage of this last chance in undergrad to take a structured look at something that is just for furnishing the leisure side of your brain: art history, drama, pottery, geology, anthropology, anything that captures your attention. Once you're in your professional program and start your working life, it could be a long time before you get another chance to investigate something like this.
posted by Anitanola at 9:49 PM on January 19, 2011

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