Undergraduate Programs: The Duke Difference

December 04, 2019


By Laura Ertel

"We’re looking to train next-generation computer scientists who can really make their impact felt across society: visionary individuals who are energized by thinking about the broad implications of computing."

Jun Yang, PhD
Associate Chair, Professor of Computer Science

When you choose Duke Computer Science, you’re not only joining one of the top 25 computer science programs in the country – you’re also joining Duke University, one of the world’s leading academic institutions, with premier programs across a wide range of disciplines. That’s important, because every field relies on and can benefit from computing.

Duke Computer Science provides students with a top-tier education in theory and fundamentals, and helps you understand how to apply this knowledge to address the challenges facing society in whatever field you choose to pursue. Whether you’re interested in computer science as a career, or you want to apply these tools to make a difference in another field, we’ve got the program for you.

See the bigger picture: Unrivalled interdisciplinary focus

No university has a stronger commitment to interdisciplinary study and research than Duke. This commitment creates exciting opportunities for our computer science students. Duke is home to world-class professional schools and programs in business, law, medicine, public policy, environment, engineering, science, the arts and humanities. From classes that span departments and units, to interdisciplinary majors and programs, to research projects that bring together undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from a range of disciplines to tackle complex issues, Duke offers unparalleled opportunities to explore your interests, broaden your horizons, and find new ways to apply computing for the benefit of society.

You can experience that commitment to interdisciplinarity in your very first class. We are super-charging our intro CompSci class in Spring 2020, with an even greater interdisciplinary focus that reaches far beyond the basics of programming to cast computing in a broader context. Co-taught by faculty from several Duke departments, this course explores the impact of computing on fields as varied as neuroscience, affective computing, and digital humanities. It will open your mind to new ways to apply what you’re learning to scientific applications and societal issues.

We think the “bigger picture” of computing is so important that we envision teaching introductory computer science to all Duke students, regardless of background or interests. We encourage you to take our introductory courses even if you don’t see yourself majoring in Computer Science.

Chart your own path: Multiple courses of study to fit your interests

"I chose Duke for its strength across a variety of departments. Whether you want to study theoretical computer science, do user experience/interface, design software, or work with hardware, you can do that at Duke with world-class faculty. And, the community here is collaborative, inspiring and supportive. The friendships and connections you form here will last a lifetime."

Caroline Wang, Class of 2020
Double major in Computer Science and Math, 2019 Goldwater Scholar

There’s no one exactly like you. So why should you be shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all curriculum? At Duke Computer Science, we’ve made it easy to chart your own academic path based on your personal interests, and we’ll be here to help you along the way.

Whether you want to go directly into software development and data science, or apply these skills to another discipline, we’ve got an educational pathway for you. In addition to our popular Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts majors, Computer Science offers two minors and a double major with Electrical & Computer Engineering. Within our majors, we offer concentrations in Software Systems and Data Science, and we are developing more. We also offer an interdepartmental major (IDM) in Data Science jointly with the Statistics department, and we are developing several new IDMs with Math, Linguistics, and Ethics, for example. Have a unique interest that’s not covered by existing programs? At Duke, you can even design your own individualized program of study.

Duke Computer Science offers courses and learning opportunities at all levels. Whether you arrive here with extensive software development experience, or you are entirely new to coding (or somewhere in between), you’ll find a welcoming environment and collaborate spirit among your fellow students and faculty.

Roll up your sleeves: Hands-on research, at a level uncommon for undergrads

Undergraduate research opportunities abound at Duke. Over the summer, you can join the CS+, Data+, and Code+, which are 10-week summer project experiences for undergraduates interested in exploring computational and data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. During the academic year, you can participate in Bass Connections, one of Duke University’s most unique educational programs predicated on collaborative and interdisciplinary inquiry. It gives students from all of Duke’s schools a chance to tackle complex societal problems alongside world-class faculty. In a current Bass Connections project, Computer Science and Public Policy students and faculty are applying computing to fight the spread of misinformation by creating a real-time fact-checker for live audio. In another, on “moral artificial intelligence,” the team is exploring hard questions like: How do you make algorithms more unbiased and ethical in terms of decision-making? Bass Connections offers projects and courses within a variety of themes, and we’ll definitely encourage you to take part in this innovative Duke program.

Motivated students can also work directly with Duke faculty on projects in their area of interest, and many times these projects have led to cutting-edge research results published in premier venues. Recent examples range from a new randomized algorithms framework for determining how well-connected a network is, to an open-source software for designing proteins and predicting antibiotic resistance mutations.

Team up to solve actual challenges: Real-world experiences that prepare you for the future

You’ll learn a lot in your classes and labs. But we really want you to understand how to apply what you’re learning to the challenges that face us all.

We work closely with industry partners and units throughout Duke to give you a whole host of opportunities to identify and solve actual problems that arise in the worlds of business, law, medicine, health care and more. In CompSci 408 (Delivering Software: from Concept to Client), for example, you and your teammates might develop an innovative software solution for an actual industry client. Example projects include a health screening app for women in Kenya and an augmented-reality (AR) app of a campus tour featuring a virtual Blue Devil. In each case, you’ll meet directly with your clients to understand their needs, then work with your team to conceptualize, develop, deliver and demonstrate the finished product.

In addition to summer research opportunities, many of our Computer Science majors take part in summer internships, often starting right after freshman or sophomore year. (Don’t worry:  We can help you find a great placement!) These experiences, both exciting and intense, will help prepare you for whatever career path you choose. Options include the Duke Technology Scholars Program, aimed at increasing diversity in tech fields, which offers yearlong programing and summer internships in Silicon Valley and other cities, and Code+, which gives undergrads a chance to work alongside Duke IT professionals to address real-world needs of the university and surrounding community. Internship experiences not only look great on your resume, but they also help you make connections to potential employers and mentors you’ll rely on for years to come.

Because the ability to work as part of a team is essential no matter what career path you choose, all of our programs emphasize collaboration, both within Computer Science and around the university. Many Computer Science core courses incorporate team projects, and some let you propose and design your own projects. Student-driven topics are highly creative and run the gamut. For example, student teams in CompSci 316 (Introduction to Databases) developed apps to manage tenting in Krzyzewskiville (a Duke basketball tradition!), and to address the bystander effect in assaults by making it easy to report anonymously. Students in CompSci 216 (Everything Data) analyzed data ranging from crime statistics to religious texts. Students in CompSci 290 teamed up to compete in data science competitions, and recently won the CVPR-NTIRE competition for single-image super-resolution and the PoetiX competition for computer-generated poetry.

Make your own impact

If you’re inspired by the prospect of finding new ways to use computing to make a difference in the world, Duke is the place for you.

Whether you choose a career in computing or another field, whether you plan to start your own business or continue your studies, you’ll graduate with the knowledge, skills, connections and mindset to give you an edge for what’s to come.

Sound exciting? We invite you to start your journey.

Videos

YouTubeWant to learn more now? Hear undergraduate students talk about their experience at Duke Computer Science in these videos: Consider Duke Comp Sci for undergraduate study.