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I'm a UK student who will soon be going to university and would like some advice from people who have already done this on what course to take.

I really enjoy the theoretical side of computer science, especially the more mathematical concepts. I do enjoy the other area such as algorithm design and programming as a hobby, but I wouldn't really want to be a programmer/tech support/algorithm designer as a job. Those sort of jobs are just not for me. I would prefer a research type job, maybe in quantum computing. I currently' finishing my A-levels in physics and further maths, and I'm expecting A*s in both fields.

Sorry if all this is a bit vague, but I would like some ideas from people about what the best degree is to take to get where I want, and what sort of jobs are out there. Also, if anyone knows what's some universities in UK to study this sort of thing at , I'd very much appreciate the advice.

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A lot of theoretical Comp. Sci. is based on some fairly different mathematics than the mathematics and physics you're currently working on.

My advice is not to pidgeonhole yourself too early. Take a wide variety of different courses in CS at Uni, and don't go straight for quantum computing - you might find you like theory of computation or programming languages better. There is a wide range of stuff available in theoretical CS and you probably haven't been exposed to most of it yet.

There are many great CS universities in Britain. Dave Clarke lists some good ones.

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In the UK, some of the universities to study at are Oxford, Cambridge, York and Imperial College London, though this list will vary depending on precisely which topic you are interested in. The group of Abramsky at Oxford does research in Quantum Computation, so going there and following courses he offers (and related ones) would certainly help you reach your goal.

It would be a good idea to go through the web sites of the computer science departments of the above mentioned universities and see whether they offer courses (or even a program) that heads in the right direction. Look not only at the descriptions of courses, but also of the personal web pages of the researchers, who will often have some description of their research interests, which may differ from the courses on offer, but will be available to study as you enter later phases of your study.

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    $\begingroup$ I would also add Edinburgh to that list. $\endgroup$ – Mark Reitblatt Jan 5 '11 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed. I'd accidentally restricted myself to England. $\endgroup$ – Dave Clarke Jan 5 '11 at 18:35
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Dave mentions some very good universities in the UK, but if it is quantum computing you are interested in, then you should definitely add Bristol to the list.

Now, I notice you mentioned that you were interested in quantum computing research. I should probably point out that a lot of researchers in that field come from a physics background, rather than having been CS undergrads. Perhaps this is something to consider? In many of the universities, quantum computing can be taken as an undergrad subject in both physics and cs (indeed I believe it is more commonly offered by physics departments than CS ones).

My experience of UK universities has only really been Oxford, where I worked for a number of years, and where I did my doctorate. There I know of at least 3 departments (Physics, Materials and Comlab) that offer QC courses to undergrads. Research groups are also spread out over a number of deartments, with theory research in at least 4 departments (Physics, Materials, Comlab and Maths). QC is an interdisciplinary field, so there are people coming at it from a lot of backgrounds. I think perhaps it is worth thinking about what you really want to do: Is your heart set on quantum computing, or is it more generally CS theory or physics or mathematics that holds interest for you? Certainly people come to QC from any of these backgrounds, so whichever course you pick, you are not ruling it out. Personally, I did theoretical physics at undergrad, then did my doctorate in a physicsy quantum computing theory group, but my research now is a mix of physics and TCS.

If you do decide to go the CS route, one important thing to note is that not all CS courses are created equal, and some will be much more mathematical than others, depending on the university. Taking a course that is heavily focused on software engineering is probably not a very good idea for the type of future research you seem to have in mind. It is probably worth keeping this in mind when choosing where to apply to.

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I studied computer science and physics (with minors in math and cognitive science) in undergrad, and now do graduate studies in quantum computing. I found that taking a wide variety of courses in both CS and physics prepared me pretty well, better than concentrating in one field or the other would have. Even the courses I thought useless, like programming and software engineering (from the CS side) or experimental methods (from the Physics side) allowed me to gain a wider appreciation of both fields. The main point I'd like to stress (that some of the other answers mentioned) is not to focus too much before you even started courses. Undergrad is a great opportunity to explore and find what you are passionate about. Fields like quantum computing are trendy right now, but there is no reason trying to go into them and do research if it is not what you are truly passionate about.

Before undergrad I came from a similar background as you: I did will in math and physics and what little CS I was exposed to. All my friends were going into CS, so when I started college I was going to concentrate on Physics and Political Science! After exposure to some great courses and professors, my interests drifted, and even now I am not sure if they are fully set. However, I am very happy to have gone to a school that wasn't overly focused on one field, it allowed me to develop my interests and learn from many great professors. At least early on, try to get some breadth in your curriculum.

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As a currently enrolled CS major student in the United States, all I can think is "YES! Computer Science is definitely for you!" Your curriculum will definitely differ based on what university you go to, but I felt that my education had a much greater emphasis on the theoretical aspects of CS than the "practical" aspects. Many of my peers despise that, but I don't mind it too much. If research is what you feel like you want to do, then go for it. CS can absolutely be a gateway into quantum computing and similar research fields. Based on what you've stated above, I can only predict that you would excel in this field if you want to.

However, the humanitarian in me can only think "NO! Don't do that!" It's not because I don't love my field of choice. I do. But in my humble opinion, college is a time of personal growth and challenge. In my opinion, it's not as much fun to keep doing things you're already good at. When you get to college you're likely to find many, many other subjects that interest you. You may suddenly find yourself more stimulated by something like French Linguistics than Computer Science ever could. If that happens, don't deny yourself the pleasure of doing something you didn't plan to.

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