Student Profiles: Monim Wains
Degree: Computer Science and Philosophy
A Levels: Maths, Further Maths, Religious Studies, Computer Science, Physics
What do you enjoy the most about your course?
Computer Science and Philosophy (Comp Sci & Phil) is a very unique mix of courses, but I like how it lets me do both of the things I enjoy. The functional programming in Comp Sci is perhaps one of the most satisfying I have ever learnt – it’s just a beautiful way of thinking and writing code (trust me, that’s not an exaggeration). On the Philosophy side, I have encountered some really interesting new ways of thinking about ‘the big questions’, and the analytical style of Philosophy in Oxford is surprisingly useful for approaching those ideas.
How is your subject taught?
Comp Sci & Phil is a mix of a STEM and humanities subject, so it does a bit of both styles of teaching and learning. The Computer Science will have several lectures a week, usually a 2-3 per week per module. The lectures will come with problem sheets that are covered in tutorials (also 2-3 a week for Computer Science). You will also do some actual coding for practicals each term. These can be a good challenge and often have some interesting problems for you to think through.
Philosophy has less contact time than Comp Sci, usually only one lecture a week for the course you’re doing that term. Your courses will either be logic, or more general Philosophy. The two logic courses are much like Comp Sci, with problem sheets that require almost mathematical working. The general Philosophy and Turing modules (which is the one that stitches both sides of the course together) are essay based.
This will mean you are given a reading list which you have to work through in your own time. You use what you have read, and whatever else you know, to write an essay that answers a set question. You then have a tutorial where you go through the essay with your tutorial partner and the tutor. This is one of the best parts of the Philosophy course, because you will be discussing your ideas with the tutor, and you are fully expected to argue back and defend your points. Often, you may end up on a really interesting tangent that doesn’t have much to do with your original essay but is too interesting to ignore. This is the best part of a tutorial in my opinion.
How did you prepare for your interview?
The best advice I got myself was from a Maths tutor at an open day event: talk about your subject to your friends until you lose all of your friends. I spent way too much time telling my friends how Philosophy is a great subject, and getting myself into interesting conversations about either subject, either with me telling the other person about something I found cool, or them challenging my ideas and then having a discussion.
The interview, particularly Philosophy, is meant to be like a discussion where the tutors are trying to work out how you think, and whether you like your subject to the point where you will enjoy thinking about it as much as Oxford wants. So, talk to everyone about something you’ve found that you didn’t know before. Explain some new idea or technology to them. For computer science, the interview will likely be working through a problem out loud. You are meant to get stuck and confused at points, so explain what you’re thinking to someone, maybe a teacher, and that will be really useful.
What advice do you have for prospective students interested in studying your subject?
Great! This is a brilliant subject. Remember that Philosophy and Comp Sci are both very different at university, so brush up on your maths for Comp Sci, and think deeply about Philosophy that you’ve read.
Programming in your spare time is just a fun thing to do anyway, so I would recommend that, and remember that as a computer scientist, you’re there to think about programming as well as just writing code, so practice working out how to solve problems rather than just using trial and error to figure out what’s going wrong.
At Oxford, you are meant to question and criticise the biggest philosophers you can name, so practice thinking about whether you agree with what’s being said and see if you can break down arguments into each little claim that is being made. Often, something won’t fit right, and that’s what you go for!
What do you like the most about being an Orielensis?
Oriel is a beautiful college, small in size, and it feels like a great community. I’ve made friends over multiple year groups, and a massive part of that is just how much is going on in college. The student newspaper (The Poor Print – we’re online too!), the alternate ice-hockey team, rowing, and more, are all things I’ve been a part of myself just this year. And all of it is student run! The university is rich in opportunity, and Oriel is a highlight for Orielenses specifically. It’s going to sound cheesy, but it’s the other people at Oriel who keep it running and make it such a great place; come and be a part of it too!