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New graduate certificate in Computational and Information Science to be offered

The Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering began offering a new graduate certificate in Computational and Information Science in January. Students go through specialized training in numerical analysis, computer science and programming, software engineering and statistics and data modeling to complete the program.

Originally designed by computer science professor J.P. Singh, the certificate program recognizes computation as an important tool for research in the sciences, engineering and the humanities. The program focuses on practices in developing algorithms, programming and maintaining software systems and analyzing data sets, according to its website.

Florevel Fusin-Wischusen, the institute manager and administrator for the program, called the graduate certificate “the first-ever of its kind to be offered in the University.”

There are currently 25 students from 15 different departments enrolled in the certificate program, according to Fusin-Wischusen.

James Stone, program director and professor in the astrophysical sciences department, said the certificate program provides knowledge on the foundation of engineering.

“It’s a fundamental technique now for great research,” Stone said. “It’s a very practical and useful training to have.”

The certificate program was in development for several years as an unofficial grouping of related classes, Stone said. When this initial program received positive reviews from students, the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering started putting together a set of courses that would be equally popular and attract more students. The institute finally implemented the certificate program this year to properly recognize the efforts of students who undertake this additional training because its courses generally do not fall under the course requirements of most Ph.D. programs.

According to Stone, the certificate program is unique because of its interdisciplinary nature.

“It’s training that any student doing a Ph.D., even in humanities, can do,” he said. “It’s a collaborative project between faculty across the campus and the people taking these courses from all different departments.”

Student and faculty participants of the program come from diverse home departments covering a wide range in engineering, natural and social sciences and the humanities.

“Most other universities don’t have computation resources like Princeton does,” mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral candidate Kevin Chen GS ’14, the first student to complete the requirements for the certificate program, said.

Chen described his experiences with the program as “overwhelmingly positive” as he explained that most students who get the computation certificate start out their Ph.D. studies with little to no knowledge in computations but finish as experts.

“This certificate gives you a well-executed training on handling those tools so when you get down to the nitty-gritty details in computation research, you can focus on science without letting the computation slow you down or get in the way,” he said.

Stone said that he believed the program’s courses are great guides in helping students learn the material quickly and efficiently, turning them into better researchers with the available resources. Otherwise, students try to learn through books and other students, and this method may take longer time.

The certificate gives students an advantage in all job markets, Stone said. He said employers are interested in hiring candidates who have expertise in this field because many jobs today require high performance in research and data analysis.

Fusin-Wischushen said she hoped “more and more students from other departments will enroll and complete the requirements.”

Students undertaking this certificate program must complete two core courses that provide strong basic knowledge in scientific computation and one elective course offered by their home department that focuses on computation. Students are also expected to incorporate a significant computational component in their theses and conduct a seminar in their home department on their thesis research.

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