Computer Science Majors Research Skills

What Should Computer Science Majors Know?

By the time they graduate all majors in Computer Science should be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and use information effectively and ethically. Specifically they should be able to:

  • Negotiate the information resources available at Smith, on-line, and in the profession;
  • Recognize, evaluate, and apply current research in the computer science literature;
  • Maintain the technical skills they will need as professionals to keep abreast of new innovations in technology;
  • Communicate the fruits of their work effectively to others;
  • Use information literacy skills in self-directed and lifelong learning.

Writing Intensive Classes

Students who have taken writing intensive classes should already have learned basic information and be able to:

  • Define and articulate the need for information and identify a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information beyond the web search engine
  • Identify some kinds of information they need -- typically writing intensive courses focus on non-scientific types of information such as biographical, historical, or literary -- and to know where to find it. In other words, they should be familiar with various electronic resources, particularly the MLA Bibliography, and some reference books. They should also be aware that web search engines are often inadequate for scholarly research.
  • Articulate and apply initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources -- what is a source's reliability? Who wrote it? When? Who published it?
    Students should be able to distinguish between popular and scholarly materials in a variety of formats such as books, periodical literature, and websites.
  • Acknowledge and cite the sources used in conducting research for an assignment using an acceptable style guide. Citations are appropriate in that students can discern when it is necessary to cite sources, and provide citations in an appropriate and consistent format. Students can identify ethical and unethical citations, per the online plagiarism quiz.

These skills may be regarded by all students as a base for further study. Help is available through the Smith College Libraries' Ask a Librarian options.

Beginning Computer Science Majors

First- and second-year computer science students should be able to:

  • Access a variety of technical resources as necessary, including general references, technical handbooks and specifications, and peer-reviewed journals;
  • Document programs according to standard conventions for review by others;
  • Evaluate the quality of web-based information and situations where it may appropriately be used;
  • Evaluate the merits of the source of information as well as the credentials of the author(s);
  • Recognize the expertise of reference librarians and ask for help at appropriate times.  The library maintains a listing of computer science resources.

Advanced Students

Advanced computer science students should be able to:

  • Document sources accurately, using correct and consistent bibliographic format. No single format is standard in computer science; therefore the important thing is to use any given format in a correct and consistent way.
  • Conduct a literature review on a specific topic;
  • Distinguish between peer-reviewed sources and other types of information in computer science research;
  • Explain how knowledge is produced in scientific fields, and the importance of peer review for advancing knowledge;
  • Use sophisticated search strategies including the use of multiple keywords, Boolean operators, truncation, multiple searches, multiple databases, and other strategies where necessary. They should be able to follow citations and cited references to obtain additional articles.
  • Read scientific papers efficiently, making use of abstracts and conclusions to discern when it is useful to obtain or read an entire work.
  • Read scientific papers critically, distinguishing among facts and opinions, comparing a variety of sources to evaluate reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias.
  • Validate understanding and interpretation of information through testing and/or discourse with others.
  • Present data in oral, visual, and written forms clearly and professionally, selecting appropriate media and formats for the intended audience.

In Which Classes Should Students Learn These Skills?

Basic skills listed above will be expected in all computer science courses.  The advanced skills listed will be a focus of the 300-level seminar courses, and may also appear in 200-level courses.

In addition, the computer science department works closely with students in conducting original research. Students may work in faculty labs or, with faculty approval, initiate an independent research project. In both of these instances students are routinely asked to conduct literature searches in order to contribute to the research enterprise. Students who work with faculty on research often enroll in Computer Science 400 (Special Studies) or Computer Science 430d (Honors Thesis).

Ethical Use of Information

Students should develop an appreciation for the privacy implications inherent in systems which manage information belonging to others.  Students must also learn how to make clear distinctions between received knowledge and the production of new knowledge. The ethical use of information means that students must be able to acknowledge when they incorporate the work of others into their own work. Students should be able to identify when and how to acknowledge contributors to original work, awarding authorship and acknowledging other assistance appropriately.

Reviewed May 1, 2013