Computational Science & Engineering Graduate Degree Programs

This article introduces readers to the relatively new field of computational science and engineering and explains how graduate programs in the discipline work. Find out about admissions information and some of the career paths.

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Computational science and engineering (sometimes shortened to computational engineering or computational science) blends some elements from the computer science and computer engineering disciplines but is not equivalent to either. It is an emerging field that deals primarily with the creation of simulations and models for a wide range of purposes. Graduate degree holders in this field might find themselves working in anything from nuclear engineering to meteorology, creating simulations and computer models to help solve difficult problems for which designing a live experiment would not be possible.

Types of Degrees

Computational science and engineering degrees are usually only offered at the graduate level. Master of Science and PhD programs are available. Most programs use some variation of the 'computational science and engineering' name, but there are some variants with equivalent coursework. Some graduate programs in computational modeling, mathematical sciences with a computational science track, or high performance computing cover the same ground.

Coursework

Given the nature of the field, students should expect computational science and engineering degree programs to cover advanced math and elements of computer programming. However, since the field has such a wide range of practical applications, programs may also allow the student to take elective courses in a broad variety of natural sciences (such as chemistry and geology).

Core coursework examples in these programs includes data structures and algorithms, scientific computing, applied numerical methods, computational physics and parallel computing.

A PhD program in this discipline may ask students to focus on computation in a specific field or segment of industry, such as chemical engineering or nuclear science. Degrees of this nature are awarded by the relevant department.

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Admissions Information

Programs in this discipline usually ask applicants to have (or be close to finishing) a bachelor's degree. They may ask for a certain minimum GPA as well. Some programs specify that the student either have a bachelor's degree in a computer science or STEM field, or have a computer science minor (with a major in mathematics or an applicable natural science) or a roughly equivalent amount of credits in related computer science courses. Students should be comfortable with advanced mathematics and have some knowledge of computer programming in preparation for applying to these graduate programs.

These programs may also require that applicants take the GRE and submit letters of recommendation and/or a statement of purpose. International students may be asked to show English proficiency by taking the TOEFL.

Career Options

Some examples of fields that master's degree holders move on to include the aerospace industry, medicine, electronics, finance, computer software and data science. If a field has complex problems that need to be solved with tests that are more practical to run in a simulation than in real life, there is likely to be some need for computational scientists and engineers in it. PhD graduates have the option of moving on into academic research and teaching.

Though it draws on a combination of computer science, mathematics and the natural sciences, computational science and engineering is a unique discipline with very promising employment potential. Standards are high for those who pursue these graduate degrees, but the rewards can also be exceptional.

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