» Informatics combines aspects of software engineering, human-computer interaction, and the study of organizations and information technology. » In European universities, informatics is the term most often used for computer science. » Computer science studies computers; informatics studies computers and people.
Computing and information technology play an increasingly pervasive role in our daily lives. Informatics is based on recognizing that the design of this technology is not solely a technical matter, but must focus on the relationship between the technology and its use in real-world settings. That is, informatics designs solutions in context, and takes into account the social, cultural and organizational settings in which computing and information technology will be used.
2. What topics are part of informatics?
These aspects of computer science form the core of informatics: software engineering, information retrieval and management, programming languages, human-computer interaction, computer-supported collaborative work, ubiquitous computing, privacy and security, and the effects of technology on society.
At its periphery, informatics touches upon many different disciplines, including management, digital arts, visualization, economics, social science, cognitive science, organizational computing, medical informatics, game technology, and many others.
Over the past decade, the field of computer science has expanded dramatically. Today, four years is not enough to cover every aspect of the field in depth.
Recognizing this, the school has added five new degrees to its long-standing B.S. in Information & Computer Science:
- B.S. in Computer Science & Engineering (together with the Henry Samueli School of Engineering)
- B.S. in Computer Science (solely within the school of ICS)
- B.S. in Informatics (also within ICS)
- B.S. in Business Information Management (together with the Paul Merage School of Business)
- B.S. in Biomedical Computing
The B.S. in Informatics complements the other degrees by focusing on the upper layers of information and computer science.
Students in Computer Science & Engineering choose to focus on the lower layers (e.g., hardware design, embedded systems, computer networks); in Computer Science, the middle layers (e.g., theory, databases, artificial intelligence); in Informatics, the upper layers (e.g., software engineering, human-computer interfaces, organizational information systems).
These programs are not mutually exclusive; each program draws some topics from all three layers. Students in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences can pursue the degree program that best suits their interests, abilities, and goals.
Traditional computer science concerns itself primarily with the internal features, structure and behavior of computer systems. The Informatics major addresses the relationship between what is inside the computer and what is outside.
Informatics courses cover programming languages, information retrieval and management, human-computer interaction, and the architecture, design, development, and analysis of software.
The Informatics major also addresses the broad set of issues surrounding design, ranging from initial requirements gathering to estimating and measuring the impact of alternative solutions, all from a multi-disciplinary perspective that draws from computer science, information science, organizational science, social science and cognitive science. See this New York Times article.
5. How is Informatics different from a major in Information Technology (IT)?
The Informatics program at UCI is a Bachelor of Science degree. It has many courses in common with UCI's other computer science degree programs.
Informatics is a resolutely technical degree that also pays attention to the context in which the technology is deployed.
IT programs vary in their content: Most focus on end-user solutions, some are inherently application-based, some are business-oriented, while others include the scientific foundations covered by UCI's Informatics degree.
We encourage you to compare our curriculum to any IT programs you are considering.
The Informatics major welcomes all students with an interest in technical solutions to real-world problems. Some Informatics majors live and breathe computers, but many others find learning technical material supports their broader interests in designing systems for real-world users, organizations, and social situations.
Many traditional CS programs have such an intense focus on small-scale problems and computational infrastructure that students with broader backgrounds and interests may feel excluded.
The Informatics program was built from the ground up to address this issue, in the context of a U.S. Department of Education FIPSE grant. It contains a brand-new year-long immersive introductory course, in which we take a very different approach to teaching the basics of informatics, one rooted in real-world problems and less focused on issues of programming syntax, formalization and disconnected theory.
In addition, the program incorporates over 10 new courses and centers on problem-based learning. Every year concludes with an end-of year capstone project, to be publicly displayed and demonstrated for visitors from other schools, industry and government.
Informatics graduates will be able to design and coordinate the implementation of software systems. They do not just become programmers, hackers or tool users.
Instead, they are professionals who can do much more than just coding: They can interact with customers, listen to programmers and other technical personnel, assess and discuss the quality of designs, devise the best implementation techniques in a given situation, do quality control and adapt to changing requirements.
As a result, students will be exceptionally suited for advanced careers in information technology.
The term “informatics” is common in Europe and growing more so in North America. There are new Informatics programs at other schools, such as the University of Washington and Indiana University.
UCI’s Bren School is very well known to local industry and all of its programs are regarded with great respect. Our industry partners repeatedly tell us that Informatics majors are “exactly the kinds of graduates we are looking for.” Informatics graduates have taken jobs in start-up companies, management consulting firms, and large corporations in a variety of industries; they have also entered graduate school in computer science, software engineering, and human-computer interaction.
And if an employer hasn’t heard of informatics, that gives you something to talk about in your interview!
Informatics students have a distinct edge over graduates from traditional CS programs in an environment where programming jobs are moving offshore.
An Informatics major's client-centered design skills and focus on solutions appropriate for a particular organizational context are precisely the abilities that are hardest to farm out overseas or handle by telephone.
The demand in the United States for people with strong skills in designing solutions and systems is actually growing; see, for example, this article in the New York Times, this article at CIO.com, or this comprehensive report by the Association for Computing Machinery on "Globalization and Offshoring of Software: A Report of the ACM Job Migration Task Force".
You will find that, with an Informatics degree, you are especially competitie in the marketplace.
Students should have strong reading and writing skills and be able to think freely, creatively and systematically.
Written communication plays a significant part throughout the Informatics degree program, as does the critical and logical evaluation of alternative solutions.
The Informatics major is carefully constructed to bring forward the principles of solution design, paying close attention to the way in which solutions are structured.
Programming is just one aspect of that and the major introduces all the necessary skills at a manageable pace. Labs in the first course include teamwork, in-personassistance, and a variety of other support for students.
Students who do already have some programming experience will also find new concepts, even in the very first course.
Mathematics is one foundation of computer science. If you don’t feel comfortable reasoning quantitatively and formally, we encourage you to work on improving that ability; some of our courses will help with that.
The math involved in Informatics is mostly logic and what’s called “discrete math,” focusing less on calculations and more on systematic reasoning.
Informatics students will build strong skills in both design and implementation. To be a good designer you need a concrete grasp of your building materials; this includes programming, as much as in any other major in the Bren School.
However, our focus will be less on infrastructure than on solutions to real-world problems, less on isolated tool-building and more on designing and building realistic systems in context.
Not at all; the fact that its emphasis is different does not mean that it is any easier. The Informatics program provides constant opportunities for students to challenge themselves and expand their abilities in many different areas.
The Informatics faculty has high expectations for student effort and quality of work.
But the Informatics faculty is also devoted to supporting their students and giving them the tools they need to succeed in the program, as shown by the many teaching and mentoring awards the faculty have received.
The Bren School Student Affairs Office can provide you with answers.
The office can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and by telephone at 949-824-5156.
Doctoral students currently work with our faculty on various aspects of informatics and receive the existing Ph.D. degree in Information & Computer Science.
More information is avaliable on the Department's graduate page.
The existing M.S. program supports work in Informatics. Interested applicants should indicate a specialization of Arts/Computation/Engineering or Informatics.
More information is avaliable on the Department's graduate page.
Please contact the Department of Informatics.