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Third year Computer Science student Jordan sat down with Dr Nick Pears, a lecturer who has been in the department for 22 years, to chat about York, Computer Science and adapting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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What do you love most about the city of York?

There's a lot to like - attractive buildings, history, cafes, pubs, cinemas, sports facilities, open spaces and river walks. It’s small enough to get everywhere on a bike - and big enough to be interesting when off a bike. As Goldilocks said - it’s ‘just right’.

What is your area of expertise?

Primarily computer vision – how can we equip computers with the ability to see – recognise people and objects, guide autonomous vehicles, and understand images in a general sense. Its closely linked with machine learning, as all high-performance vision systems use some form of learning – deep learning using neural networks currently works best. There’s lots of maths and coding involved and from a practical point of view, it’s about how to automate systems, using the sense of vision.

What are your other interests besides computer science?

You might have guessed that I like cycling a lot. I like tennis even more. I enjoy all kinds of music and play the piano a bit. I like reading popularised books by other academics – mainly natural sciences, but occasionally history, psychology and economics.

Can you tell us about the individual student projects you are supervising and how your students are approaching them?

I am supervising several projects, mainly to do with computer vision. This year these include: building a model of the human vocal tract using MRI images; detecting landmarks and contours on images of the human face; human gaze direction tracking - and detection, segmentation and classification of skin lesions from medical images. At the moment my supervisees are reading related literature, planning their projects and working out what software tools and programming languages to use, so that they can progress quickly from the start of Spring term.

What do you think the most interesting undergraduate module the department offers is?

Well, if you ask 10 students, you may get 10 different answers. I think that Forensic Analysis of Cyber Incidents is really interesting and anything to do with Artificial Intelligence I find very interesting.

Our 4th year masters students have been discovering Quantum Computation this term - where they learn about the pioneering quantum algorithms that promise a qualitative leap in computation power over conventional computers.

What advice would you give to a new student starting at York?

Know and understand what the aims and scope of each upcoming module is – plan your work so you feel in control – and try and get the balance between study and recreation right for you.

How does the Computer Science department support its students?

We have the supervision system where students see their supervisors on a one-to-one basis at the start and end of each term. This includes pastoral care as well as academic supervision. We have a staff-student forum for resolving issues that students raise with our programmes and we have the 'You Said, We Did' initiative which tracks the Department's response to issues raised by students.

What future goals do you have for the Department?

The Department holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Award in recognition of our work to promote gender equality and we're committed to make significant progress on many issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. We want to continue to be a leading UK Computer Science department by virtue of our learning environment, student employability, internationally leading research output and collaboration with industry.

What has the Department put in place to assist students during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We have recognised that our students have been away from school preceding university and that, for some, this will have impacted on some essential skills, such as maths skills. Therefore, we have provided additional but optional teaching support via Graduate Teaching Assistants to help students on mathematical aspects of their modules.

What has your experience with transitioning to working from home been like?

Small online groups can work well online given appropriate tools (such as an iPad for writing out maths) – although in larger groups it is sometimes hard to get full participation, which needs some thought. The change to online has been sudden - and we all have had to quickly learn a variety of approaches that allow us to do this well. I think that when the pandemic is over, we will need to reflect carefully on what aspects of the new online teaching methods we should keep and which we should do away with. It is essential to get student input on their learning experiences so that we make the right decisions.

Contact us

For any support or guidance on completing your journey to York, we're always close at hand.
+44 (0)1904 324000