Suppose someone has a math bachelors with a developing interest in AI research but has not taken a single computer science course.

Is it advisable to "start over" and try to be admitted to a masters program in computer science, perhaps by taking prerequisite courses as a non degree student somewhere?

Or is it possible to approach the field from the perspective of statistics, getting an MS in Data Science or Statistics and self-teaching programming and CS along the way, before applying to a CS PhD?

In other words, is there really any AI or machine learning research being done in most statistics departments?


In the field of AI, there are many mathematicians. For example, they may focus on the theoretical aspects of AI algorithms, e.g., non-convex optimization. Knowing how to program is a definite requirement, but I do not believe you need an entire degree for that.

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  • And certainly not a masters. – Buffy Jun 13 at 19:21

I am an assistant professor in data mining. My best students are always the ones with a strong background in mathematics. The mathematicians will acquire the necessary computer science skills along the way. The computer scientists will have bigger trouble getting up to speed with the required mathematics skills.

If you have a mathematics BSc degree, and you want to get into DM/ML/AI research, consider choosing an MSc/PhD programme where you can combine your interests. Maybe go for a double degree. Whatever you do, do not view your background in math as a drawback. You are in pole position w.r.t. CS students.

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  • I've heard this a lot but still don't quite understand why CS students are typically bad at math. – Bajie Sep 6 at 0:24
  • @Bajie It's not that they're bad per se. It's more that too many of them do not take the effort to become really good in math. Too many CS students come to the university to just learn to program some cool stuff, and too many of them only belatedly realize that (for example) in order to program a good game, you need graphics, and in order to program a good raytracer, you need linear algebra. Some CS students will tackle the challenge head-on, and those are the students you want. But others will not understand why they need to know so much math, and they'll fight having to learn. – Wetenschaap Sep 6 at 17:35

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