An anonymous reader writes "I'm a fairly new physics professor at a well-ranked undergraduate university. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover there were no computer programming requirements for our majors. This has led to a series of fairly animated faculty curriculum conversations, driven by the question: to what extent should computer programming be a part of an undergraduate science education (in particular, physics)? This is a surprising line of questioning to me because in my career (dominated by research), I've never seriously even questioned the need. If you are a physics major, you learn to program. The exact language isn't so important as is flow control, file handling, basic methods/technique, basic resource management, and troubleshooting. The methods learned in any language can then be ported over to just about any numerical or scientific computational problem.
Read on for the rest of the reader's questions and his experiences dealing with faculty who have their own ideas.
tester dataThe reader continues, "I'm discovering the faculty are somewhat divided on the topic. There is even a bizarre camp that actually acknowledges the need for computer programming, but turns my 'any language' argument on its head to advocate the students do 'scientific programming' using Excel because it is 'easy,' ubiquitous, and students are familiar with it. They argue Excel is 'surprisingly powerful' with flow control and allows you to focus on the science rather than syntax. I must admit that when I hear such arguments I cannot have a rational discussion and my blood nearly boils. In principle, as a spreadsheet with simple flow control in combination with visual basic capabilities, Excel can do many things at the cartoon level we care about scientifically. But I'm not interested in giving students toys rather than tools. As a scientist raised on a heavy diet of open source software and computational physics, I'll hang my head in shame if our majors start proudly putting Excel down on their resumes. However, in the scientific spirit, perhaps I'm missing something. So I ask Slashdot, to what extent do you feel computer programming should be a part of an undergraduate science education? As a follow-up, if computing is important, what languages and software would best serve the student? If there are physics majors out there, what computing/programming requirements does your department have? My university is in the US, but how is this handled in other parts of the world?"