What is in a degree? An Exploration of my Degree in Graphs

What is in an Information Systems Degree

people throwing graduation hats
Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash

Between the national efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 and delayed job start date, I’ve had a lot of time to look back and graph the past 4 years that I spent getting my degree (FYI: from School of Information Systems (SMU)). In essence, what follows is a representation of my transcript in graphs.

Reading Notes:

  • “Module” is interchangeable with “class”, “course”
  • The modules in SMU are offered by different schools (which in other universities are called “faculties”)

1. Most of my time was spent in tech

Figure 1. Breakdown of Modules by Year and School
Figure 2. Breakdown of modules taken by school

My degree was a mishmash of everything — the information systems degree refuses to be technical enough to be the equivalent of a computer science degree, and does not classify cleanly into the business arena either.

2. Class participation and group work is not everything, not even most of it

Given the reputation that SMU has about its “seminar-style participatory education” and “business-oriented culture”, I expected class participation and group related grading to make up a higher proportion of my overall module grade.
That was not what was observed, at least in my transcript, these components (figure 3 and 4) were not consistently the most significant contributors to a module’s grades — individual assignments and exams make up a larger portion of my grade more often than not (figure 5 and 6).

Figure 3. Distribution of class participation weightage of module grade
Figure 4. Distribution of group component weightage of module grade

The far right exception where group project was 100% of my grade for the module was for the final year project. Without this data point, the mean value for percentage of grades dependent on group projects was 19%.

Figure 5. Distribution of individual assignments weightage of module grade
Figure 6. Distribution of exams (mid-term and final) weightage of module grade

That displayed, this distribution of grade components’ weightage is likely to be a result of the more technical nature of my field of study where most of my modules require more facts than discussion.

3. Foundations maketh the degree

Figure 7. The most common prerequisites and the number of modules that require them

The most important modules can arguably be the modules that are most often a pre-requisite to other more advanced modules. Software foundations and data management (figure 7) are both modules taken in year 1, which then become the basis of at least 9 other modules (nearly 10% of all modules taken) — doing well or at least a good understanding of the topics covered in these foundation modules will allow for an easier time understanding the advanced topics. Additionally, the concepts covered in these foundation modules are also the ones I find myself coming back to review the most often in both school and internship assignments.

4. Everything is related, in some way.

Figure 8. How topics taught in different modules relate to each other

(A clearer version of the map can be found here)

Most disciplines’ concepts do not exist in isolation, and humanities, business and technology can play together. The biggest skill that I have taken away from university might just be the ability to adapt to the different contexts that different disciplines demand, it made me a pretty decent generalist I dare say.

5. Connections were made.

Figure 9. Sources of LinkedIn connections

Majority of my connections were made directly due to the opportunities that university offered (classmates, school clubs etc.). As a matter of fact, even people that I got to connect with outside of university are indirectly linked to the fact that I in university — without being an undergraduate, I would not have the chance to obtain the internships that I did.

Beyond Numbers

There is only so much that can be graphed and there are many aspects that resist easy pictorial representation, such as internships, volunteering and overseas exchange — all of which are important for both personal and professional growth.

Perhaps, the best thing that university gave me is a good base of knowledge to further build upon and the confidence that I can learn whatever comes post graduation.

End Notes

  • The data used was manually compiled
  • The graphs were made with the python library matlibplot

Student of tech, working in tech.

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