UIUC MCS - CS 598 Review - Foundations of Data Curation

Navigating the Theoretical Depths of Data Curation: An Easy Yet Underwhelming Journey Through CS 598


4 min read

UIUC MCS - CS 598 Review - Foundations of Data Curation


  • TLDR: CS 598 Foundations of Data Curation at UIUC was surprisingly easy and overly theoretical, making it a good elective for those seeking to complete their master's degree requirements, despite its limited practical utility.

  • Difficulty: Very easy

  • Opinion: Disliked

  • Weekly workload: 5 hours

  • Semester: Fall 2023


In the Fall of 2023, I enrolled in CS 598 Foundations of Data Curation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), driven by a curiosity to deepen my understanding of data management and its pivotal role in data science.

This course promised a comprehensive exploration of data curation, a field that ensures the usability, reliability, and efficacy of data across various scientific domains. Here, I share an honest reflection of my journey through this course, contrasting the syllabus's ambitious promises with the reality of my experience.

CS 598 banner

Course Overview

CS 598 aimed to arm its students with a thorough grasp of both the theoretical and practical aspects of data curation. The syllabus painted a picture of a rigorous academic adventure, covering a wide array of topics from data modeling and integration to governance and security.

Notably, the course diverged from traditional textbook-based learning, opting instead for a rich selection of weekly readings to complement its lecture videos. This structure, we were told, would require a commitment of 10-12 hours each week, a testament to the course's supposed depth and intensity.

Expectations vs. Reality

The expectations set by the syllabus were, to put it mildly, not quite met. Far from the demanding academic endeavor I had braced for, I found the course surprisingly easy.

The anticipated weekly workload seldom exceeded five hours, even when accounting for the occasional spikes associated with project deadlines. This discrepancy between expectation and reality was the first of many surprises.

Course Structure and Content

The course unfolded through weekly lecture videos, quizzes, and four major assignments, culminating in a final exam. Each element was designed to reinforce the theoretical foundations of data curation, with a significant emphasis on written explanations over technical problem-solving.

The open-book nature of the course materials, including lectures, quizzes, and notes, was a welcome policy, albeit one that perhaps contributed to the course's overall lack of challenge.

Personal Takeaways and Challenges

Despite the ease with which I navigated the course, I emerged from the experience with mixed feelings. The class was undeniably easy, yet it was precisely this lack of difficulty that underscored its limited utility.

The heavily theoretical focus left me questioning the practical applications of what I had learned; the connection between the course content and real-world data curation challenges often felt tenuous at best.

The projects, while not difficult, were mired in nitpicky requirements that seemed more pedantic than educational. This dissonance between the course's theoretical ambitions and its practical value was, for me, its most glaring shortfall.


Reflecting on my semester with CS 598 Foundations of Data Curation, I find myself in a peculiar position. On one hand, the course fell short of my expectations, offering a theoretical exploration that rarely touched down into the realm of practical application. On the other, its ease makes it an appealing option for those seeking an additional 500-level course to round out their master's degree requirements.

While I wouldn't recommend the course to someone looking for a rigorous or directly applicable skill set in data curation, for those in need of a manageable elective to complete their graduate studies, CS 598 might still hold value.

More Reviews

Check out uiucmcs.org for more reviews of MCS courses. I don't know who maintains this site, but it's a good review collection from many semesters.

I have also written up a CS 427 review, a CS 435 review, a CS 498 Cloud Computing review, a CS 416 Data Visualization review, and a CS 513 Data Cleaning review.

Banner Credit

The banner was generated using the UIUC LinkedIn Banner Generator. It is an awesome tool if you need an Illinois-themed banner for anything.

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