Following the input from the Rating Conferences that I wrote about in the last blog the MSc curriculum revision project team found ourselves going around in circles:

  • Core courses or not? And if so how many? And what makes a course “core”?
  • Specializations or not? Or Minors? (And is there a difference?)
  • More breadth or more depth? More science or more engineering? More fundamental or more modern? More structure or more freedom?
  • Which brought us back to core courses or not? and around we went again.

To break the deadlock, Lucio suggested we all go away and design our ideal MSc study plan, which we would then share to see if we reached a consensus. While I was a bit skeptical by this stage that I would ever be able to agree even with myself about this, I didn’t have a better suggestion. So I spent the next rainy Saturday curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas contemplating what I would most like to learn about if I had a year or two without lots of committees. (Irrelevant aside, which I know I’ve grumbled about before: If you are old, half-way reasonable and not male, you are really, really popular for committees).

Now I’m a big fan of the Thomas Young Centre for the Theory and Simulation of Materials in London — they’re an interdisciplinary network of around 100 research groups from four London Colleges (Imperial, King’s, Queen Mary University and University College London) all interested in materials modeling — so I decided to snoop around the website of their Doctoral School. To my delight, I found my dream MSc, on Theory and Simulation of Materials, sitting right there.

The Theory and Simulation of Materials MSc course, based at Imperial College, is a 12-month, 90-credit point course that provides a foundation in theoretical materials physics and its applications in simulations across length and time scales. Nice! There’s not much flexibility; courses are required in seven core subjects, from which four are chosen to continue in more depth. But given the topics — mathematics, equilibrium, transformations, electronic structure, field theory, simulations and computational and numerical methods — I would hate to have to leave something out! I fiddled with the numbers a bit and added another research project to bring the credit points up to 120 then submitted my homework to our studies coordinator, Sara.

Fortunately for those of you who are horrified by the idea of a year and a half of materials modeling, the draft curricula of the other project team members were entirely different from mine and very similar to each other. We quickly converged to a concept of 30 credits of core courses, composed of “substantial” courses (that is more than just a couple of credits) from within the Materials Department, a similar number of broadly defined electives, of which half could form a minor emphasis, rounded out by projects and internships plus the ETH-required “Science in Perspective“.

So what’s next? Well, Sara put together a summary based on these ideas, which will be shared with the Materials Department teaching commission at its meeting on March 18th. I’m sure there will be a lot of animated discussion and useful feedback, that I hope will move us forward rather than round in more circles…

About Nicola Spaldin

Nicola Spaldin is the professor of materials theory at ETH Zürich. She is a passionate science educator, former director of her department’s study program, and holder of the ETH Golden Owl Award for excellence in teaching. She developed the class of materials known as multiferroics, which combine simultaneous ferromagnetism and ferroelectricity, and when not trying to make a room-temperature superconductor, can be found playing her clarinet, or skiing or climbing in the Alps.
This entry was posted in Education, Materials Science. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *