Alignment of students' interest and specialization

Posted by Maren Podewitz, Anne Conibear, on Oct. 6, 2022, 4:38 p.m.

Maren Podewitz

Faculty of Technical Chemistry, TU Wien, Austria

Challenge and goal

Students are perform much better if the research specialization in the BSc project and later on in their MSc degree align with their interests, career plans and (life) goals. However, they often pick a specialization based on the research topics they have already been in contact with.  The goal of this user case is to expose students to all research areas at the faculty to make a more informed decision on which specialization to chose.

Topic of the user case

Alignment of student's interest and career goals and their specialization in their BSc project

Local context (specific)

The students of technical chemistry at TU Wien, Austria, have a packed curriculum that covers the foundations of chemistry, such as basic concepts and theories of organic, inorganic and physical chemistry, while several subjects, for example theoretical chemistry, are not taught at the BSc level. Moreover, due to the nature of the BSc program, there is little to none reseach based teaching and not every principle investigator (PI) is involved in teaching at the BSc level. As a concequence, the students are not exposed to the full bredth of chemistry and chemical reseach at the faculty and they do not know all PIs of the research groups. Yet they have to decide which research group to join for the BSc project, which at TU Wien is regarded as a first step in the specialization. Many students continue to conduct their Master's and even PhD thesis in the same research group and few change the field.

The current situation at TU Wien has several implications for the students and for the reseach group and team leaders:

(i) students base their decision on which specialisation to pursue on the knowledge of the fields they have been exposed to.

(ii) researchers who do not teach at the BSc level or whose research areas and fields are not represented in the curriculum have a clear disadvantage in recruiting students.

To adapt the curriculum is a rather lengthy and slow process that takes months or even years, and the possibilities are rather limited due to the need to cover basic concepts of chemistry in the bachelor program.


Local CPD goals

The local CPD goal is to introduce all research group leaders and areas to the students to make a more informed decision on which group to join.


Needs defined in STEM-CPD Roadmap

3 choose an appropriate assessment method for their course
10 support students in socializing (specifically e.g. during a pandemic)
4 engage students and arouse interest for the discipline in the class
7 being able to bring out and correct misconceptions
11 stimulate discussion
3 inspire a positive attitude in their class.
4 make students feel special, included, safe and secure.
5 be interested in their students' progress.
11 organize / attend meetings of their own teaching team to discuss / reflect on the teaching methods and on the effect of those on students' learning.
4 attending hands-on workshops on specific continuous professional development (CPD) topics.
13 collaborating on a teaching innovation project.

CPD activities at the local university

A roadmap of our CPD activities is displayed in Figure 1. As a first course of action, we intend to evaluate whether other PIs encounter the same problem of not teaching at the BSc level or not teaching their respective research field. We will start with those researchers that launched their indepenent careers recently and those that have joined TU Wien in the last year or two and are, hence, not well-recognized by the students. To also evaluate the students' perspective, we will contact the elected student respresentatives of chemistry (Fachschaft Chemie). If several PIs are found that support this user case and the student representatives are also on board, we will devise an activity to introduce all PIs to the students, e.g., in the form of short videos or short online presentations.

As a next step, we will involve the dean of studies to seek the support for an in-person activity, such as a "research fair", where each group can introduce themselves. An important factor in achieving our goal is to ensure that the information is dissiminated on various channels to the stakeholders, making use of social media outlets to reach out to the students.

A last step is the assessment of the impact and sucess of this activity in the form of an online quesitonaire. Depending on the outcome, we will adjust the format of the CPD activitiy

[Figure 1 to be inserted]

Teaching and learning materials

We will perform an informal assessment in the form of short personal talks with each PI and the student representatives. All involved research groups will prepare short online introductions, for example, a short video or short presentation. These will be made available to the students on the online learning platform (TUWEL). If activities are supported by the dean of studies, we will organize an in-person presentation in the form of poster sessions, where each group introduces their field of research with a poster and the students can talk to researchers and ask quesitons.

An online questionaire will be provided to the students and the PIs after a couple of months to evaluate the effect of this activity and to improve the format.


Sustainable implementation

For a sustainable implementation, we would like to raise awareness for the CPD user case by coordinating the efforts with other activities that are going on at the faculty, such as the Young Investigator Academy, a network for early career scientists (first independent grants) up to two years after the habilitation/tenure.

Expected impact of the CPD User Case

If their interests align with their research speialization, students are more eager to work on their bachelor project, they are more invested in their project and obtain deeper content knowledge and a more diverse skill set. All PIs will attract students that are interested in their research field and are, thus, highly motivated. They will therefore perform better and will more likely stay on in the group as a MSc. or PhD student and advance the scientific field.

Plans for eventual continuation of the CPD within the same topic

If it turns out that the current BSc program does not trainthe students in a way that they can immediately join any research group and start the bachelor project, as a mid-term goal, we intend to revise the study program to account for closing this gap, e.g., by introduction of a "qualification course".

As a contibuation, we plan to apply this or a similar strateg at the MSc level, where we do not provide an overview over the research going on at the faculty but also inform our studnets about different mahors and which courses are suited/recommended to achieve their specialization goals.


Developing confidence in sound course design, interactive teaching, and learning facilitation (type P1-1, P1-2, P1-3)

This CPD scenario describes a User case in which lecturers develop their competence in sound course design and teaching in higher education and how to engage and motivate students and how to facilitate discipline specific thinking and how to facilitate student’s deep learning and development of higher cognitive skills and develop attitudes in supporting student development and enabling students’ well-being in a learning process and inclusivity and reflecting on own teaching practice.
The approximate duration of a User case that follows this scenario is several months.
In this CPD scenario the participants professionalize in a close connection to their own teaching practice (at their workplace) and meet in person on location with the training staff and with other participants.

Learning environment
Several months

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