Subscribe to Newsletter
Techniques & Tools

Molding a New Type of Student

Peter Schoenmakers

In 2008, COAST (which stands for Comprehensive Analytical Science and Technology) was formed to address three major concerns in analytical science: i) a decline in highly innovative fundamental analytical research, ii) limited access to rare, high-end analytical instrumentation, and iii) a lack of high-quality researchers and analysts at PhD, MSc and BSc (HBO) levels.

Indeed, the need of industry for competent and knowledgeable analytical scientists was a major catalyst for COAST. Experts from the field were expressing grave concerns about the quality of students graduating from chemistry programs in general and analytical chemistry in particular. I picked up on this need and made a case for full-time students, believing that it is more useful to have them filling autosampler trays than supermarket shelves. And so, we decided to broaden the scope and raise the level of education of analytical science students by organizing extra courses and greatly increasing their interaction with industry. In COAST’s educational programs, students are exposed to the industrial environment during their training and experts from industry contribute actively to their education. Also, through their links with COAST, teachers can easily keep their knowledge of recent developments and practice up-to-date. Furthermore, the initiative is helping to retain top-quality people in analytical-science jobs by offering challenging options for continued education and public-private collaborations.

The entire program is carried out and funded by industry, research laboratories and academic groups that participate in COAST. The initiative is staffed by the equivalent of two full-time employees, supported by many part-time teachers who engage in COAST for one or more days each year. We have about 60 (vocational) BSc students and 10 MSc students enrolled in the program. Notably many of the students are from all over the world – so it has clearly become an international initiative.

Students of the future

Times are definitely changing. Students are always connected to the Internet. They have to know less, because they can look up or ask for an answer to just about anything and they can access solutions very quickly. However, they now have to understand more about what they are looking for or how to frame their questions, and to make sense of all the information. Students and graduates are changing more quickly than prospective employers and teachers would like. After all, many employers will have received their education in a different era – perhaps even several decades ago, while academia tends to be extremely conservative by default, especially with regards to education.

Although I’ve been an academic for more than 10 years, I still lean a little towards industry. It does not really matter whether this is right or wrong, but let’s remember that most students will eventually work in industry. If the employers’ perception is that the students are not good enough, then there is a problem.

I believe that through COAST we have achieved a major breakthrough that has taken us out of the downward spiral by creating a new type of full-time student. They receive extra teaching and extra tasks, and they perform projects within their academic programs together with industry. In return they receive grants. Our industry partners are now starting to reap the first benefits of the program. In other words, we are starting to deliver graduates to the market.

I firmly believe that COAST stands out because of the involvement of industry. All the companies and (research) institutes that contribute to the program are working closely together with academics towards common goals. Yes, it is frustrating occasionally, but much more often than not it is stimulating and satisfying as we work towards closing the gap between the academic and industrial worlds. Students are confronted with the outside world much earlier in their program and they must work with several different companies, so that they get a much better idea of what the practical application of analytical science is all about.

Jumping hurdles, gaining ground

I have to say that the one of the biggest hurdles to running a complex academic program is minimizing bureaucracy. Education generally has to contend with enormous bureaucratic overheads (at least in the Netherlands). Thankfully, we are an industry-sponsored program and industry demands an efficient, lean-and-mean organization. It’s a tough hurdle to jump, but it forces us to create a more sustainable program. We are also overcoming the psychological hurdle of academics not accepting criticism from outside. However, those working on the program clearly see the value of direct feedback from our partners.

I am pleased to say the program is largely in place, although I admit we do need to improve the mechanisms for promoting and implementing life-long learning. Dozens of teachers from industry and academia have made it possible and we are working towards a sustainable model to compensate teachers in kind, with free courses for their students or coworkers. Sustainability is a key requirement for the program as is satisfying the needs of our industry partners through increasing the numbers of available students, especially those at MSc level and above, as well as international students.

All of us engaged in COAST believe that more analytical scientists can benefit from the program and our graduates will be the proof of the pudding. We have a few XQ (Xtra Qualified) graduates now and their number will grow by the end of the year – five years from now I would like to see them play an important role in the community and in sustaining the current program. Some students are beginning work in industry; while some will study for a while longer (from BSc to MSc, from MSc to PhD).

Eventually, we hope that (almost) all of our students will be employed in the broad field of analytical chemistry and that we will gradually meet the need for better analytical scientists in general.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Analytical Scientist and its sponsors.
Stay up to date with our other newsletters and sponsors information, tailored specifically to the fields you are interested in

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

About the Author
Peter Schoenmakers

Peter is education director COAST; editor, Journal of Chromatography A; and, professor, Analytical Chemistry/Forensic Science, van't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Register to The Analytical Scientist

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Analytical Scientist magazine