The New Way of Teaching Metamaterials
Tomorrow, Saturday, 9 July, the first Master’s Students specializing in metamaterials from the Chair of Nano-Photonics and Metamaterials will have their graduation ceremony. This Master’s Degree program is unique for Russia. The curriculum for it was developed by the Chair and was quite successful: all the graduates remained at the University as PhD students and engineers.
As this is the only “Metamaterials” program in the country, there were naturally certain difficulties at the beginning. The main issue was that there were no existing examples or experiences to use. As such, the Chair’s staff had to develop the curriculum from scratch.
“The first enrolment of students was extremely good and we were able to complete the pilot version of the plan successfully. We are focused on the quality of preparation of our students, as such, not all those who started made it to graduation. But we are definitely proud of those who finally became our graduates” explained Mikhail Petrov, Professor of Quantum Optics from the Chair.
Entering the Chair of Nano-Photonics and Metamaterials is possible by passing certain exams or presenting your portfolio. The educational process consists of theoretical courses and applied ones about modeling, planning experiments and writing research papers. Individual research work not related to exams takes about half of the total amount of study time.
“What makes our classes special is that we don’t have a formal “academic” approach to teaching. The classes aren’t such that students come in, listen and leave. All the students are involved in the life and work of the Chair. Some students and professors even become friends and it doesn’t cause insubordination. Students look at professors as colleagues with more experience” – Mr. Petrov further remarked.
The Chair of Nano-Photonics and Metamaterials regularly organizes international scientific conferences, seminars and summer schools which include researchers from around the world. Not so long ago the International Congress “Lasers and Photonics” took place. Students’ participation in such kind of events is an integral part of the educational process. It helps them to keep abreast of current research and discoveries.
Anton Ovcharenko, graduate of the Chair, said: "Furthermore the Laboratory provides students one fully funded trip to a conference abroad (if the student has original research results). Up-and-coming scientists are interested in conferences not only because of interesting themes, but because of the possibility of integrating into the scientific community as well. Of course, the most useful activities were organized by the Laboratory of "Metamaterials”. For example while studying at the summer school a lot of professors and senior researchers from different world-class universities came and talked about their research”.
Master’s Students can also take part in international academic mobility. For example, by going on a semester exchange to Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (Sweden).
Making scientific papers for peer-reviewed journals, including Scopus and Web of Science is very important for students as well. Almost every step of this process has certain difficulties because this is the first serious work of this kind for students. Despite this fact, supervisors’ and laboratory employees’ support is very useful and helps a lot.
Students also study “Business ethics” as part of their program. This course teaches students how to apply for grants, compose business letters, write letters to editors of magazines, make CVs, etc. The final task of the course is dedicated to preparing the presentation about research results and speech in front of the staff of the Chair.
Irina Melchakova, professor of the course explained that “The course is focused on getting experience necessary for a successful scientific career. An integral part of it is the interaction with other scientists. Almost all the students of our Chair are involved in the work of the laboratory because their research work is done in the context of lab work”.
Only one important question remains: is it obligatory to continue a career in science after getting a Master’s Degree?
Even if the applicant does not see himself in the scientific field open admission, his views may change dramatically after the start of his studies. However, there are various paths one might follow. Student can find a job in one of the companies with which the Chair cooperates (Bosch, Samsung, Nokia) or even make his own startup. However, according to one of the graduates, Alexander Kovrov, the uniqueness of the Chair is precisely in the fact that it purposefully prepares scientists.
“The purpose of the program is not to prepare abstract graduates who may work in any sphere. It purposefully prepares scientists and researchers for further work at the Chair. In fact, the educational process itself is about gradually including the students in the research work”. – explained Mr. Kovrov.