Read what current and former students say about their study choice and experiences with the programme.
“I could widen my perspective at the same time that I was getting more focused into my discipline – it was a perfect balance“
Why did you choose this Master’s?
After I completed my Bachelor’s in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from the United States, I returned home to Saudi Arabia and started working in R&D in SABIC, one of the largest petrochemicals companies in the world. I was doing research in catalysis, a new branch of chemistry for me. I often felt overwhelmed by the amount of information I was lacking, despite my chemistry degree. I needed and wanted to learn more about catalysis in order to perform better at research, so I started to look for a Master’s degree. The Nanomaterials Science programme at Utrecht University was the best fit for me. It has a nice combination of theoretical and practical training, is very flexible and there are many opportunities you can choose from.
Did the Master meet your expectations?
I was looking for extensive practical training, and my thesis research on the Phillips ethylene polymerization catalyst is satisfactorily challenging – this catalyst was discovered about 70 years ago, but we still don’t understand it sufficiently! Except for a couple of compulsory courses, I could shape the programme as I wanted it. I chose the research group and topic for my thesis with the help of our advisors. I picked the courses I wanted to take. And I participated in the Graduate Honours Interdisciplinary Seminars (GHIS) – which was the best decision!
I was concerned that as I delve deeper into my discipline (chemistry) that I would get even further away from all other fields – that I would start getting too specialized. But this interdisciplinary program did away with all such fears! I learned a lot about important issues from other disciplines (from posthumanism to psychology of meat consumption). I could widen my perspective at the same time that I was getting more focused into my discipline – it was a perfect balance. Yet, the best thing about this honours program was the people I got to know, the friendships I built and the diverse discussions we had (mostly during our amazing trip to Heidelberg together!)
If you had to do it over, would you choose this Master’s again?
Overall, I’m very happy I chose to come here. Despite all the challenges I faced to find a room, the cultural adjustments, the misunderstandings and struggles of living in a completely different country/culture, I wouldn’t have liked to be anywhere else!
" I feel like there is a lot of personal attention for the students"
Why did you choose this Master’s programme?
I did a Bachelor’s in Chemistry at Radboud University and found out about Nanomaterials Science programme via the Carbon Master’s Day of the KNCV (Royal Netherlands Chemistry Society). There, I got very enthusiastic about the research that is done at Utrecht University in the field of organic chemistry and catalysis. In particular, the large emphasis the research has on increasing the sustainability of producing chemicals, which is a topic close to my heart. Climate change is one of our generation’s biggest challenges and since the chemical sector accounts for a very large part of the global energy demand, I’m very passionate about studying in a field that works on finding solutions for this. Especially in this day and age, I think it is very important that we put our efforts and enthusiasm about science to work, to get a more sustainable world. Studying these topics is a great basis for this, since chemistry plays such a big part in, for example, the Petrochemical Industry.
How do you like the Master’s programme so-far?
What I like best about this Master’s programme is the close contact between the professors, the teaching assistants, and the students. The lectures and assistants always mention we can email them with questions, and when I do, I get quick and elaborate answers so in my experience everyone is very happy to answer my questions and I feel like there is a lot of personal attention for the students.
Currently, I am working on my thesis research at Organic Chemistry and Catalysis (OCC). My project is about transforming furan derivatives from biomass into chemicals that can be used in the production of for example plastics. The focus lies on Diels Alder reactions, to make valuable aromatic molecules. That means I’m doing organic synthesis a lot, and most of the times you can find me in the lab. I am also following the course Organometallic Chemistry and Homogeneous Catalysis. It is sometimes demanding to switch focusing between these two, but there is also a lot of flexibility in my planning during the week. Most of the master students follow courses throughout the year, thus switching between being in the lab full time, part-time or not at all. Alternating between theory and practice in this way demands you to be flexible, but also allows you to put to practice what you have learned during your lectures, which I like a lot.
"People really encourage you to study and work interdisciplinary"
How does the programme meet your expectations so far?
What I like best about this programme is the flexibility and freedom that it offers. You are responsible for structuring your own Master’s programme! I can arrange the courses I want to take and the projects or assignments I need to work on! Besides, I am allowed to freely choose any elective course I like on the list. With my Master’s thesis, I participate in the Organic Chemistry and Catalysis Group, but it was no problem at all when I opted for Colloids Science or Modelling and Simulations as my selective courses. Here people really encourage you to study and work interdisciplinary.
I would have to say the programme is way beyond my expectations. Even mandatory courses are really necessary and practical. There are workshops on the Dilemmas of a scientist in which I was guided to recognize and solve dilemmas in the scientific world. While the Literature Review assignment helps improve my scientific writing skill, the Poster assignment teaches me how to make a good scientific poster as a communication tool about your professional research
If you would do it over, would you select this Master’s again?
If I was given a chance to do it over, I would still go for Nanomaterials Science Master’s programme. I like how the program coordinator contacted me in my first few weeks to check up on me and to see whether I have any struggles planning my study. As an international student, I have been through many challenges during my time doing this program. I needed to get used to with Dutch education style, fill in the gap in knowledge due to the different education systems between the Netherlands and my home country, and it also took me quite some time to make a good study plan out of what the programme offers. But I think it is all worth it that now I can look back and be proud of how far I have gone and how much I have learned thanks to the program.
"The flexibility of the program allowed me to make it exactly what I wanted"
One of my greatest interest has always been the application of nanotechnology to biological processes and medicine. After completing a fairly industrially oriented Bachelor in Nanotechnology, I was looking for a programme that allowed me to apply the nano-sciences in borderless research. Utrecht University proved to be exactly what I was looking for.
If you look carefully at the description of the Master's programme no kind of this approach is mentioned... but that's exactly the point! The programme gives you the freedom to pick and chose whatever YOU want to do. You even have the opportunity to make choices regarding the mandatory aspects of the programme! So you can imagine the flexibility of the set-up.
A typical day here consists of lab research at the department you join, and doing courses at their respective scheduled times. The type of courses available are very broad. There are synthesis based courses on nanomaterials from catalysts, to organo-metallic chemistry, to chemistry based courses like colloid science. But you can also choose to do courses based on programming like modelling and simulation, and courses that use physical models to explain complex phenomena in physics, chemistry and biology, like toy models. Basically you have the choice to build your own programme. I personally didn’t have a background in biology, but all the resources to learn are readily at hand. All I had to do to set up my own project was talk to professors in the various departments of the university.
The fact that you can make your Masters what you want it to be, truly gives you the impression that this is a piece of the real world, and you can become a part of it by doing what you want. I will not lie and say that everything fell into place overnight. I spent a lot of time contemplating my choices, and even more so accommodating myself to the style of education here. The courses have proved to be very challenging but this only further increases the amount of work I want to put in. In here absolutely nothing is trivial, and the more you add yourself to what you do, the more you stand out. I like it here.
"Of course not all is study, fun is a fundamental part in the Master's program"
I got my Master of Science degree at Utrecht University in May 2015. I am originally from Tenerife (Spain) where I did part of my Bachelor in Physics. I came to the Netherlands by recommendation of a professor in Granada, where I finished my pre-Master's studies. The Nanomaterials Master's offered me a chance of doing research at the boundary between chemistry and physics, an opportunity that I simply had to take.
As the own name indicates, this Master's program provides knowledge about basic topics in nanomaterials science. I took courses covering topics in Soft Condensed Matter, Colloidal science and Computer Simulations. Without any doubt, the Master's research project I conducted provided the skills and attitude needed for future investigations. Furthermore, the internship I did at DSM constituted a first test of these skills. I am currently working on my PhD at Technical University of Eindhoven, concerning theoretical and computational studies of polymers.
Of course not all is study, and fun is a fundamental part in the Master's program. I found Dutch lifestyle particularly attractive as you have your own time to do out-of-university activities. Even more, you are encouraged to do so!
Alvaro Gonzáles García, alumnus