Charles University has introduced a new interdisciplinary English-taught program called Science starting from this academic year. “In the future, there are immense and incredibly interesting experimental challenges awaiting scientists that will require a new type of scientific workforce,” describes one of its founders, Professor Jan Černý, explaining the reasons for establishing the program and the potential for its future graduates.
The name “Science” was chosen to make it clear at first glance that this is a fundamentally interdisciplinary program that combines various scientific disciplines into a composed whole. It was inspired by the perception of “Science” in the Anglo-Saxon world as a term predominantly associated with natural sciences, and it’s no secret that we were inspired by the “competitive” program Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge.
At the very inception of the idea, there were two of us – myself and Professor Petr Nachtigall, a colleague in chemistry from the Faculty of Science at Charles University. In 2020, during a mutual conversation, we realized that both of us had been thinking about the same thing for a long time – a study program for a limited number of highly motivated young people with a deep interest in natural sciences taught in English, open to anyone from around the world. Subsequently, we approached the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University and found amazing collaborators, among whom I would like to mention physicist Jana Kalbáčová Vejpravová, the guarantor of the physical, mathematical, and informatics part of the study curriculum.
“The program is based on a close connection between chemistry, physics, and biology, coupled with a solid knowledge of mathematics and informatics.”
Not really. We responded mainly to how we perceive the current shift in natural sciences towards interdisciplinarity, working with big data, and applying highly sophisticated methodologies. We realized that those who truly want to excel in the future scientific world must have a broad foundation in the natural sciences. What was easy to discover has already been discovered. In the future, scientists will face enormous and incredibly interesting experimental challenges that will require a new type of scientific workforce. Cambridge has understood this for a long time, and their program attracts the best natural science talents from around the world. Even considering Brexit, we wanted to offer a “Czech Cambridge” for talented young scientists here in Prague at Charles University. We also spent a lot of time searching for other inspiring programs from around the world – there aren’t many – and their potential use in thinking about suitable subjects and teaching styles.
The program is based on a close connection between chemistry, physics, and biology, coupled with a solid knowledge of mathematics and informatics. For the purposes of the program, entirely new subjects have been created, taught exclusively in English, emphasizing interdisciplinary connections. This means that the boundaries between disciplines are not clearly defined, and very interesting and even groundbreaking research occurs at the intersection of two or more scientific disciplines. During the first two years of study, students attend interconnected compulsory lectures in all mentioned natural science disciplines, which will eventually help them specialize in the third year when selecting entirely optional courses.
We believe that there will be a tremendous demand for students with a broad natural science foundation. Since we are targeting a limited number of students whom we want to work with intensively alongside our tutors, the quality and applicability of their knowledge could be at the level of specialist in each field – with the added value of their ability to approach scientific topics without narrow disciplinary constraints. We believe that the future belongs to these types of experts.
“Our graduates will belong to the future scientific world.”
Long-term, we aim to maintain a capacity of around 30 students, which allows for sufficient interaction during lectures, and after dividing into two parallel groups for specialized seminars, it allows for individual attention as well. We are thrilled that in the first year, we received approximately 70 applications from all over the world, selected 40, and ultimately enrolled 25 outstanding individuals with whom it is a pleasure to work.
The admission process is conducted orally, before a committee composed of a physicist, chemist, and biologist. Problematic questions are asked, and detailed formal knowledge is not strictly required in the answers. Instead, we look for the ability to think, creativity, curiosity, and motivation.
We believe that our graduates will belong to the future scientific world. We have already received feedback from colleagues and guarantors of a wide range of master’s programs that they are exceptionally looking forward to our graduates. Similar reactions come from institutions such as the Academy of Sciences. In fact, I believe that a significant portion of our graduates will continue their master’s studies at top universities abroad, where there is a tremendous demand for motivated students with similar backgrounds. Due to their broad natural science foundation, our graduates will have significant freedom to decide on their subsequent specialization. One significant benefit is that they don’t have to decide on a specific direction during their bachelor’s studies but can explore a wider range of fields.
“When selecting applicants, the emphasis is not on formal knowledge but on the ability to think, be creative, curious, and motivated.”
As part of the program, practical courses will be offered from the summer semester of the first year onwards. We also anticipate involving a significant portion of students in research from the beginning of their studies. To provide them with insights into laboratory research practices quickly, we plan to include expert tutors, young successful scientists not only from Charles University but also from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In the natural sciences, the practical aspect of teaching is crucial for future success, and we are well aware of this in the Science program.
Currently, we are considering expanding the portfolio of specialized subjects in the third year to include topics related to Earth sciences and environmental issues. We primarily want to expand abroad and make use of internships at universities affiliated with the 4U+ University Alliance. We are not considering a follow-up master’s program. On the contrary, we want students to decide on their professional path after consulting with us and their tutors. We want them to take this significant career decision seriously, weigh all pros and cons, and find their “niche.”
Give it a try. If you enjoy natural sciences, are not afraid of mathematics, and are curious, you have a great chance of becoming our students. Surprisingly, being overly specialized in high school may be a handicap. By the way, we accept students who have excelled in natural science Olympiads without an entrance examination. If applicants want to learn more, they can visit our website at www.studyscience.eu. They can also follow updates on natural sciences in the public Facebook group “Science is Beautiful“.
The creation of the program responds to the need to educate experts with a broad interdisciplinary background in natural sciences. The program effectively combines three natural science disciplines (biology, chemistry, and physics) and is currently the only one of its kind in the Czech Republic. The significant interdisciplinary overlap of Science program graduates is crucial for their ability to address demanding research tasks and interdisciplinary projects using both traditional and modern approaches. Applications for the academic year 2024/2025 can be submitted until the end of February 2024. Learn more about the program at www.studyscience.eu.Learn more about Faculty of Science
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