|apprenticeship: training in
an art, trade, or craft, under a legal agreement defining
the relationship between master and learner and the duration
and conditions of their relationship.
The Applied Chemistry Programme in the Chemistry Department
was implemented during the 1997/98 academic year. Then, 8
students were allowed to enter the programme at Level 2, and
a larger cohort entered regularly at Level 1. The first students
graduated with their B.Sc in 1999, and the first B.Sc (Hons.)
class completed the course earlier this year. Presently, we
do not possess statistically significant data analysing the
effectiveness of the course. Hence, this essay is based on
my subjective observations.
The Professional Placement Programme (PPP)
A full-time Professional Placement period in the third year
was provided to give the Applied Chemistry course the desired
practical and industry-oriented component. The PPP aims to:
- encourage self-study and independent learning before the
attachment by making the students aware that their skills
and knowledge will eventually be put to use;
- provide industry with the opportunity to give feedback
on the adequacy and relevance of the university curriculum;
- allow students to experience an actual industrial work
environment, and through it, see the need for gaining higher-level
skills and possibly a higher degree 1.
Discussions with representatives of the local chemical industry
indicated that companies preferred at least a 6-month internship.
This would leave enough time for appropriate training, and
the company would obtain some return in the form of useful
work done by the trainee. The current 3-year structure of
the Chemistry (B.Sc) course dictated that this professional
placement had to be in the first semester of the final year.
Any earlier, the students would have too little professional
training. The last semester of the final year was excluded
because: (1) university regulations stipulate that the final
semester before graduation should be spent at NUS, and (2)
an internship period after completion of all academic degree
requirements would put the students at a disadvantage (it
would amount to an additional 6 months of probation time at
grossly reduced pay for students who actually qualified for
The companies that participated in the PPP (see Table
1) constitute a mix of large multinational corporations
and local firms as well as non-profit organisations or government-affiliated
bodies. Most students worked in applications and customer
support laboratories or in quality assurance. Some were involved
in new product development and formulation.
Feedback on the PPP
What are the benefits of an internship programme to the
students, companies, and teaching staff concerned? Professor
Anthony Kelly, Lee Kuan Yew Fellow and former President of
the Institute of Materials (UK), commented in a conversation
on the effectiveness of industrial attachment programmes:
Such programmes are very personnel intensive for the academic
institution if they are to be well managed. Students who graduate
from a cooperative course (with industrial attachment period)
seem to have less difficulty in finding their first employment.
However, a clear career advantage is not identifiable. After
3 or 4 years on the job, there is little difference between
graduates who had experienced an industrial trainee period
and those who graduated from a conventional academic course.
However, he observed that a significantly larger number of
female students from these programmes pursued careers in industry.
For the Applied Chemistry PPP, most students indicated that
the attachment was an enriching experience. One enthusiastic
student highlighted an exciting opportunity during which her
site supervisor allowed her to accompany her on 12-hour shifts
during a plant start-up. Others were more reserved, but conceded
that they had learnt a lot, realising that a chemist’s
job required considerable stamina besides a knowledge in chemistry.
Students on overseas attachments gained an insight into the
reality of corporate research and the experience of living
for 6 months in a different cultural setting.
The companies’ evaluation of the students was overwhelmingly
positive. Although some organisations pointed out deficiencies
in the classical curriculum, we received no complaints about
lack in specialised skills (e.g. management, use of statistical
tools, safety, engineering). The most important characteristics
required by the companies appeared to be an outgoing character,
willingness to integrate into a team, and a constructive attitude.
The number of companies who supported the programme more than
once (see Table 1) suggested their general satisfaction
with our students. Several companies that had accepted interns
in 1999 offered placements for 2000, but could not be considered
because the students had already secured positions elsewhere.
In other cases, companies disappeared due to mergers and acquisitions,
but continued to support the programme under another name.
The (admittedly small) database of students who graduated
from the Applied Chemistry course indicates that the goal
of preparing students for an industrial career seems to have
been met: out of 5 who graduated in 1999, 4 (80%) found employment
in the chemical and related industries. This of course does
not prove that the industrial attachment increased the likeliness
of a student to choose an industrial career: the students
who opted for the Applied Chemistry course might have always
wanted to go into industry. However, discussions with the
students before their attachment revealed that they had only
a very vague perception of the chemical industry, its products,
and the job opportunities offered there. Thus, we are justified
to assume that the professional placement did play a decisive
role in their ultimate decision to look for employment in
the manufacturing sector. In due course, it is expected that
the other goal of retaining a considerable fraction of each
cohort for an advanced degree will also materialise.
1 We hope that the attachment will indicate to the students
the importance of further education, and thereby lead to
an increase in the number of students who seek M.Sc’s
or PhD’s before leaving for an industrial career.
For this, it was considered necessary that the section heads
and group leaders in the divisions to which each student
is attached should themselves have higher degrees. Fortunately,
the number of managerial personnel in Singaporean enterprises
who hold higher academic qualifications has increased over
the last few years, and most of the group leaders, particularly
in multinational corporations, have MBA’s, M.Sc’s,
PhD’s, or comparable qualifications.