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October 2000, Vol. 3 No. 5 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
The Applied Chemistry Professional Placement Programme
 
Associate Professor Stephan Jaenicke
Department of Chemistry
 

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.
—Encyclopedia Britannica

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:

  1. 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;

  2. provide industry with the opportunity to give feedback on the adequacy and relevance of the university curriculum; and

  3. 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 B.Sc).

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.


Footnote:

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.

 
 
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Organising Apprenticeship Programmes: Methods, Pitfalls and Optimisation
   
Setting Up the Department of Biological Sciences' Professional Placement Programme
   
Practical Training Scheme at the Departments of Building and Real Estate
   
The Applied Chemistry Professional Placement Programme
   
The Virtual Laboratory Platform as a Form of Internet-based Apprenticeship
   
Civil Service Internship Programme for Political Science Students
   
Internship for Arts Students in the Talent Development Programme ogramme
   
Apprenticeship in Postgraduate Orthodontic Training
   
Student Responses to the Pharmacy Practice Preceptorship Programme