The structure for entry into general science is to be changed for the 2018/19 intake of students. Applicants will choose from four new strands: physical sciences, chemical sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, and geography and geoscience.
Entrance into current direct-entry science courses – nanoscience, medicinal chemistry, chemistry with molecular modelling, human genetics and earth sciences – will be absorbed into these four entry routes. The changes were approved by University Council on November 30th.
Speaking to The University Times about the new entry routes, Prof Chris Morash, Trinity’s Vice-Provost and Chief Academic Officer and Sponsor of the Trinity Education Project, which is seeking to restructure College’s undergraduate curriculum, said that the new entry structure will “make sense” to incoming students. “What they will allow students to do is to come in through a broad door.”
These sweeping changes follow a review of general science in 2015, which was led by the college’s Quality Office and involved external examination. The main recommendation was the introduction of streams to provide transparency to the process of specialisation for both students and staff.
Currently, students applying to study science fill their CAO with the course code TR071 for general science. The restructured system will mean that applicants will have to select the course code for their chosen stream on their CAO.
Students wishing to study nanoscience, medicinal chemistry, chemistry with molecular modelling, human genetics and earth sciences currently apply for these directly on their CAO. These courses have fewer places and have traditionally required much higher points than general science due to their popularity and small class sizes.
The review concluded that separate entry to these five small-quota courses put students under pressure to achieve high points. Furthermore, it was decided that it was too early for students to choose their moderatorship and that it was better for all science students to start off with more options. This decision followed government pressure to reduce the number of these small-quota courses.
The Undergraduate Science Education Working Group, which is overseeing this change, is chaired by Prof Kevin Mitchell, the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Science Education. The Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Science Convener also sits on this committee.
At a student consultation meeting, which was hosted by the Engineering Maths and Sciences (EMS) Convener of TCDSU, Niall Cooke, Mitchell emphasised the importance of student feedback. He also spoke about how these changes are in line with the ethos of the Trinity Education Project, which favours a programmatic structure and formative assessment and is looking to introduce a system of core modules, approved modules and elective modules, meaning that students will study disciplines not part of their code degree structures.
The comparative biology moderatorship will no longer be offered, something that will affect current second-year students. The moderatorships of earth sciences and geology will be merged into a new moderatorship named geosciences.
Concerns were expressed that choosing a stream so early on would limit students’ options for moderatorship in their third year. However, those involved in the review argued that students already limit their moderatorship options when they choose their modules in their first year, stating that the streaming of science will just add transparency and clarity to the routes students are choosing.
Out of 60 credits required per year, 40 of these must be made up of core modules, while 20 can be used for approved modules. This will allow for some flexibility for students to take modules from other streams and potentially keep their options open for moderatorships outside of their streams. The new structure is expected to ease pressure on administration and give staff a greater insight into the demand and capacity for different moderatorships.
At the Science Review Assembly, students questioned whether it would be possible to switch streams in first year. Concerns were raised over limiting students’ choices early on in the freshman years. Mitchell explained that transfers will be possible and will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, primarily based on student performance.
Many of the core and elective modules will be redesigned and some will overlap between streams, though steps are being taken to ensure that there will be no repetition of material. Students will have an array of options when it comes to electives, something that the Trinity Education Project has championed.
The working group has proposed a History and Philosophy of Science module, which will aim to introduce students into the ideas and philosophy that underpin scientific thought. Approved modules will mainly be taken from Stem subjects, with a focus on scientific communication and writing.
Students will take one five-credit Trinity elective in both the first and second term of their third year, and, similar to the current Broad Curriculum system, the modules will come from departments across College.
One of the main concerns students had was the promotion of the course to prospective students. Some raised the point that perhaps students would favour courses in other universities where they would not have to choose a stream so early. Furthermore, with the absorption of some of the current direct-entry programmes into these streams, there is apprehension about whether this new system will take from the prestige associated with these programmes.
Morash emphasised how this new structure could ease the transition from secondary school to college for students: “If I’m a student doing my Leaving Cert, and I would have done chemistry or physics or biology, that maps onto the doors we have. So the doors are going to look familiar, and once you get through the door, you start to realise the multiplicity of things that are there.”
Speaking to The University Times, TCDSU Education Officer, Dale Whelehan, spoke about the problems associated with the current structure of general science: “While it appeared the general science entry offered students a lot of choice, it’s kind of a false impression because the minute students entered into science, they had to choose their modules, and by doing that, they were choosing to go down a mathematical, physics, chemistry, biology, geology stream.”
Whelehan highlighted one of the shortcomings of the new structure: “The loss is there for students who have a love of science but don’t exactly know what love of science they have.” However, overall, he was positive about the “level of flexibility within the freshmen years” to allow students to transfer streams where possible.
Cooke spoke to The University Times about the reorganisation of general science: “Overall it’s not that much of a dramatic change to what is being offered, it’s just the entry system has been rejigged.”
His two main concerns were the flexibility of transfer between streams and the potential reputational damage that could occur with the new structure. Overall, however, he maintained that “the benefits vastly outweigh the negatives”.
Cooke praised the fact that science is to be “revamped and modernised”, something he feels is “long overdue”. He commended the level of student engagement with the review and stated that he would “push for continued student engagement in future decisions so that this is done properly” because “it’s not over”.