All graduate astronomy education in the Netherlands is concentrated in NOVA, but NOVA is also monitoring and coordinating the Astronomy MSc education in The Netherlands.
NOVA MSc education
Four university institutes offer Astronomy MSc studies: the Anton Pannekoek Institute at the University of Amsterdam, the Kapteyn Institute at the University of Groningen, Leiden Observatory at Leiden University and the Department of Astrophysics at the Radboud University of Nijmegen. These MSc studies are being monitored by the Dutch National Astronomy Education Committee (see below), overseeing both the MSc and the PhD education.
Whereas the quality of the MSc studies in The Netherlands is uniformly excellent, there are obviously differences of a programmatic nature.
The undergraduate “Interacademy Course”, which is taught every year in Utrecht for undergraduate students of all Dutch universities is specifically tailored for undergraduate students. Each year the topic for next year’s school is selected by the National Astronomy Education Committee, which subsequently appoints a national coordinator for the course. A protocol (in Dutch) describes organizational aspects of these Interacademy Courses. Dutch MSc students quite frequently “shop around”, that is to say take advanced courses at other institutes than the home university. In this way highly individual MSc programs can be realized, optimized w.r.t. the interests and skills of the MSc student. The same can be said about the final research projects. These are uniformly of very high quality, and specifically tailored projects can be realized at technically oriented research groups in, for example space research, soft- or hardware development, or instrument- or telescope-development groups (inside and outside the universities).
The National Astronomy Education Committee
The two national education committees for undergraduate and for graduate education are merged into the National Astronomy Education Committee (Dutch acronym: LOCNOC), overseeing the total of university astronomy education (BSc, MSc, PhD). Membership of the Committee consists of staff members of the four NOVA institutes, a staff member of the ASTRON/JIVE foundation, and five students (graduate and undergraduate) from the NOVA institutes. The Committee usually meets twice per year. The Committee Chair is invited as an observer at the NOVA Board meetings when educational matters are on the agenda.
Broadening of the astronomical knowledge of young graduate students is necessary, because several topics that are essential for graduate students are not always part of the undergraduate curriculum. Furthermore, there are differences between the undergraduate curricula in the different astronomy institutions, which are related to historical differences between areas of research carried out at the different institutions.
NOVA fills these gaps by organizing an annual ‘NOVA School’ for graduate students, with courses on the required topics. All graduate students are required to attend this NOVA School at least once (during their first year) and are recommended to attend the school twice.
Monitoring of the education in the graduate program and of the actual graduate research and career prospects is carried out on behalf of NOVA by the so-called “Graduate student Review Committee”, at the various NOVA institutes. Every institute has its own review committee, consisting of three to four persons (without the advisor) of which one is from a sister institute, or from NWO. The members of these committees serve 2 to 3 years to guarantee a smooth continuation of the supervision.
Every year the graduate students discuss their progress, problems and future prospects with the review committee. The results are discussed with the thesis-advisor. The chairman of the review committee of each university reports the results to NOVA.
These institutional reviews are concerned with presentation skills and experience, as well as career prospects, and make written recommendations in these aspects for all students and their advisors. These recommendations are filed by the institutes and by NOVA for monitoring purposes.
The graduate student should learn how to report scientific results in the form of oral presentations (extended as well as very short) or in the form of posters. The minimum requirements, which are being monitored by the Graduate student Review Committee, are:
– A short presentation of the planned research at the NOVA School;
– A seminar at the home institution;
– A seminar at another institute or an oral presentation at the annual Dutch Astronomy Conference;
– A poster presentation at an international conference.
Finally, at the time of completion of his/her PhD research, every PhD student is urged to provide the NOVA Information Center (NIC) with a Dutch summary of the thesis work/results, to be used in a NIC press release.
The NOVA Fall school
The NOVA Fall school is meant to broaden the knowledge of astronomy graduate students. Courses are taught dealing with topics that were missed during the undergraduate studies. Every graduate student in The Netherlands must participate in a NOVA Fall school at least once; participation in two schools is recommended. The school is offered annually, at the ASTRON premises in Dwingeloo, during 5 days in the Fall.
NOVA Fall schools generally consist of two parallel course streams, which rotate between three topics “Formation and evolution of galaxies”, “Interstellar medium & star- and planet formation” and “Compact objects and the late stages of stellar evolution”. Each stream consists of a general part and a specialized part. The topics of the latter part are different each year. The streams are targeted at students who did not have the topic in their undergraduate studies, to broaden their general background in astronomy. PhD students should choose the stream after consultation with their thesis supervisor.
All courses are taught in English, and often include practical exercises. Excursions to the Westerbork radio telescope and the Dwingeloo VLBI facilities may also be part of the program. In addition, all participating students are required to make a short oral presentation dealing with their thesis research project, for their fellow students and the lecturers.
For more information, see the official NOVA Fall school webpage.
Inter Academy Courses
The undergraduate “Inter Academy Course”, which is taught every year for students of all Dutch universities is specifically tailored for undergraduate students. Each year the topic for next year’s school is selected by the National Astronomy Education Committee, which subsequently appoints a national coordinator for the course. A protocol (in Dutch) describes organizational aspects of these Inter Academy Courses. Dutch MSc students quite frequently “shop around”, that is to say take advanced courses at other institutes than the home university. In this way highly individual MSc programs can be realized, optimized w.r.t. the interests and skills of the MSc student. The same can be said about the final research projects. These are uniformly of very high quality, and specifically tailored projects can be realized at technically oriented research groups in, for example space research, soft- or hardware development, or instrument- or telescope-development groups (inside and outside the universities).
Most Dutch universities will reimburse the travelling expenses for following an Inter Academy Course. Ask your local secretaries for details on this matter.