The Maastricht Science Program

Hey guys it’s Izzy Waszkiewicz again! In this post I wanted to talk to you guys about my program, the Maastricht Science Program. More specifically, I will delve into its offered subjects/directions, its unique student-chosen curriculum, and lastly, how its academic year is laid out.

As I have mentioned before, I am a third (and final) year student studying in the South of the Netherlands in a city called Maastricht. I study in the Maastricht Science Program (MSP), and it is part of Maastricht University (UM). This program is one of the newer programs at UM and teaches the many different aspects of science.

Map of Netherlands. (n.d.). Vectorstock. photograph. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://cdn5.vectorstock.com/i/1000×1000/23/24/map-netherlands-with-road-sign-maastricht-vector-35962324.jpg .

The beauty of this program is that it encompasses almost all the aspects of science a student might be interested in such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, and even technical/scientific computing classes. Each of these aspects of science also include their own various paths within them. For example, when studying biology, one could delve into human biology-based courses such as cellular biology and molecular biology, or environmental biology-based studies such as ecology or ecophysiology. So, all of these types of courses are offered through MSP, and requests can even be made for the formation of new courses or topics if enough students are interested.

Not only does MSP offer an extremely wide variety of courses, but all the courses you study over the span of your 3 years at MSP are chosen by the student herself. This was one of the most important aspects of MSP that really stood out to me as I was most interested in human biology, but I also wanted to try a few environmental biology courses to see if those interested me more. Thanks to the student-chosen schedules at MSP I was able to not only try both, but also a few basic chemistry courses and neuroscience courses to improve my curriculum. By taking courses in all of these directions I find that I have not only been able to expand my knowledge on various scientific fields, but also have learned how to combine information from these different fields to one another.

Another characteristic of MSP that makes my program so unique is the setup of the academic year. My academic year begins in early September and is split into 2 semesters which have 3 periods within each semester. Moreover, periods 1, 2, 4 and 5 are normal periods in which a student is required to take 2 courses and a skills lab (unless they have fulfilled their ECT requirements or need to take an additional course).

Skills labs are offered in all the different directions at MSP at a specific lab facility close to camps that is stocked with excellent equipment for students to use. Personally, I have been able to take practicals in molecular biology, genetics, applied cell biology, nanobiology and even a few field skills practicals in which I have been able to go into the land surrounding Maastricht and collect life samples. These practicals and lab days have allowed me to learn and strengthen my hands on skills and taught me various techniques I hope to be able to utilize in research in my future. Below are some pictures from various practical/lab days I have experienced. (The picture on the right was taken on an outdoor excursion to a natural park in Northern Limburg while the other 3 images were taken at our lab facilities.)

The other periods, periods 3 and 6, are considered project periods in which students partake in research projects in groups of between 4 to sometimes 10 students on a given topic. During the project period the students have an advisor/supervisor who aids when complications or questions about the project arise, but otherwise do not intervene too much. These projects require us students to (usually in higher project levels) come up with their own specific research question, methods to address the question, and to finally create a research paper with their methods, results, and discussions/findings.

During these project periods I have, for example, been able to conduct research into invasive species in and around the natural parks in Limburg, specifically in the Grensmaas region of the Netherlands. Not only have I written reports, but this last academic year (around June of 2021), my project period team and I created a documentary video about the nature reserve in our city to help spread awareness, and we even got the video published and shared by various organizations in Maastricht. Below are some pictures taken during our many excursions for gathering data and shots of the park!

Since the teachers and staff allow us as students to choose our own academic paths, and advising us along the way, we are given the opportunity to study whatever (within science) we want and even try out courses we might not realize we will enjoy. Ultimately, I personally recommend programs like MSP which allow students to find which topics truly interest us, and let you explore your future opportunities while teaching you necessary skills.