Ask a handful of catalysis experts in Scandinavia about the state of affairs in science education in that part of the world, and you'll discover plenty of similarities from country to country.
One feature common to many Nordic academic catalysis groups is that much of the research is carried out in collaboration with industry partners. Having close ties between universities and technology companies is widely viewed as a win-win situation.
"These kinds of collaborations benefit universities—especially students—by giving them practical experience in industrially relevant problems," says Riitta Keiski, provost for education at the University of Oulu, in Finland, and professor in Oulu's department of process and environmental engineering. Likewise, she says, industry benefits by being able to encourage academic researchers to investigate fundamental problems that have important implications for industrial catalysis.
That sentiment is echoed by researchers across Scandinavia. At the Norwegian University of Science & Technology, in Trondheim, for example, chemical engineering professor Anders Holmen says, "We've enjoyed collaborations with industry for a long time. These arrangements are very useful to us [as group leaders], and our students like them too."
No surprise there. "We hire many of those students when they graduate," says Erling Rytter, a specialist in oil refining at Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas company. Rytter adds that it's important to Statoil to have a good recruitment base composed of people who are well-educated in science and technology. That's one of the main reasons the company established a key research center in Trondheim near the university, he says.
University-industry collaboration is common in Nordic catalysis research, but Keiski is calling for more collaboration in catalysis education. Ideally, she says, the stepped-up partnering would come in a variety of forms, for example, through greater input from industry in structuring catalysis and engineering courses and curricula. As with the research partnerships, her objective in seeking industry input in designing courses is to ensure that students are trained in real-world science and engineering topics that will be useful to them in the catalysis workplace.
Many young researchers in Scandinavia do spend time in that workplace while completing their education. A number of programs and funding mechanisms throughout the region make it possible for Ph.D. students to split their research time between industry and academia and to be jointly advised by industry scientists and academics. In some cases, industry employees can go on sabbatical leave to pursue a Ph.D.—spending most of their time in a university setting. In other arrangements, Ph.D. students spend much of their time in an industrial setting but still keep close ties with their academic adviser.
But not all of the students are so young. Occasionally, well-seasoned industry researchers may wish to broaden their scientific horizons by pursuing a Ph.D. degree in their industrial setting. Claus H. Christensen, a chemistry professor at Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby, explains that "industrial Ph.D." students are supported jointly by their employers and government grants and are advised jointly by an academic and an industrial scientist.
As a former employee of Danish catalyst manufacturer Haldor Topsøe, Christensen says he's had the opportunity to advise such students "from both sides." Presently, he's advising an industrial Ph.D. student with 15 years of experience in the catalysis industry. It's a wonderful program, he says. "And it's a great way to establish tighter relations between industry and academia."