published: February 9, 2011
Education in Integrative Plant Sciences: from the Secondary Education Level to the Ph.D.
"...I often hear from students that plants are boring...They have no language. They are not animals...but there are plant interactions, for example with the soil microbes or with the atmosphere, with pollinators, with pathogens, with neighbours, with “friends” or with “enemies”. Plants “speak” to their environments through these interactions. Students of plant sciences have the privilege to study this fascinating language of plants..."
By Melanie Paschke, head of education, Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center
Since 2001, when the PSC Ph.D. Program in Plant Sciences was established, the PSC competence center has focused principally on strengthening the education offered to plant scientists. It is our vision to train our students of different levels in understanding plant sciences as an interdisciplinary area and to give them the opportunity to form an integrative perspective: our courses link topics from molecular biology to the ecosystem level.
PSC Master’s education: the PSC has considerable expertise in the development of blended-learning courses (combining online-based self study with face-to-face classes) and e-learning. Our e-learning courses fill gaps in the existing curricula of our partner organisations (the Universities of Zurich and Basel, and the ETH in Zurich). The courses deal with topics from an interdisciplinary point of view. One example of this is the successful Master's education course “How do plants respond to stress?”: this question can be answered for cells, plants, plant communities or ecosystems.
I am very pleased that the PSC is involved in the development of the two new blended-learning courses “Sustainable Agriculture” and “Current Trends in Biodiversity”. They will allow many of the SPSW researchers to integrate their knowledge.
"Our PSC Ph.D. programs attract more than 200 Ph.D. students."
Our goal is that these students should be able to learn about the diversity of research disciplines in the plant sciences. They should gain insights into evolving research fronts and be trained to use the newest research technologies, such as “Next-Generation Sequencing for Model and Non-Model Species“.
At present, more than 26 research groups offer specialized research courses as part of the PSC Ph.D. Program in Plant Sciences. Ph.D. students can choose from a wide range of training possibilities. To be successful, however, Ph.D. students also need to learn working methods, such as scientific writing and research project management. Finally,courses like "Responsible Conduct in Research" and "Dealing with the Publication Process" help students to integrate into their research communities.
"...As plants are organisms but also the central part of our ecosystems, we need different disciplines to understand the complexity of the interactions and the system..."
In order to improve communication with people outside academia, our program offers a variety of courses teaching the necessary skills. For example, with its new PSC Ph.D. Program “Plant Sciences & Policy”, the PSC trains young scientists to deal with the particularly important questions arising at the interface between research and stakeholders in the practice.
These questions are:
- What competences do plant scientists need to be able to communicate their research results to the public and stakeholders in politics?
- How can young plant scientists become communicators and interpretors of their research in the dialogue with policy-implementing organisations?
"Behind our education is one common driver: our enthusiasm for plants and their fascinating characteristics."
It is this enthusiasm that we want to communicate at the secondary education level, in particular by training teachers in Switzerland. The PSC will coordinate this project on behalf of the Swiss Plant Science Web and will build up an interface for the three regional networks.
The PSC education team looks forward to setting up these new services for the SPSW community!