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A dozen hardy enthusiasts braved the floods and broken rails on 7th November to take part in a workshop at the Institute of Materials on 'Industry's needs from materials graduates'. Dr Caroline Baillie from the UK Centre for Materials Education ran the workshop. The findings from this workshop are summarised below:
As often happens when experts get together to discuss a difficult topic, there were more questions than answers at the end of the workshop. Dominant themes throughout the day were:
A number of very powerful suggestions emerged during the day. Several delegates thought that we should present materials science as an intrinsically interesting activity, not just as a route to a job or a fringe part of an engineering team. Do we publicise enough examples of great engineering that depend on materials? Do we stress the environmental aspects of the use of particular materials?
A lot of time was spent discussing the key and transferable skills that are such a feature of government thinking and school education today. Delegates suggested that current university courses perhaps underemphasize initiative, creativity, lateral thinking, team working, time management and critical information skills.
Perhaps universities could help, simply by changing the way in which they deliver their programmes, rather than by changing the content. Why not have team projects, with students from different disciplines combining creatively to solve a problem? What about using peer tutoring or student mentoring to develop the interpersonal skills of both younger and older students? Could some content be taught via case studies rather than the conventional didactic approach?
The UK Centre for Materials Education will be hosting future workshops that consider some of the important issues raised on the day i.e.:
These ideas are amongst many that the Centre is considering for future workshops in this series. The next such workshop will bring together many of the parties who have a keen interest in attracting young people to Materials as a discipline. These include charitable bodies such as The Armourers and Brasiers, the Institute of Materials itself, Universities with major Materials departments, industries with outreach programmes such as Corus, BNFL and Alcan, etc. Brainstorming and co-ordination among this group should be very fruitful.