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We have had our request to write our theses at the faculty of our choice refused. This is in spite of rock-solid preparation, and plans for international collaboration with the world's most renowned institutions. Two students from the Faculty of Science ask: Can this issue really be the thing that kills off all our enthusiasm and curiosity?
Curiosity and personal motivation are always highlighted as the most important characteristics if you want to be a successful student. Throughout our period of study at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), we have been told how important it is to be independent, creative and willing to seek out new knowledge. It is therefore completely incomprehensible to us that the institution that encourages us to think big, and that lets us be driven by our spirit and passion, now puts an end to our thesis ambitions.
We are two master’s degree students of biology at the Faculty of Science, and our requests to write our theses at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, where we have started exciting collaborations on topics that we are really passionate about, have both recently been refused. Our theses are completely in line with everything UCPH want us as students to look for, and do. Jonathan had done all his preparations for a master’s thesis with a supervisor from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences in close collaboration with Novo Nordisk. The project was almost ready to start, and Novo Nordisk had even invested financially in the project. Tobias had agreed to be part of a cell division collaboration with a research group from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences as well as two internationally recognised laboratories at Harvard Medical School.
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According to the university management however, the two projects cannot go ahead, because the Faculty of Science – without telling the students beforehand – has made the rules stricter for authorising credit for theses, so that you can no longer write your thesis outside your own faculty.
The new rules make no sense to us. The Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences are both a part of the same university and have closely collaborated for many years, and students from both faculties are offered courses and meet with professors throughout their course of study across the faculties. Especially on our own biology programme, there has been excellent synergy. But now it looks like the new rules are the beginning of the end of the two faculties’ collaboration.
We have both received rejection letters from the Board of Studies, where the rejection is due to each of our master’s theses not covering the academic requirements of the Faculty of Science. But when we dig deeper and get in contact with the Board of Studies at Biology, we are told that the rejection is not academically motivated, but rather a political decision that has been taken to retain the master’s theses on their own turf. The new guidelines apply to all boards of studies at the Faculty of Science.
Both of the applied master’s theses are unique and exciting opportunities to collaborate with the world’s leading researchers on key biological problems. This has been stopped by a question of which department within the University of Copenhagen gets the funding in connection with master’s students.
As students, we feel as if we have been caught up in these new rules, and we do not know how UCPH as an institution can set these boundaries on what science is. Does it not really matter whether the thesis is written at the Faculty of Science or the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences? Surely, the most important thing is that it involves relevant academic knowledge and contributes to our education? And if we look beyond ourselves, we can be concerned about what the consequences these rigid rules will have for future collaboration between UCPH and other institutions.
We have, with great support from our professors, appealed and fought for our cases. But this process has been characterised by an unusually poor response time from UCPH. The appeal was sent in March, but it has not yet been decided upon. This means that we have not been able to submit our master’s thesis contracts, which should have been submitted in June at the latest. Both the study programme administration and the lawyers at the Faculty of Science have said that they regret the long waiting time. But they have neither responded to our emails or phone calls since then, and we have now passed the deadlines that we have attempted to meet.
As a stop-gap solution, we have been forced to find a principal supervisor from the Faculty of Science, and our Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences supervisors have been extraordinarily welcoming and taken on the roles of co-supervisors, so we can keep our theses. This is a solution that the Faculty of Science has argued for, as it means that they can still get the funding.
We are very unhappy with our situation and are now writing here in the hope that these rigid guidelines are revised in the future, so that other students do not end up in a similar situation. It cannot be reasonable for the University of Copenhagen to let a passion for science and a drive for learning be drowned in a sea of bureaucracy over a question of allocation of funding.