When students say that they are going abroad to study, you would normally expect them to be aiming for universities in the USA or Northern Europe. A few months ago, however, and in spite of the pandemic, a small group of students from the UK, Italy and Nigeria made the decision to travel to Croatia and begin their master’s study at the University of Rijeka. They represent the first generation of students to enrol in the Department of Biotechnology’s new international graduate study program, “Biotechnology for the Life Sciences” (Biotech4LS).
Biotechnology is a general term for the use of biology and living things to create products, whether for medicine or more everyday life. The rapid generation of vaccinations against the new coronavirus is a great example of modern biotechnology in action. The Biotech4LS course is particularly interested in how we can use biotechnology techniques for life sciences (biology or medical) research. This focus on research (as well as the fact that it is taught in English) is what makes Biotech4LS a modern program that appeals to international students.
Research experiments, whether done traditionally in a laboratory or simulated on a computer, lie at the heart of modern science, and the abilities required to be a successful researcher can be very different from those required to complete a traditional knowledge-based university degree. Biotech4LS therefore specifically aims at developing the skills students need to pursue a future career in research, whether at a University or in industry, and is one of only a handful of courses in the entire European Union to take this approach. As a result, this course will not only be training a new generation of dynamic young scientists, but also highlighting both Rijeka and Croatia more generally as an emerging centre for scientific research when (and if!) they decide to return to their home countries.
To do this, most of the traditional teaching of scientific facts and knowledge found in traditional courses has cut out from Biotech4LS. The students are instead assumed to already be familiar with most of the basics, and are trained on how to find anything else they need to know through searching of the scientific literature. Instead, they spend the first year learning skills needed by modern scientists, including statistics, writing, project management and presentation skills, as well as being introduced to scientific ethics and handling of intellectual property. In conjunction with this, students spend two extended periods of time working in research laboratories, learning by doing alongside scientists engaged in cutting edge research.
It is possible that you are reading this and thinking that Rijeka might not seem an obvious place for cutting line research. The Department of Biotechnology, however, represents a major investment by the European Structure and Investment Funds, with whose support the Department gained a variety of state of the art equipment, including powerful microscopes, devices for analysing proteins, and even an on-site supercomputer. With this advanced equipment, staff at the Department have been making breakthroughs in a wide array of areas, ranging from the medical (mental and neurological illness, viruses and the immune system) to the commercial (biological and chemical analysis of food and wine). For the second year of their course, these students will find themselves integrated into one of these laboratories, undertaking their own personal research and making their own unique contribution to our scientific knowledge.
Each year, 10 students will be accepted for Biotech4LS, and the first round of applications received five times this many applicants, from more than 10 countries. While not all of the students selected managed to travel to Rijeka – a result of the unfortunate timing of launching in the middle of a global pandemic – several students have nonetheless made it. They have been settling into the program and life in Rijeka for three months now, and are now preparing to begin their laboratory work (as well as beginning to learn the Croatian language – nije lako!). They are excited that they will soon be able to soon begin their own independent research projects, and growing very fond of the quality of life in Rijeka.
A call for applications for the second generation of students (to begin October 2021) was made recently and runs until 28th February. It is open to both international and Croatian students.
More information on the program can be found in the course’s introductory video above, and on the course website, which also contains full application instructions. Establishment of Biotech4LS was supported by the European Social Funds project “Strategic Internationalisation of Graduate Studies in Mathematics and Biotechnology – OPTILIFE”.
And if you are wondering what Rijeka is like as a place to live, find out why some consider it to be the best place in Croatia. Where is the Best Place to Live in Croatia? The Case for Rijeka.