The quality of this program has been recently confirmed by the set of fellowships it was awarded by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia for the next four years, as a result of a very competitive process.
In 2006, while preparing the restructuring of their degrees in accordance with the Bologna agreements, the Universities of Minho, Aveiro and Porto, decided to cooperate in a joint doctoral degree covering all areas of Physics, in which these institutions have expertise. There were two fundamental questions addressed at the time:
a) why one degree covering a vast range of physics areas, instead of a number of thematic degrees?
b) why one joint degree rather than separate degrees from the three Universities?
Physics is, by its very nature, the foundation stone for many areas of science and technology. It was the experience of the 3 Departments of Physics that the diversity of its areas within an overarching culture of rigor, quantitative approach to problems, and a common language derived from a basic common background, was an asset in the attractiveness of students. Shared organization, shared standards of achievement, and shared procedures of evaluation, all seemed to contribute to increased quality, and to prevent closed inward looking parochial communities from entrenching less commendable practices. Of course, it was crucial to design a flexible program that could cater to the training needs of students in very different areas.
The cooperation of the 3 universities, all with very strong research programs in physics, currently including 4 associated laboratories (CICECO, IN, I3N, INESCTEC) , in physics or with a strong physics component, and two research centers, CFUM (excellent) and CFP (Very Good), and a highly qualified doctoral staff, offered several advantages:
i ) increased range of subjects offered to students; ii) guarantee of student access to diversified and competitive infrastructures, with many complementary techniques and expertise; iii) creation of channels of communication between researchers and institutions, a condition for making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
As with question a), this choice entailed challenges of organization, and inter university communication, which the proponents hoped to overcome, based on the strong professional and personal ties and mutual confidence of the physics communities of the three Universities.
The Joint degree MAP-fis was accredited by A3ES, the national accrediting agency and started functioning in 2008. Many students, then enrolled in Doctorates of the three Universities, transferred to the new program. Since then, the Physics Departments of U. Minho and U. Aveiro and the Physics and Astronomy Department of U. Porto, labored to achieve the following aims:
a) a program that pools the considerable human and material resources of the 3 Universities, to provide a research based degree, internationally competitive, with areas ranging from fundamental physics, to highly applied areas, with potential for product development;
b) a curricular component that is flexible to accommodate the varied interests and backgrounds of potential students, and also useful for the development of specific and transverse skills;
c) an organization that fosters inter-university cooperation and promotes synergies, as evidenced, for instance, by the fact that the University responsible for the curricular component rotates yearly among the 3 partners (although all partners contribute to the lecturing);
d) a governance structure that addresses the added burden of dealing with three bureaucratic procedures, instead of one.
The proponents have already addressed many of these issues, There are 67 students in the program; 39 degrees have been awarded since 2010. All the main areas of the program are represented: Condensed Matter Physics/Materials/Nanotechnology (16), Computational and Theoretical Physics (8), Optics and Photonics (10), Oceanography and Meteorology (3) Atomic and Molecular Physics (1)) [2 were in Physics Education, but this area is no longer included]. The number of foreign students totals 12 (6 concluded). The quality of the program is attested by international cooperation in PhD?s thesis (in some case leading to joint degrees) carried out with National University of Singapore, U. of Lund, U. Granada, U. Stuttgart, ICMM- CSIC in Madrid, Perimeter Institute, Canada, Imperial College.
Our experience, the problems we have encountered and the ones still confronting us have shaped this application. We hope to achieve:
a) Through the choice of offering 18 BI scholarships in the first year, a considerable increase in the attractiveness of the program;
b) an even stronger commitment of first year students which will have to compete for the 12 scholarships offered in the second year;
c) intelligent use of the additional resources made available by this project: to improve the curricular component, taking advantage of increased mobility of researchers, and of the possibility to invite international scientists as lecturers; to increase the investment in advertising; to improve the training in entrepreneurship.
The current curricular component has the following structure:
Advanced Topics in Physics I: 18 ECTS
A series of 18 hour, (3 ECTS) modules are offered each year, adjusted to the cohort of admitted students. They are examined in 6 of these modules, having encountered some difficulties in providing common modules to students with different backgrounds we intend to make this curricular unit even more flexible by allowing modules for specific students to be replaced by reading assignments under the guidance of a lecturer. These will also have a written syllabus, intended learning outcomes, and will have examination and/or written report and defense and grading, in the same conditions as regular modules. This unit takes place between January through to end of March.
Essay (12 ECTS)
The essay, under supervision of a tutor, consists in the elaboration of a thesis project. Students choose from proposed thesis themes, and in consultation with the proponents and their tutors elaborate perform state-of-the-art reviews, characterize problems to be addressed, possibly initiate study of techniques to be used (if viable) and present a written report and oral defense of their work.This unit takes place between March and September.
The results of these two curricular units are important for the decision on attribution of second year scholarships.
Entrepreneurship (6 ECTS)
This is a concentrated 2 week unit in which students are led to reflect on the challenges and opportunities involved carrying their research through to technology development, and product development.
Advanced Physics Topics 2 (6 ECTS)
This unit currently consists of an activity of attending a school/conference under suggestion of his tutor, followed by adequate reporting ( oral or written). Our experience suggests replacing this unit by one taking place during the entire period of the PhD, in which activities such as conference/school attendance, communications, oral or poster, seminars, delivered of attended, publications, are recorded; the resulting portfolio will be graded before the thesis examination by the thesis accompanying committee.
This curricular component totals 42 ECTS. The dissertation work corresponds to 138 EC for a total of 180 ETCS.
This curricular organization has the following features:
i. Flexibility: Advanced Physics Topics I is tailored to the interests and background of the students. The introduction of reading assignments further enhances the flexibility of the program, allowing us to adjust equally well to students with very good background, or to address gaps in the previous training of others. In the context or the reading assignments, students may be encouraged to attend lectures in master courses although evaluation will take place independently in the context of the assignment given in the program. Essay, by its very nature, is adapted to students interests
ii. Skills acquisition. In the Essay students are guided to essential steps in research. Entrepeneurship stresses and promotes skills that are transverse to many fields. The way we intend to reorganize ATP II, promotes and values activities that are a core part of any scientific career, and in which a lot of learning by self-experience and imitation takes place.
The organization of the curricular component, ATP I, Essay and Entrepreneurship is, each year, the responsability one of the participating Universities, although all institutions participate in the lecturing. Students register in this university in the first year, and , after final admission to the dissertation, transfer their registration to the University where they will carry out their dissertation work.