By Olivia McClure | LSU Student
A new materials science and engineering graduate certificate program at LSU is designed to give students an interdisciplinary edge in academics and careers.
To obtain a certificate, one has to be admitted to graduate school. But instead of earning a master's degree, one receives a certificate, usually in half the time it takes to earn a master's degree. And one can do this while studying for a Phd.
John Flake, chemical engineering professor and committee chair for materials science and engineering, said the certificate program was inspired partially by scientific consulting groups which encouraged LSU to establish a program to educate people in materials science because of Louisiana's abundant resources and related industries.
Flake said materials science deals with "everything that's solid," from catalysts to polymers to semiconductors. Materials scientists are in great demand in Louisiana, which is known for producing commodities, he said, but not in finished products such as chemicals and plastics.
Having more trained materials scientists in Louisiana would mean companies could use local resources to make high-value products of a greater quality.
The certificate program is part of the forthcoming Institute for Advanced Materials at LSU, an interdepartmental collaboration covering materials science and engineering education, research, and equipment located in departments across campus. There are about 100 LSU faculty members spread over 12 departments who specialize in some form of materials science, Flake said.
The materials science certificate could foreshadow a doctoral program in materials science at LSU. Flake said having a certificate program at LSU will signal strong organization to the federal government, which awards numerous grants for materials science.
The Louisiana Board of Regents has already approved the program. It is open to anyone admitted to the Graduate School, and there is no additional cost to enroll in the program. Graduate students can complete the certificate while working on a doctorate.
"It gives a path for students to show that you know something different," Flake said.
The 15-hour curriculum consists primarily of existing courses such as circuit engineering and thermodynamics in the physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering departments. Students must take one common materials science class and one class from each of four core area groups — thermodynamics, synthesis, analysis and modeling — that they pick based on their interests and needs.
Only one certificate program — the certificate of education specialist — is currently up and running at LSU. Several certificates are under development or pending approval by the Board of Regents, including programs in strategic communication, fisheries management and music composing and conducting, according to LSU Graduate School Dean Gary Byerly.
LSU is somewhat late to the certificate show among major flagship state institutions. Florida State and Texas A&M, by example, has more than 100 and 15 such programs, respectively, said Byerly.
Graduate certificate programs are different from those offered by Continuing Education, which can be valuable but are not recognized by the Board of Regents. Graduate certificates are more substantial, Byerly said, and are an actual degree in a field of study.
Byerly said graduate certificates are a relatively new idea brought on by a feeling reflected in literature that too many people with doctorates are trained for academic jobs they end up being unable to get. Those people need professional development to succeed in industries, he said, and learning on the job is not always effective.
"There's a whole host of reports that have been written in the last couple of years that feel that graduate education hasn't really progressed a lot in the last 10 or 20 years, that we still train our Ph.D. chemists to be great chemists," Byerly said. "We just don't prepare them for the multitude of careers that some of them are going to be going into."
Because certificate programs provide specialized professional training, they also appeal to people who need to boost their résumé but do not want to spend two years working on a master's degree. Buerly said certificates may prove beneficial for people who have held a job for a long time and either are unhappy with their careers or need to refresh their knowledge to remain competitive.
Certificate programs help support the rest of the graduate school, Byerly said, because many grad students work on assistantships and do not pay tuition. Purely educational programs, such as certificates, generate funds that people who often have full-time jobs are willing to spend because they see it as an investment, he said.