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Marine science for all Master's degree students

Never seen before in Kiel – and a rarity across the German university landscape as a whole: with its new interdisciplinary Master School of Marine Sciences (iMSMS), Kiel University has created its first degree programme to incorporate all eight faculties.

Two persons in neoprene suits on the beach
© GEOMAR/Markus Lenz

Screening and collecting at the beach is only one facet of marine science.

The origins of this degree programme can be traced back to the educational initiative of the research network Future Ocean, which is no longer being funded within the framework of the German Excellence Strategy but, in many respects, its effects are still being felt. For instance, in the new interdisciplinary Master School of Marine Sciences (iMSMS), which achieved official status last December when the University Senate adopted the rules for this degree programme. As a result, there is now support from the priority research area Kiel Marine Science (KMS) at Kiel University, which has continued initiatives like this as a successor to the Cluster of Excellence Future Ocean.

The ocean is perfect for working across all disciplines. This is demonstrated in the seminar on foods and bioactive substances from the sea, first offered for the winter semester 2020/21. To whom do they actually belong? What exactly is in them? Will removing and using them cause damage to the environment and ecosystem? And does using them make economic sense at all? These few questions alone demonstrate that the subject covers a broad range of disciplines: from marine biology and law through to food chemistry and business administration. It is precisely this diversity that is the focus here, stressed Professor Frank Kempken, who as head of the Ocean Education Initiative played a crucial role in designing and establishing the iMSMS.

In the ideal case, this comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach creates something so much greater than the sum of the knowledge gained from the individual disciplines. "An ethicist works in a different way to a natural scientist," explained coordinator Dr Franziska Werner. In her view, the work is truly well-balanced if both sides incorporate their counterpart's perspective into their own thoughts and actions. "Solution-focused research on complex marine questions for the future requires young researchers with excellent specialist knowledge and the ability to communicate and collaborate beyond their own discipline's horizon," she said, explaining the significance and purpose of the interdisciplinary degree programme.

The potential for this type of interdisciplinary interaction is practically unlimited. Even before the official start of the iMSMS, a catalogue of accessible optional modules was developed in collaboration with the faculties in which this marine science-based module was made available to prospective students from all disciplines. There are currently almost 50 modules on offer and more are planned. Two lectures on maritime archaeology and marine economy were recently added, in fact, just before the editorial deadline for this issue of unizeit.

In principle, iMSMS will be accessible to all Master's degree students from any discipline who are interested in studying current marine science and marine questions for the future from various perspectives. Regardless of whether they are studying philosophy, materials science or oceanography, the optional modules already comprise a comprehensive array of subjects and offer even "greater growth potential", emphasised Professor Kempken, who is also Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. This will produce a wide range of qualifications, each containing a set of skills in interdisciplinary marine science. While this special feature can be documented with certificates, the introduction of a formal qualification is already being considered. "So far it has been amazing," said coordinator Werner, who organises programmes for Master's degree students from the KMS office, referring to the overwhelmingly positive feedback from students – plus the enthusiasm of the lecturers. According to the marine scientist, the lecturers are working hard on developing new formats or adapting existing formats to the requirements of this type of multidisciplinary school.

In the long term, Kiel as a scientific centre will benefit from this master school as partner institutions like the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel are also involved in the initiative, alongside Kiel University's eight faculties.

Author: Martin Geist