Pascal Wodtke earned his Bachelor's degree in Physics with a focus on Biophysics at TUM and is now participating in the new Master's program Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics. In an interview he talks about why he decided on this program and shares his impressions of digital teaching.
Mr. Wodtke, you're among the first students to enroll in the Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics Master's program.
Yes, I actually signed up for Biophysics a semester before the official start, but I took the examinations for the new program from the very beginning while waiting for the new program to be approved.
Did you already know you would sign up for this Master’s program as soon as you had completed your Bachelor's degree?
No, not at all. After my Bachelor's I worked for a year and also did two internships in different fields – just to get an idea of the professional world. I made good use of the year to take a look at what I could do in the Master's program, and I also looked at other universities. That was among other things because there are aspects of the Physics Bachelor's program that I didn't particularly like and that I wanted to avoid in a Master's program.
And the TUM Master's program meets your expectations?
Yes, it does. For example, it was good that I learned a lot of theory in the Bachelor's program, but I found preparation for the exams to be very time-consuming. In the Master's program I wanted instead to specialize on one thing and gain more knowledge in a specific area. The Master's program is the only Physics degree program at TUM which doesn't require a theoretical track.
I also think the practical training is very well designed; it's good that you can work very intensively on a given topic and already specialize a bit, instead of just taking a brief look at a large number of topics. And naturally the topic areas were a good fit. I very much wanted to do something application-related and I'm very interested in medicine and biology. I always take great care to make sure that I have a comprehensive fundamental scientific education, not just in Physics and Chemistry.
You said you also looked at other universities. What finally made you decide in favor of remaining at TUM?
The research done at TUM is just unbelievably interesting and varied. That becomes even more important in the Master's program, something I already noticed during my Bachelor's studies. For example, I worked on DNA origami in my Bachelor's thesis. Where else can you do that? Another reason was the wide variety of collaboration with the hospitals, which is particularly important for my degree program.
Have you decided on a specialization in the Master's program?
Yes, I've decided to focus on imaging; in my first Master's semester I only attended classes on imaging. I also have a working student position in this field – I work at a start-up which specializes in optoacoustic imaging.
And do you have any idea about what you'd like to do professionally after your studies?
Not quite, nothing really specific. But I could well imagine working as a medical physicist at some point, for example in the field of radiation physics. In any case I'd like to work in the hospital; other areas would be possible there as well, for example genetics or tumor research.
Have you already been able to do more intensive work on these subjects?
Yes, I just recently attended a lecture on tumor research, offered by the School of Medicine – here I also benefit from the fact that in the Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics Master's program I can choose from among many different lectures at various faculties. Things are very flexible in that regard.
Was that a lecture for medical students?
For biology and medical students. It's called Molecular Cell Biology of Tumorigenic Processes. This semester I spent most of my time on this lecture, since I had to familiarize myself with the basics of cell biology and learn the necessary vocabulary. I thought that was all very, very interesting. I'll also have to do a term paper. I'm working on a fascinating project for this, where the objective is to deactivate the gene responsible for narcolepsy.
Classes were held in a digital format during the summer semester. What was your impression?
I was very happy about the flexibility. Since many of the lectures are recorded, I can for example attend two lectures that would otherwise have taken place at the same time and at very different locations. I otherwise had to very carefully plan which two days a week I worked and which three days I went to class. That limited my choice of lectures, since I had to make sure I only chose lectures which were offered on those three days. And that's not a problem anymore this semester, thanks to online classes.
Would you be happy to see lectures stay in digital format permanently?
Yes, I think that would be good, but there are some elements which should still take place face to face. I really miss the interaction. Some professors pay a lot of attention to interaction with the students and offer live lectures or the chance to talk with one another in a forum. Others just upload the lectures. A lot of questions can come up in the course of a semester and it's difficult to handle them by e-mail. Of course, I can always look at the recordings again and then google the questions, but there are always details that would be best cleared up in personal conversation.
Are you in contact with your classmates as well?
That was also more difficult this semester. Usually work groups of two or three students form automatically within a very short period of time to work on the course content together. I missed that this semester, especially in lectures where I otherwise didn't know anybody. I also don't feel as well prepared for the exams without this kind of discussions. In several classes I found somebody I could video conference with, but it would still be better not to meet up just for productive studying, but also to have a coffee together first. In the long-term it would be good if the flexibility of online teaching could be combined with in-person elements.
Author: Paul Piwnicki