I have also written the post comparing UK and US education system in general in my personal blog, if you are interested. You can find it here: http://www.agondosari.com/index.php/2016/10/23/comparison-uk-vs-us-education-system/
I have finally reached my second month in the US. Sorry for not updating earlier! Life is HECTIC here, I feel like I’m taking 8 classes instead of 5. But hey, chemical engineers are supposed to survive in any environment. Here I want to talk about the differences about chemical engineering courses, specifically between University of Maryland, College Park and University of Manchester. Some comparisons will just between universities, but there will be some comparisons that are influenced by the whole US vs UK thing since the universities are located in 2 different continents across the Atlantic.
Consolidated / Integrated Classes
I can’t find the perfect word to explain, but I think that should still be suitable. In Manchester, I study courses like Fluid Dynamics, Design, Safety, Kinetics. They do that too in Maryland, but they are more scattered – there is no clear boundary between the courses. For example, we study bits of safety, bits of separations and bits of reactor design in Design class. I even use mass balances derivations (fluid mechanics) in Catalysis class (kinetics). Maryland also tend to have labs in different courses depending on what courses you are taking (fluid mechanics lab if you are taking fluid mechanics, physics lab if you are taking physics and chemistry lab if you are taking chemistry) while in Manchester, lab is separated as one single module. In Manchester, if we study Kinetics (Chemical Reaction Engineering), it will be straight about rate laws, kinetics, topics that are directly related to kinetics. I definitely didn’t find any Fick’s Law in kinetics.
At first it was confusing, because I didn’t know what to use for my homework – it can be from any subject in Manchester! I can’t just revise my Chemical Reaction Engineering (CRE) courses to do my Catalysis homework – I have to revise design and even fluid mechanics too. But at the end I think that is a very good mixture to have. In Manchester, because the courses are so specialised and tends to have a clear separation / boundary between subjects, I don’t understand how the courses are correlated. I tend to have a very narrow understanding – you can only expect Continuity Equation in fluid mechanics, but you wont find it in CRE. I couldn’t understand the connections between courses and tend to think that they are separate subjects. Now I finally understand that all my subjects are interrelated and how they are connected to each other.
I touched a bit about it in previous paragraph, but I will elaborate more here. Historically, UK is more focused in specialisation compared to the US and it’s reflected in their education system. My whole second year in the UK is basically one design module in the US. The design module covers safety, process integration, separation process, design and simulation which are all separate modules in Manchester. But that also means that we don’t go as detailed as what we would in the UK. In my Safety class in second year, we did a whole HAZOP analysis in detailed, we learned about Permit to Work systems and HAZAN. In Maryland, they condensed it into about 2 lectures, which means we only brush the introduction of it. In Manchester we had a whole module of Distillation and Absorption while here we brush past it in a few lectures.
I don’t have any opinion on which one is better, but both of them have their own disadvantages and advantages. For example, if you are more specialised, definitely you know less topics but the topics that you know, you master them. If you are more well-rounded, you might not know as much as people who are very specialised, but hey you know more topics than them.
How to have the best of both? Go study abroad! 🙂 You will have the opportunity to experience both learning styles and to see the world from both perspectives.