Frithjof Rickmer Feldtmann successfully studied in the MINTgrün pre-study orientation program at Technische Universität Berlin in winter semester 2017/2018 and summer semester 2018 . He began studying Natural Sciences in the Information Society in winter semester 2018/19 . Here he discusses his experiences of MINTgrün, his work as a student mentor and studying in a (still) little-known degree program.
Why did you choose to do a pre-study orientation program?
After completing my school exams, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Suddenly I was finished at school and it was already June. I wanted to study because doing so provides you with the most options. Then I came across MINTgrün while searching online. There was no restricted admission so I enrolled and one week later I had my student ID.
I have more affinity with natural sciences than the humanities. This was the decisive point for me and explains why I chose TU Berlin over the city’s other universities.
Why did you choose TU Berlin?
I wanted to do the orientation program. Yes, you can also try out humanities subjects including at FU and HU Berlin or in Potsdam. I wouldn't choose a university based on the city. Berlin is more expensive than smaller cities, but once I have decided on a university, I would also work on the side to finance my studies.
And now you are studying at TU Berlin. Is studying how you imagined it to be?
Generally, yes. I realized that I would need to take responsibility myself and that there is more to studying than just turning up for the lectures. But I underestimated how much you have to keep an overview of things in a degree program. I am studying Natural Sciences in the Information Society with a focus on physics and it helps me that I had already studied for two semesters in advance. I wouldn't have managed a regular physics degree straight after school or I would have lost much of my motivation in the first semester.
Do you enjoy sharing your experience as a mentor?
Yes, I get to talk to MINTgrün students from my perspective as a regular student in a degree program and swap ideas with them over lunch. People who know me from MINTgrün are always coming up to speak to me in the corridors.
Can you tell us three things about the MINTgrün program that make it special for you?
The first point is that you are properly enrolled, meaning that I can take exams and have them counted in my degree program. Then there is the focus on the natural sciences as well as the fact that MINTgrün means I can choose from everything on offer at TU Berlin. So I am enrolled at the University like any other student. The third point to mention is the project labs offered in the MINTgrün program. It is not just a normal degree where I can study anything I like, it is also an orientation program which gives me a chance to find out about things. There is the Wissenschaftsfenster module, where you can learn about all the academic chairs and the programs they offer, and there is also an orientation module. To sum up: One, I can choose anything I like; two, I have the option to have my work recognized as credit points which means I have not “lost” a year doing MINTgrün; and three, MINTgrün provides a guidance function to help you decide what to do.
Did you have a favorite course in the MINTgrün program?
I found the orientation module very helpful. Looking back I would say that the orientation module plays a bigger role in the MINTgrün program than I would have thought. It gives you insight into studying in general as well as an overview of the different kinds of higher education institutions (university of applied sciences, university, etc.). Over the course of the two semesters you are given information at just the right time about the various degree programs at TU Berlin as well as information about how to apply and what is meant by restricted admission policy. Another thing I really like is that you get weekly course guidance.
What helped you make the right choice concerning your degree program?
Knowing about the degree program I chose. I hadn’t thought about it before MINTgrün. Previously I had only considered physics and computer science. I knew there were something like 19,000 degree programs but I hadn’t really thought about it properly. I hadn’t realized that every university is more or less free to create any number of degree programs that only then need to be accredited so that Natural Sciences in the Information Society is only offered at TU and no other university. Now I know that I can choose half of my modules from degree programs other than the one I am studying, I mean that I have a free choice.
You can even choose to do modules at other universities or abroad. You just have to see that the content is right and that you can get the modules accredited. Doing a semester abroad was also something we looked at in the orientation module.
What makes TU Berlin special for you?
I like the fact that it is large and you can enjoy a level of anonymity. But I also really like the tutorials and the close supervision. Doing math at TU Berlin motivates me even though I am not particularly good at math and my grades are nothing special. I like the clear categorization and the level of abstraction. I have the feeling that mathematics features in a lot of degree programs at TU Berlin, including programs like Brewing and Beverage Technology. Doing math is not something to be avoided; it´s an incentive for me and I want to give myself to it and use it as a chance to deal with frustration. The math tutors I have had so far have all been very good and have a much better understanding of mathematics than my teachers at school, purely because they are much more engaged with the subject. At the moment I am taking mathematics for physics, which is also taught by mathematics professors, in other words real mathematicians who are really into the subject.
What would be your choice of career?
I can see myself staying in academia and doing a doctorate. The option to find out about all the academic chairs and programs in the Wissenschaftsfenster module in MINTgrün helped me a lot in this respect. Every week a professor came to talk to us about their chair and their own career path. Some of them had explored options beyond a classic university career. This is why Natural Sciences in the Information Society is such a good choice for me to develop my general education. It covers the entire spectrum of MINT subjects so that you don´t have to miss out on anything. It allows me to specialize in an area of my choice over three years, such as math or chemistry, and to spend one year looking at other subject areas. This means that I miss out on nothing.
How did your first semesters go?
The first two semesters in my degree program have been somewhat more structured than in the orientation program. The decision to do a bachelor´s degree and the fact that my modules are now more closely connected thematically makes it easier for me to concentrate on several modules at the same time.
Do you still feel your decision to study Natural Sciences in the Information Society was the right one?
I am still very satisfied with my choice of degree program and have no plans to switch. If the purpose of MINTgrün is to enable you to make the right choice of degree program, then it was a success for me. If I had to decide again, then I would still choose MINTgrün and Natural Sciences in the Information Society.
Did doing the MINTgrün program help you in your degree?
Sure, I was able to carry over some of the credit points from MINTgrün but that isn't so important for me and I don't see that as such a big advantage. A real advantage of doing MINTgrün is that it cushions your start to studying at university – I didn’t feel under pressure to achieve in those first two semesters and could start nice and slowly without experiencing any disadvantages in my actual degree program. All degree programs should allow you to try things out in the first semester without having to have your work assessed or take exams.