– Dual study program of computer science at GSI and at the University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt –
Top-level research at world class, like at GSI and FAIR, is not possible without powerful IT. With the Green IT Cube, GSI/FAIR has therefore built one of the most energy-efficient high-performance data centers worldwide. In order to attract qualified new personnel and at the same time to advance the development of modern IT, GSI offers a dual study program of computer science in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt. The 22-year-old Jannika Füchsle is one of the students. Currently she is in the 5th semester. Interview by Ingo Peter.
Mrs. Füchsle, you are studying in a dual study program of computer science at the University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt in cooperation with GSI. What are you currently working on?
Since October 1, I am doing my so-called practical semester at GSI, which means I am working on a specific and exciting IT project. In total it is my 5th semester and I have already spent an internship semester at GSI before. Furthermore I will spend my last semester for my final thesis at GSI again.
And in the times when you are not in a practical semester, what do you do? How do we have to imagine a “dual study program”?
In the dual study program I alternately spend one semester either in the company or at the university. In the company, in my case GSI, I do specific practical IT development projects, at the university it is more about the theoretical basics. The study program takes seven semesters and I finish with a bachelor degree. Afterwards, there is also the possibility to study for a master’s degree.
So you are currently in your practical semester at GSI and you have a specific project ahead of you or already started? What is your task in this semester at GSI?
GSI is strongly involved in the ALICE experiment at CERN in Geneva, both scientifically and technically. There, the JAliEn software is used to operate the globally distributed ALICE computing infrastructure. With JAliEn, data is transferred and computational jobs are efficiently distributed across the available computational capacities in the grid to enable simulation, reconstruction and analysis of the physics data of the ALICE experiment on a large scale. To put it simply, I’m testing whether the ALICE software JAliEn could also be used later at FAIR or whether it can be adapted to be used.
Who comes up with such a project? You probably can’t do it alone. Is there someone who supports you at GSI?
Yes, of course! I am in the IT group Distributed Computing and my supervisor is Dr. Kilian Schwarz. He thinks about suitable projects in advance, which then have to be approved by the university. Above all, the university checks whether the project is appropriate for the study program.
Now we have learned something about your practical semester at GSI. What does a semester at the university look like?
As already mentioned, I get the theoretical basics there. There are predefined modules that I have to complete and there elective courses. Topics are for example “computer architectures”, “programming, algorithms & data structures”, “software engineering” or “development of web-based applications”, but there are also many more. And of course I have to write exams. For each passed exam you get points, so called “Credit Points”. Only if I collected enough credit points I can proceed with the next semester.
What about the exchange with other students from your semester? You meet regularly at the university, but during the practical semester, are you completely “alone” without contact to the other students?
During the semesters at the university, we meet regularly in the various lectures and tutorials. The last semester was completely online because of Corona. But there is also a regular exchange during the practical semesters, even though the students in the dual study program work in many different companies.
And how does the exchange between students take place during the practical semesters?
The practical part is also supervised from the university side. There is an accompanying professor who accompanies me and four other students at other companies. We usually meet three times during a practical semester, each time at a different location. There we exchange information about our projects and thus also get to know IT tasks in other companies. By the way, this is also very interesting for our supervisors in the companies, who therefore usually participate in the meetings. This also creates an exchange of know-how between the IT departments of the cooperating companies.
What influence does Corona have on the practical semesters?
At the moment, I work mainly in the home office. However, if I follow the obligatory hygiene measures, I could also come to GSI if necessary.
How do students actually choose the companies where they want to spend their practical semester?
There is a long list of cooperating companies for the dual IT degree program at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. If you are interested, you must first apply to one of these companies. And only if you have a confirmation from the company and a valid training contract, you can enroll at the university.
That means, you have a contract with GSI?
Yes, exactly. I am employed at GSI and I also receive a salary all year round, i.e. also during the university semesters. That is of course great, but it also means that I don’t have semester breaks, like students of other courses. So I work at GSI during the semester breaks “as usual” and if I want to take a vacation, I have to apply for a vacation with my supervisor, just like all other employees here.
You said there is a long list of companies where you can get a dual degree in computer science. Why did you decide for GSI of all companies?
During my school time at the Heinrich-Emanuel-Merck School we once visited GSI on a guided tour. Afterwards I was totally enthusiastic about the research at GSI and the future project FAIR. We also visited the Green IT Cube and that’s when I realized how important a powerful IT is for research. That actually never let me go. I also took advanced courses in IT and chemistry. That fits GSI quite well! So the enthusiasm has never left me until today. I really wanted to go to GSI and I am glad that it worked out!
We are also glad that you are with us and when young motivated people find their way to us. Soon your studies will be over. Do you already have plans for the future?
I really enjoy working here. I find the tasks in IT exciting and they are very divers, you always have to deal with the latest technology. And being part of this unique research facility, where people from all over the world come to do research, is of course an additional motivation. So I would like to do my master studies at GSI and I could very well imagine working here permanently later on.