Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 29
fames Stith and Roman Czujko American Institute of Physics (AIP) INTRODUCTION The science and engineering workforce is essential to technological innovation, which in turn drives economic development and enables ad- vances in national security, medicine, education, transportation, energy, and other components of the standard of living in the United States. Phys- ics-educated workers are a critical part of the SHE workforce. This paper will not attempt to address all aspects of the physics-edu- cated workforce, such as the role of physics in the scientific literacy of the general public or the contributions of the experienced physics workforce. Instead, this paper focuses on physics undergraduate education and the central role it plays in preparing the SHE workforce. PHYSICS UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION What are we trying to accomplish? In general, an undergraduate de- gree in physics encompasses four general goals: knowledge of the disci- nline cognitive skills technical skills and traits important for a good sci- 1 ' tJ ' ' 1 enlist. Knowledge of physics is, obviously, a defining characteristic of a physics education. However, it is not the only defining characteristic. Physics students develop cognitive skills such as critical thinking, analyti- cal thinking, and problem solving, including how to identify the set of likely solutions from the universe of possible solutions to a problem. In addition, physics students acquire a variety of technical skills, often
OCR for page 30
PAN-~CANIZAHONAL SUMMIT through undergraduate research experiences. These can include advanced mathematics, modeling and simulations, use of computer hardware, and the ability to manipulate sophisticated lab equipment. Finally, a physics education helps students develop traits that are important for good scien- tists such as being meticulous, hard working, and tenacious. It should, of course, be noted that the above are general goals. Under- graduate education is not a single, unified system. It consists of thousands of students earning bachelor's degrees from nearly 770 physics departments. Thus, individual physics students develop different profiles of the knowl- edge and skills that we commonly associate with a physics education. Role of physics in undergraduate education Physics is a comparatively small field. During academic year 2000- 2001, nearly 4,100 physics bachelors were awarded. That same year, over 1.2 million bachelor's degrees were awarded across all fields in the United States. Thus, out of every 1,000 bachelor's degrees awarded each year, only about 3.4 are in physics. Beyond the number of bachelor's degrees awarded, physics also plays an important role in higher education more generally. By way of example, 900,000 students took physics in high schools in academic year 2000, and about a half million students took introductory-level physics in 4- and 2- year colleges. Clearly, physics plays an essential role in the education of engineering and physical science majors, most of whom are required to take several physics courses. However, the impact of physics is even broader. By way of example, recent studies by the U.S. Department of Education indicate that most bachelor's degree recipients in the United States have taken physics in high school, college, or both. What do physics bachelors do? Physics bachelors commonly pursue remarkably diverse educational and career paths. There are three predominant paths immediately pursu- ant to obtaining the bachelor's degree: attend graduate school in physics (32 percent), attend graduate school in other fields (20 percent), and enter the workforce (48 percent). These are general trends, although they differ by type of institution that physics students attend. For example, physics bachelors who earned their degrees from a department with a graduate program are more likely to pursue advanced degrees in physics than are those who earned their bachelor's from an undergraduate institution. Also, the rates fluctuate slightly, in part, in response to perceived oppor- tunities and economic conditions. In addition, the first few years post- bachelor's degree are characterized by change. Thus, within seven years,
OCR for page 31
AMERICAN INS'n'TUTE OF PHYsICs two-thirds of physics bachelors have earned an advanced degree or are full-time students pursuing an advanced degree. A physics education has value as a foundation from which people can react to changes in demand. However, the diversity of educational and career paths is neither a recent phenomenon nor simply a reaction to eco- nomic conditions. It also reflects the varied interests of physics bachelor's degree recipients. One indicator of these varied interests is the fact that over one third of physics bachelors graduate with two bachelor's degrees. The other degree is typically in mathematics, engineering, or one of the physical sciences, but a broader spectrum is also common, including life sciences ohilosonhv education history music anthronolo~v osvchol- ogy, etc. ~ r r at ) ~ ~ r cat) ~ r ) In summary, a physics education is not monolithic; it prepares stu- dents for more than a narrow set of careers. Similarly, physics students are not homogeneous. They have varied interests, and their physics edu- cation provides them with the knowledge and skills to pursue a broad range of educational and career paths. The job market for physics bachelors Most physics bachelors who enter the workforce find employment in the private sector. However, unlike in the fields of chemistry and engi- neering, there is no physics industry. Nevertheless, about 85 percent of physics bachelors find employment within the science and engineering enterprise. This rate varies by a few percentage points depending upon economic conditions. About half of those students who work outside of the technical workforce report that their decisions were based on a change in interests and personal preferences. The dominant types of technical positions vary depending on eco- nomic conditions and the contemporary demands of the workforce. Engi- neering and technical positions often predominate, but during the Internet-driven economy of the late 1990s, software-related positions dominated. As is described in The Early Careers of Physics Bachelors (Ivie and Stowe, 2002), the knowledge and skills that physics bachelors possess allow them to react to changes in demand. PHYSICS GRADUATE STUDY An undergraduate education in physics uniquely prepares students for graduate study in physics. Historically, about one third of physics bachelors go to graduate school in physics. However, only one in six phys- ics bachelors earn a Ph.D. in physics. Some students leave programs be-
OCR for page 32
PAN-~CANIZAHONAL SUMMIT fore earning their Ph.D.'s, and others directly enter programs that offer a master's as the highest degree. Ph.D. physicists play important roles throughout the economy. On average, physics Ph.D.'s spend 38 years in the workforce. They enter the workforce with a unique profile of knowledge, skills, and interests, which change and evolve over time. Some add to the knowledge base through basic research, some teach, some create innovation, and others react to the constantly changing opportunities in the workforce. Physics master's degree recipients participate in the economy in ways that are qualitatively different from either physics bachelors or physics Ph.D.'s. There has been a growing interest in many sectors of the economy for employees with a master's-level background. Simultaneously, in part due to the efforts of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, there has been a recent increase in the number of professional master's degree programs. Profes- sional master's degree programs are intended to provide the knowledge base that individuals will be able to draw upon during their decades in the labor force combined with a set of educational experiences that have direct and immediate relevance to the contemporary needs of the workforce. OTHER GRADUATE STUDY About one-third of physics bachelors use their undergraduate educa- tion as a base for pursuing advanced degrees in other fields. In fact, more physics bachelors earn master's degrees in other fields than earn a master's in physics. Many earn master's degrees in engineering, but a broad spectrum of fields is common, including other physical sciences, business, and education. Some earn Ph.D.'s in chemistry, materials sci- ence, or engineering and related fields, and a few go on to earn profes- sional degrees such as M.D.'s. Where these individuals work and what they do are related to both the level of their highest degree and the field of degree. While occupa- tional diversity persists, physics bachelors who earn advanced degrees in other fields report that their undergraduate physics education has endur- ing value. The vast majority note that their undergraduate physics knowl- edge and analytical and problem-solving skills had a dramatic and posi- tive effect on their subsequent educational and career choices. SUPPLY VERSUS DEMAND One of the underlying issues that this conference is intended to ad- dress is the relationship between supply and demand. In our particular case, how many physics bachelors are in demand? How do we know how many physics-educated workers the United States needs? These are im-
OCR for page 33
AMERICAN INS'n'TUTE OF PHYsICs portent questions and, as is often the case, the most important questions can be the most difficult to answer. While we have had modest success projecting degree production sev- eral years into the future, none of us has succeeded in projecting future demand. In part, this is because demand is affected by economic and po- litical events in both national and international arenas. In part, demand is difficult to project because it is not discipline-specific but, rather, reflects a complex system. Degree recipients from a specific field change their field of work with time and changing opportunities and interests. Conversely, changes in demand draw people at different experience levels. Even when the demand is focused largely in a specific area, it is seldom exclusively in one narrow disciple. By way of example, if the personal computer revolu- tion of 1980 were dependent on discipline-specific degree production, it may not have occurred until 1985 or later. It occurred when it did because the economy had computer scientists, physicists, electrical engineers, ma- terials scientists, etc. who had the knowledge and skills to create the inno- vations or were in a position to take advantage of those opportunities. CONCLUDING REMARKS Undergraduate study in physics is not just preparation for a Ph.D. Physics graduate study is an important choice, and an undergraduate physics education is an essential preparation for those who pursue this option. However, they are in the minority of all physics bachelors. De- partments need to be aware of the varied educational and career paths pursued by their graduates and to develop curricular offerings that ad- dress their students' needs. However, this is not unique to physics. The kinds of knowledge, skills, and educational experiences that are useful to physics graduates are also useful to physical scientists and engineers. The authors of this paper do not believe it is appropriate for them to state whether the nation needs 4,000, 6,000, or 8,000 physics bachelors each year. Rather the number of physics bachelor's degrees awarded na- tionally should be driven by informed decisions made locally by indi- vidual physics departments. It is the responsibility of each department to assess both whether its graduates are well prepared to pursue their career goals and whether the number of graduates it produces matches the de- mands of the workforce and of graduate programs in both physics and related fields. RECOMMENDATIONS · Leverage the traditional strengths of physics · Link physics education to student goals and expectations
OCR for page 34
needs PAN-~CANIZAHONAL SUMMIT · Develop a feedback loop between physics education and workforce · Focus on the professional development of students · Strengthen the connection between physics and society Historically, undergraduate physics education has served students and the nation well. However, as knowledge, technology, and the chal- lenges facing the United States continue to evolve, it is time for physics departments to examine whether their curricula are meeting the goals and expectations of contemporary students as well as addressing the demands and opportunities in the SHE workforce. At the present time, this vital feedback loop is inadequate in most departments. Each department should track its own graduates as one way of ensuring that the curriculum it provides is meeting the needs of its students. In addition, each department should develop connections with the employers of its graduates. If most of a department's graduates enter the workforce, then that department should contact those employers to learn how prepared its graduates were for their positions. Similarly, a department whose bachelors tend to enter graduate programs should open a dialogue with those departments to learn how well prepared its graduates were for advanced study. Master's degree recipients have value and satisfy a unique need within the economy. They fill positions that are qualitatively different from those filled by either bachelors or Ph.D.'s. Thus their preparation should be different from that of a Ph.D. program. The recent emphasis on professional master's degree programs is timely and has a great deal of promise. Physics departments are encouraged to examine whether such programs would build on their strengths and help them address the op- portunities available to the physics-educated workforce.
Representative terms from entire chapter: