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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop Summary Scholarly research underpins graduate education, but issues in graduate education extend beyond research training. In the chemical sciences, graduate students normally serve as research assistants for faculty, typically with the goal of producing results that can be published jointly by the student and the research advisor. But more often than is the case in other disciplines, graduates in chemistry and chemical engineering are employed by industry—particularly the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industries. The unique aspects of the chemical sciences have implications not only for time to degree but also for the larger educational mission of graduate study—including helping students to develop the skills that are likely to be required for multistage career pathways. The approach to graduate study in the chemical sciences has changed very little in the last 40 years, but the research and educational environment is evolving at a rapid pace. Given the enormity of the economic and human capital investment, it is not surprising that questions arise about the outcomes of the investment. Opinions vary widely about whether graduate education in the chemical sciences needs to change, ranging from an emphasis on not fixing what is not broken to insistence on a complete restructuring. Regardless of one’s position on this spectrum, similar questions arise: What are the criteria for evaluating the quality of graduate education, and who establishes these criteria? For what purpose does the graduate enterprise exist? For what purposes and goals do students choose to seek a graduate degree? Who benefits and what is the product—graduate students, faculty, the research itself, all of the above? Must all graduate programs have the same structure? Why do faculty choose to have graduate students rather than experienced researchers, especially if research—leading to new knowledge—is the objective? To what extent are graduate students educated; to what extent trained? How long should—and does—it take graduate students to complete their degrees?
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop These and other questions are not new and are not unique to the chemical sciences. Indeed, they have captured the attention of the National Research Council, the Association of American Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, the National Institute for Science Education, the National Science Foundation, a number of private foundations, and of course the array of industries that represent the largest cluster of employers of chemical scientists. “Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences: Issues for the 21st Century,” a workshop held in 1999 by the National Research Council’s Chemical Sciences Roundtable, was organized to address whether and how the various chemical science communities should respond to the types of concerns described above. Speakers were asked to raise questions, rather than to give definitive answers, and to be provocative. The discussion was organized into four sessions that represented a nearly arbitrary framing of the topic: first, a general overview; second, viewpoints on existing circumstances; third, perspectives of and on graduate students; and fourth, some alternative organizational structures. In capturing the presentations and the discussion, these proceedings are intended to broaden the dialog and catalyze mechanisms for participants and others to improve graduate education in or through their own institutions. OVERVIEW: CHEMICAL SCIENCES IN THE GRADUATE UNIVERSE Peter M. Eisenberger (Columbia University) opened the session with a presentation that included a review of the 1996 National Science Foundation (NSF) report Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Training in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences,1 which was based on a workshop organized by NSF’s Mathematics and Physical Sciences directorate to examine graduate education. After outlining the forces that prompted the NSF workshop and the core findings and recommendations that resulted, he summarized the changes that have taken place within the research and development (R&D) and educational enterprises since the release of that report. The forces that have motivated and are continuing to drive the changes and to shape both graduate education and the overall R&D enterprise in the United States were explored, and emerging trends and institutional and curriculum challenges were discussed. Dr. Eisenberger argued that we are currently in the middle of a “knowledge revolution” that will have a deep impact on all aspects of our society, but he specifically addressed the emerging impact on R&D and on education. As with the onset of revolutions that have occurred in the past (i.e., the industrial revolution), new challenges will arise that will affect how these enterprises operate. Responding to these changes will have a profound impact not only on graduate education but also on the institutions responsible for education. He stressed the importance of identifying new challenges and addressing them quickly and effectively. Edel Wasserman (DuPont and the American Chemical Society) accented the need to customize graduate education to match the strengths and weaknesses of the individual student, a task requiring sensitive mentoring. He believes that a diversity of options is desirable in a graduate program. He stated that formal requirements should be targeted to the needs of the good and very good students; the truly outstanding candidate may be a maverick who resists structure. For outstanding students, the university’s role is to provide an intellectual and physical environment that can be used for self-education. All students, however, should leave graduate school with the ability to renew themselves continually over a decades-long scientific career. 1 National Science Foundation (NSF), Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Training in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Report NSF 96-21 (Office of the Assistant, Directorate for Mathematics and Physical Sciences, NSF, 1996). The workshop summary report can be found on the NSF Web site at <www.nsf.gov/mps/workshop.htm>.
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop The education system must move away from long residencies to complete the Ph.D., Dr. Wasserman argued. Noting anecdotal evidence that residency times greater than 5 to 6 years can lead to a narrower scientific outlook, he observed that the chemical industry requires flexibility in its staff for a rapidly changing work environment, and it needs people who are innovators and who are comfortable working in novel areas. Individuals within the chemical industry need to have the necessary communication skills for interactions between scientists as well as with less technical audiences. Dr. Wasserman pointed out that chemistry has a wide-ranging impact in all fields of science and engineering. Therefore, the chemical sciences need to make it known that chemistry is still a young science, with many open areas to be developed and many exciting opportunities. He concluded by arguing that the educational system must make a transition from what has been largely a single-structure model to a more flexible model, the better to serve both students and the chemical science enterprise. R. Stephen Berry (University of Chicago) addressed several tensions that exist today in chemistry graduate education: the pull toward interdisciplinarity, the time to achieve a degree, and the intellectual exchange between academia and industry. He questioned whether interdisciplinarity has become too institutionalized: Has institutionalizing interdisciplinarity simply provided a way of making it financially attractive to look beyond traditional bounds rather than increasing the intellectual interactions? He also evaluated the implications of spending an increased amount of time achieving a Ph.D. degree. Vital to resolving the issue of how much time is too much is the need to identify clearly what educational content is required to achieve a Ph.D. Increased interaction between industry and academia is providing new opportunities for research collaborations that factor into the increased time to degree. Care should be taken to ensure that the limiting factor in the time to degree is developing skilled and educated people, not providing to industry the results of substantive research that is enabled by university patents and collaborations with industry. He expressed concern about confidentiality requirements associated with research resulting from industry collaborations. In addition, the problem of impaired information flow has to be addressed before the university loses the capacity to achieve its primary goal of education. THE CURRENT STATUS OF GRADUATE EDUCATION IN THE CHEMICAL SCIENCES Lynn W. Jelinski (Louisiana State University) discussed the benefits of interdisciplinary research identifed in her interviews with several graduate students in the chemistry department at Louisiana State University. The case studies arising from the interviews illustrated how interdisciplinary research can increase students’ self-confidence, motivation, and ability to compromise. She also found that the faculty members learned how to balance working with both students and external research collaborators. Aspects of external collaborations regarded as important by the student interviewees were compared with aspects the workshop attendees themselves viewed as valuable. Dr. Jelinski also explored administrative concerns relating to external collaborations to help provide a more complete understanding of external research in the academic setting. She stressed the importance of faculty going beyond what is normally expected of them when they mentor students. Although she pointed out that her study was not highly scientific, she argued that it supports the position that interdisciplinary research is an effective and essential part of graduate education. Eric G. Jakobsson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) explored the impacts of information technology on education. He investigated how information technology has blurred the boundaries between research and education as well as between disciplines. He illustrated how the World Wide Web has allowed movement across boundaries of a discipline, using as an example the National Computational Science Alliance Information Workbench, a Web-based program that performs many different functions but is designed to look like a single program. In particular, he explored the capabilities of the
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop Biology Workbench and showed how its users are able to search for various protein structures, find literature references, view a protein’s tertiary structure, find sequence homogeneity with similar proteins by using the BLAST program, and much more. The seamless access to various tools illustrated in his presentation is a feature that makes these programs attractive to biologists as well as those from other related disciplines such as chemistry. Angelica M. Stacy (University of California, Berkeley) examined how various teaching models affect student learning. In the first model the teacher transmits knowledge to students, who receive and memorize it. In this situation the student does not typically develop a working understanding of the material. An alternative constructivist model features the teacher as a guide to help students work through chemical problems and develop a solution that becomes part of their understanding. Results of an experiment designed to explore which model was more effective indicated that the students taught with the constructivist model performed better at the end of the semester. Dr. Stacy emphasized the need for improved training for new teaching assistants (TAs), who find themselves responsible for teaching college lectures and/or laboratory sections without any prior teaching experience. She proposed that a solution to this common problem was to employ supplemental instruction programs to equip new TAs to handle their new positions better. In all cases, the faculty’s role is to support and assist their students in the learning process. KEEPING AN EYE TO THE FUTURE IN DESIGNING GRADUATE PROGRAMS Marye Anne Fox (North Carolina State University) discussed various issues that affect graduate education. These ranged from the effects of advances in information technology on how science is conducted to the special obligations of research scientists to K-12 education as a result of a “covenant with the nation.” To help explore improvements that can be made to enhance graduate education, she also discussed topics related to funding, such as reasons for federal government support of basic research and alternative ways in which graduate students could be supported. Dr. Fox called for the integration of research into education and urged scientists to educate the general public about the purposes of their research. She charged faculty members to evaluate their students for their readiness to work outside their own specializations. She also encouraged the faculty to take undergraduate students into their research and called for research scientists to establish ties with and offer assistance to colleagues who are involved in teacher education. Finally, she encouraged increased interactions between faculty members and local industry colleagues, including investigating the possibility of co-sponsoring student research projects. THE GRADUATE STUDENT PERSPECTIVE Karen E. Phillips (Columbia University), an advanced graduate student, discussed the Columbia Chemistry Career Committee (C4) that she initiated to help prepare graduate students for the transition to professional employment. Her motivation for developing C4 was the observation that graduate schools, although they generally provide a model for students with career paths leading toward academic research universities or careers in industry, still largely ignore the needs of future small-college or community-college instructors. The C4 activities allow students to gain a better understanding of life after graduate school by participating in an interview workshop, a résumé workshop, a trip to an industrial plant research facility, and a panel discussion group. She elaborated on the panel discussion and explained how it investigated general job-market issues such as funding. The events had a positive effect
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop on the students planning them as well as on those attending. C4 is currently making plans to hold another panel discussion that will focus on career options for teachers with graduate degrees. Jonathan L. Bundy (University of Maryland, College Park) addressed the issue of undergraduate education from his perspective as a relatively new graduate student. He viewed reforming undergraduate education as the most important contribution to improving graduate education in chemistry. The three areas that deserve attention are undergraduate-level research experiences, advising and mentoring, and ensuring that students have an adequate foundation in chemical fundamentals. He also argued that graduate programs can help improve undergraduate education by instituting teaching fellow or faculty apprentice programs to enhance the teaching assistantship experience for those who ultimately may pursue a career as a faculty member at an undergraduate institution. Maintaining the “raw material” is essential to continuing the excellence of our graduate institutions. Judson L. Haynes III (Procter & Gamble), a recent graduate, discussed his experiences as both an undergraduate and a graduate minority student in chemistry. He likened his graduate education to a modern-day version of the mythical labyrinth of Crete, complete with minotaurs that tried to block his progress through the maze of higher education. As background for his graduate experiences, he discussed his undergraduate education, including his participation in the MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) program. This federally funded program provided, among other benefits, funding for students to conduct research and to visit universities with different programs, opportunities that helped him to be better prepared for graduate school. After describing some of the issues associated with being a minority student and the important skills he developed during his graduate career, he concluded by emphasizing the importance of getting students involved in chemistry as much and as early as possible and keeping them motivated. Richard A. Weibl (Association of American Colleges and Universities) provided a summary of the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program, sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, with financial support from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Science Foundation. The PFF program is designed to give graduate students who aspire to be college or university faculty a better understanding of the teaching, research, and service roles of faculty members. He discussed the assumptions, concepts, and activities that define the program and the role of PFF in the participating chemistry departments. ALTERNATIVE STRUCTURES AND ATTITUDES François M.M. Morel (Princeton University) examined an experimental program started in 1997 at Princeton University and designed to broaden graduate education in environment-related areas by introducing a policy component into the Ph.D. requirements. The Princeton Environmental Institute-Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (PEI-STEP) program has received support from the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation and is administered by PEI. He discussed the requirements of the program and outlined where students currently enrolled are likely to go following completion of their degrees. He pointed out that negative perceptions of such programs, which can stem from an attitude on the part of some faculty that students in these types of programs as not serious about scientific work, can hinder greater interest in such programs. J. Michael White (University of Texas at Austin) examined the need for chemists to adapt and reinvent themselves to meet the changing demands of the workforce. He discussed his experiences as director of the National Science Foundation-supported Science and Technology Center for the Synthesis, Growth, and Analysis of Electronic Materials. He explained how this interdisciplinary program has integrated graduate research through collaborations between faculty in electrical engineering, chemistry,
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop physics, and chemical engineering. The interdisciplinary nature of this program benefits students throughout their life by providing them with a broad knowledge base. Specific issues arising in the program were also discussed. He emphasized the need for seamless, high-quality education, investments in high school education, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Ronald T. Borchardt (University of Kansas) focused on how graduate education in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Kansas has evolved over the past 30 years and described how a National Institutes of Health predoctoral training grant was used to bridge the gap between traditional disciplines. In many cases, reduction of the gap has been driven by the biotechnology revolution, which demands interactions between various disciplines (e.g., chemistry and biology or pharmacy and engineering). His historical overview of the University of Kansas program covered three periods: prerevolution, postrevolution, and the future. He underscored the changes introduced to generate Ph.D. scientists who could compete effectively for jobs in the emerging biotechnology industry. Dr. Borchardt also discussed the nonprofit Globalization of Pharmaceutics Education Network, Inc., a program started in 1996 to increase graduate students’ interactions with students and faculty from universities in other countries. Throughout, he stressed the importance of developing effective strategies oriented toward future needs.
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