The NSF also took action to help spur this innovation in graduate education by establishing the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program in 1997. The goal of the IGERT program is to catalyze a culture change in graduate education to equip U.S. science and engineering graduate students to address the challenges of the 21st century by engaging in research that crosses disciplinary, departmental, or even institutional boundaries and provides student trainees with deep knowledge in a field while learning the skills needed to work as part of an interdisciplinary team. Two years later, the NSF created the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education program (GK-12) program to link the K-12 sciences and mathematics community to the research communities and provide funding to graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines so that they may acquire, through interactions with teachers and students in K-12 schools, additional skills that will broadly prepare them for professional and scientific careers. Both IGERT and GK-12 expand the skills and capabilities of the traditional Ph.D. recipient. (See Box 1-2.)
There have been important experiments in master’s education in the natural sciences—experiments that laid the groundwork for such action as the congressional authorization of a PSM program through the America COMPETES Act. Our survey of the role of the master’s degree across disciplines within science and without shows a lack of clarity as to the meaning of the degree and the skills/knowledge/capability it denotes to the recipient. This mystifies students and employers alike and represents a lost opportunity: for science-educated baccalaureates to continue along a science pathway; for the nation, which requires highly educated and skilled innovators. It is to master’s education, including such experiments as the PSM, that we turn in the next chapter. The PSM represents an antidote to the lost opportunity; one that reflects both employer needs (the demand side) and university flexibility and creatively (as a supplier of trained talent).