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Science Professionals: Master‘s Education for a Competitive World
attractive setting in which to study and conduct research; sustain and strengthen the nation’s commitment to long-term basic research that secures our country; and ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world to promote innovation. Last summer, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law the America COMPETES Act laying the groundwork for the implementation of many of these recommendations. Yet more, including the necessary appropriation of funds for new or expanded programs, is needed.
Talent is one of the important keys to innovation and competitive success. Reforming K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and encouraging undergraduates to pursue technical education and careers are both critical. Supporting doctoral students who will undertake future research is fundamental. Yet, the master’s-trained segment of the science workforce is pivotal: strengthened master’s education in the natural sciences will prepare professionals who bring scientific knowledge and also the ability to anticipate, adapt, learn, and lead where and when needed in industry, government, and nonprofits.
Traditionally, the master’s degree in the natural sciences has tended to be single-discipline in orientation, an extension of undergraduate science education, and preparatory to the doctorate. In many fields, such as the biological sciences, physics, and chemistry, the award of a master’s degree has typically signified either a “stepping-stone” en route to the doctorate or a “consolation prize” for those who were not admitted to candidacy or dropped out. Exciting experiments in master’s education over the last decade—the Master of Biosciences (MBS) program at the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences and the Professional Science Master’s (PSM) initiative seeded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation1—have shown that graduate education in these fields can prepare students for advanced science-based work in a way that is highly desired by employers. These programs are useful and scalable.
In the COMPETES Act, the 110th Congress agreed, authorizing the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create a new program of grants to four-year institutions that will provide for the creation or expansion of PSM programs. Through this authorization, Congress acknowledged the role in our economy and government at this point in history of the professional who possesses a balanced breadth and depth of scientific knowledge and practical workplace skills for the productive and innova-
While the MBS and PSM degree programs represent different institutional approaches to effecting change in professional science master’s education (see Boxes 2-3 and 2-4 in Chapter 2), they are similar in goals, curricular approaches, and their interaction with employers. For purposes of this report, findings, conclusions, and recommendations regarding the PSM should be seen as including the MBS as well.