Box 2-4

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Professional Science Master’s Initiative

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation pioneered the development of professional science master’s programs designed to graduate students who would bring both advanced scientific knowledge and practical, professional skills to the workplace. The Sloan Foundation, from January 1997 to September 2007, had approved a total of $17.5 million in grants to promote the PSM and to establish PSM programs, of which $15.9 million has been paid to date. These funds include grants to institutions, university systems, the CGS, the Commission of Professionals in Science and Technology, science societies, and other organizations that promote the PSM.

As a result of Sloan’s seed funding, there have been more than 120 program tracks in 50 institutions across 20 states created in the past decade. Sloan initially provided $125,000 per institutional program track for start-ups in research universities. Later, as knowledge accumulated about how to launch a PSM track, the amount per program dropped to $90,000 to $100,000. This effort resulted in the establishment of about 60 program tracks at research institutions and was followed by a particular push to establish 12 single-track programs in bioinformatics. In a second-phase effort that began in 2002, Sloan provided planning grants of $7,000 to master’s-focused institutions for the development of program proposals. Implementation awards of $40,000 per track were provided in response to successful applications, which resulted in about 30 additional program tracks at master’s institutions. In a more recent phase beginning in 2005, Sloan has also provided funding for system-wide PSM efforts such as one in the California State University system that will result in 16 programs across 112 campuses.

Key aspects of the PSM initiative are listed below.

  • PSM programs are concentrated in the biological sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, and computer science. The institution identified the scientific focus of a program track. Very often programs are interdisciplinary in nature.

  • About 70 percent of coursework in a PSM curriculum typically focuses on science. PSM programs also include what is often referred to as a “plus” component, which focuses on such workplace skills as communication, project management, interdisciplinary teamwork, ethics, and, as appropriate, business, legal, or computation.

  • Programs typically have external advisory boards. Programs see industry, government agencies, and nonprofits as potential employers. Programs are required to offer a summer internship for students.

  • A new association of PSM directors, the National PSM Association, was formed in 2007. This association will also serve as a clearinghouse of information about PSM programs.

SOURCES: Carol Lynch, “Professional Science Master’s Degrees: Background and Overview,” presentation to the study committee, March 28, 2007. Sheila Tobias and Lindy Brigham, “Report on PSM Programs: Distillation of 2005 Questionnaires,” unpublished report to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, March 31, 2006. Council of Graduate Schools, Professional Master’s Education: A CGS Guide to Establishing Programs (Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools, 2006).

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