Scientific Societies and the Master’s Degree
There are several varieties of scientific societies: multidisciplinary (American Association for the Advancement of Science; Sigma Xi—The Scientific Research Society), disciplinary (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology), and targeted to a particular underrepresented group (Association for Women in Science; American Indian Science and Engineering Society). Whatever the type, these societies are voluntary organizations that reinforce professional identity, provide forums for face-to-face interaction, and represent a special kind of “club” for those who elect to join.
Many scientific disciplinary communities and their principal professional associations are wrestling now with their role in advancing education. Given the dominance of doctoral education in the sciences it is not surprising that these associations tend to reward behavior that validates contributions and status associated with that degree—primarily advancing knowledge through research and publication. For some, however, there is now at least some philosophical discussion of the place of education broadly construed in their mission. And for others, societies have moved further ahead, making this an important transition period, both generally and potentially for master’s education.
Professional societies play a vital role in the lives of scientists. They bridge the world of education to the world of work by providing members—both individuals and organizations—with access and support. These societies serve as advocates, watchdogs, certification agents, clearinghouses, and recruitment and placement services. They monitor the match between skills and opportunities, supply and demand, the marketable and the actual market.
If scientific societies are integral to learning “what matters” to excel professionally, then their role in master’s education will only grow through the 21st century. To accomplish this they may develop an overall strategy for addressing education, including master’s education and the PSM, in their fields. To specifically further the PSM, they could create society-wide committees on master’s education, dedicate conference sessions and presentations to master’s education and PSM programs, recognize faculty who have led successful PSM programs, and serve as a field-specific clearinghouse of information on PSMs.
More broadly, the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST) manages a clearinghouse on the latest data and information about master’s education in science, mathematics, and engineering. It includes a database (http://sciencemasters.org/) of more than 2,000 programs from over 300 institutions as well as articles, tables, and data pertaining to science master’s education and the master’s workforce.
Second, programs and institutions need to work continuously to develop and enhance communication with employers. At present, some external advisory boards “are very active and involved,” report Tobias and Brigham. Others, however, meet only once a year or are “nominal,” which means “advisers signed on but aren’t doing any work.” Commu-