TABLE 2-6 Median Years from Bachelor’s Degree to Doctoral Degree in Mathematics in the United States, 1980-1998

Year

Years Elapsed (median years)

Years Enrolled (median years)

1980

7.0

6.0

1981

7.0

6.0

1982

7.1

6.0

1983

7.3

6.3

1984

8.0

6.2

1985

8.0

6.4

1986

7.3

6.1

1987

8.0

6.5

1988

8.1

6.4

1989

8.0

6.3

1990

8.0

6.7

1991

8.3

6.7

1992

8.9

7.0

1993

8.6

7.0

1994

8.9

6.9

1995

8.6

6.9

1996

8.3

6.8

1997

8.7

7.0

1998

8.0

6.8

SOURCE: Adapted from NSF, Division of Science Resources Statistics (2004), Appendix Table 2-29.

seven years. This partially reflects that entering students, especially native-born students, are less well prepared than before. But also involved is the heavy dependence by the Mathematical Sciences graduate students and postdoctorates on time consuming teaching assignments for financial support” (NSF, 1997). Table 2-6 shows the median years elapsed from bachelor’s to doctoral degree in mathematics during the 1980s and 1990s. The data in this table are inconsistent with NSF’s quoted observations. The committee was unable to determine how NSF arrived at this conclusion and has no additional data to draw other conclusions; however, these observations by NSF played a role in VIGRE’s original design.

The fourth issue common to the Douglas (NRC, 1992) and Odom (NSF, 1998) reports had to do with the culture of mathematics departments. The Douglas Report (NRC, 1992) studied a number of departments in an attempt to find out what makes for successful graduate and postdoctoral programs in mathematics. It found that there was considerable variation in explaining such success, and the report broadly classified these variations as the standard model, the subdisciplinary model, the interdisciplinary model, the problem-based model, and the college-teachers model. Within this varied landscape, the report distilled three common characteristics of all the successful programs that it encountered: a focused, realistic mission; a positive learning environment; and relevant professional development. The report highlighted the importance of active recruitment, especially for recruiting women and underrepresented minorities. A detailed description is given of what it means to have a positive learning environment; and communication and cooperation, effective advising, and early research experience are emphasized. It was also emphasized that “a positive learning environment is important to all doctoral students but is crucial for women and underrepresented minorities” (NRC, 1992, p. 3). The report stressed: “Clustering faculty, postdoctoral associates and doctoral students together in research areas is a major factor in creating a positive learning environment” (ibid., p. 3). The importance of broadening the training of doctoral and postdoctoral students was underscored, as was the importance of teaching and communication skills.



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