4

Industry Perspectives

“We need scientists that understand how to think, have the technical background, are inquisitive, but who are not necessarily so focused on a particular discipline.”

Shannon Bullard

“There are more graduates who are specializing very early, which limits their potential to learn and grow within an industrial organization.”

Francine Palmer

A significant number of undergraduates that complete a baccalaureate in chemistry do not go to graduate school or medical school but enter the chemical or pharmaceutical industry. In considering the need for changing the way students receive chemistry education, it is important to consider industry’s perspective and ask if major employers of these students see a need for change. To address that question, the workshop participants heard brief presentations by four people with an industry perspective. An open discussion followed remarks by Shannon Bullard, program manager in the human resources department of the DuPont Chemical Company; Francine Palmer, research and innovation director for Solvay Corporation; David Harwell, assistant director of career management and development at the American Chemical Society (ACS); and Robert Peoples, executive director of Carpet America Recovery Effort.

PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE INDUSTRIAL LABORATORY

From her perspective of leading DuPont’s recruiting program for bachelor’s degree scientists and engineers, Shannon Bullard does not believe there is an urgent need for dramatic change in the undergraduate curriculum. She does, however, see some opportunities to make improvements, particularly in terms of providing graduates with technical flexibility. Today in industry, customer demands change and as a result DuPont needs its associate investigators, as its bachelor’s degree researchers are called, to have the intellectual confidence and skills to move smoothly between different areas of the company. “We need scientists that understand how to think and have the technical background and inquisitiveness, but who are not necessarily so focused on a particular discipline,” she explained. The ability to think and problem solve are key as the company looks at how it can contribute to solving those bigger problems in the world that were mentioned in the previous session.

Another area that deserves more emphasis, said Bullard, is that of internships and undergraduate research. Having laboratory experience and putting into practice what they learn in the classroom give students a big advantage when they come into industry.

Francine Palmer said that in her view, learning the fundamentals of chemistry is still key. “We see in our hiring that there are more graduates who are specializing much earlier, which limits their potential to learn and grow within an industrial organization,” she said. It is not bad that graduates are coming out with strong skills in the biologically oriented chemical sciences or material sciences, but that they still need that broad understanding of chemistry fundamentals.

Also important, she said, are the so-called soft skills—collaboration and communication—that students can learn in class but more often learn through research experiences, internships, and co-op-type programs. “We encounter many really clever students that are unable to get their opinion across or formulate responses, which makes it really hard in a large research community to be able to collaborate,” she explained.

Three particular groups concern David Harwell in his role as director of career programs at the ACS: students, displaced workers, and long-term unemployed workers. Students are at the top of his list because their unemployment rates across the field and all degree levels stand at 13.3 percent. For chemists with only a bachelor’s degree, the unemployment rate is 14.6 percent a year after graduation. In contrast, the unemployment rate for displaced chemists is just over 4 percent. The difference between these two groups is experience, said Harwell. The field needs to create more opportunities for internships and other avenues for students



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4 Industry Perspectives “We need scientists that understand how to think, have the technical background, are inquisitive, but who are not necessarily so focused on a particular discipline.” Shannon Bullard “There are more graduates who are specializing very early, which limits their potential to learn and grow within an industrial organization.” Francine Palmer A significant number of undergraduates that complete to solving those bigger problems in the world that were a baccalaureate in chemistry do not go to graduate school mentioned in the previous session. or medical school but enter the chemical or pharmaceutical Another area that deserves more emphasis, said Bullard, industry. In considering the need for changing the way stu- is that of internships and undergraduate research. Having dents receive chemistry education, it is important to consider laboratory experience and putting into practice what they industry’s perspective and ask if major employers of these learn in the classroom give students a big advantage when students see a need for change. To address that question, they come into industry. the workshop participants heard brief presentations by four Francine Palmer said that in her view, learning the fun- people with an industry perspective. An open discussion damentals of chemistry is still key. “We see in our hiring followed remarks by Shannon Bullard, program manager in that there are more graduates who are specializing much the human resources department of the DuPont Chemical earlier, which limits their potential to learn and grow within Company; Francine Palmer, research and innovation director an industrial organization,” she said. It is not bad that for Solvay Corporation; David Harwell, assistant director graduates are coming out with strong skills in the biologi- of career management and development at the American cally oriented chemical sciences or material sciences, but Chemical Society (ACS); and Robert Peoples, executive that they still need that broad understanding of chemistry director of Carpet America Recovery Effort. fundamentals. Also important, she said, are the so-called soft skills— collaboration and communication—that students can learn PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE INDUSTRIAL in class but more often learn through research experiences, LABORATORY internships, and co-op-type programs. “We encounter many From her perspective of leading DuPont’s recruiting pro- really clever students that are unable to get their opinion gram for bachelor’s degree scientists and engineers, Shannon across or formulate responses, which makes it really hard in Bullard does not believe there is an urgent need for dramatic a large research community to be able to collaborate,” she change in the undergraduate curriculum. She does, however, explained. see some opportunities to make improvements, particularly Three particular groups concern David Harwell in his in terms of providing graduates with technical flexibility. role as director of career programs at the ACS: students, Today in industry, customer demands change and as a result displaced workers, and long-term unemployed workers. DuPont needs its associate investigators, as its bachelor’s Students are at the top of his list because their unemploy- degree researchers are called, to have the intellectual confi- ment rates across the field and all degree levels stand at 13.3 dence and skills to move smoothly between different areas percent. For chemists with only a bachelor’s degree, the of the company. “We need scientists that understand how unemployment rate is 14.6 percent a year after graduation. to think and have the technical background and inquisitive- In contrast, the unemployment rate for displaced chemists is ness, but who are not necessarily so focused on a particular just over 4 percent. The difference between these two groups discipline,” she explained. The ability to think and problem is experience, said Harwell. The field needs to create more solve are key as the company looks at how it can contribute opportunities for internships and other avenues for students 27

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28 UNDERGRADUATE CHEMISTRY EDUCATION to gain practical experience. Undergraduate research is a other skills so that we can build them into the chemistry good alternative, he added. curriculum,” he said. Bullard agreed with this assessment One area that industry stresses that does not receive much but not that it was an either-or solution. She believes that attention in academia is safety and the culture of safety, an there must be approaches to teaching both, and perhaps idea that Palmer agreed with strongly. Another is working in those might be found by looking to applied fields, such as teams whose composition is always in flux as a project moves food science, that have had years of experience developing through various stages of development. A scientist with a curricula with that balance. given skill set may be reassigned many times over the course Kozarich and Shulman both thought that students need of a career to new teams that need that skill set, and he reiter- to have some exposure to interviewing skills, which is in ated Bullard’s comment on the need for technical flexibility. a sense an extension of problem solving. Shulman thought Recent graduates also lack networks, or at least they think that these kinds of “employability skills” could be incorpo- they do, said Harwell, and chemistry needs to start teaching rated into the new requirement in the ACS guidelines that its students how to tap into the network of former students call for students to have a capstone experience. Shulman and former undergraduate research group members. Harwell also asked the panel if the salary premium that chemical agreed with Palmer’s call to give students more exposure to engineering graduates receive compared with chemistry the soft skills they need to succeed in industry. graduates is a result of the former having more of these Robert Peoples reiterated Harwell’s comment that indus- employability skills. Both Palmer and Bullard agreed with try is concerned about the lack of safety training for under- that statement completely. Palmer noted that the chemical graduate students. Many companies have accepted the fact engineering graduates she hires have much more experience that they need to invest time and energy into developing in collaborative problem solving and in presentation skills safety training courses for their new bachelor’s degree because those are emphasized in the chemical engineer- employees. One addition that he has long believed is needed ing curriculum. Bullard added that the training focus in in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum is a seminar chemistry is on independent research in a specific area, not program that brings in industrial scientists to speak with stu- interdisciplinary research in a team context. Peoples noted dents. He also said that chemistry curricula should include an that when a company hires a chemical engineer, it knows emphasis on sustainability because industry is acutely tuned that it can assign him or her a problem and the chemical into this as a major aspect of competition and future growth. engineer will know how to tackle it and solve it. Chemists He also stressed the need to develop better communication with a bachelor’s degree come with the expectation that skills in chemistry students and to establish better mentor- they will be supervised. ship programs. McCoy asked the panel how it could incorporate some of these ideas into the ACS Committee on Professional Train- ing’s requirement for a capstone experience. Peoples and DISCUSSION Harwell both said that one approach would be to develop Scott Auerbach, from the University of Massachusetts in scenarios that industry might face and have students form Amherst, supported the importance of expanding internship teams to solve those problems. Palmer added that many opportunities for undergraduates, but noted that “if we rely companies are now posting such problems online and asking on them to teach students the skills that they need to succeed, for solutions from the community at large. These could be that’s a cop-out. I think we need to be thinking about how ideal problems for students to tackle. we can create different kinds of educational opportunities on Coming back to the title of this session—Is there a campus that are as close as we can to internships.” That need, need for change?—session chair Emilio Bunel of Argonne he said, creates a conundrum where credit hours need to be National Laboratory asked the panel for their final answer devoted to working in teams, working on bigger problems, to this question. Two of the panelists replied. Bullard said and practicing the art of communicating not just to scientists there was an opportunity for change, an opportunity to make but to nonscientists as well. At the same time, as Palmer said, chemistry graduates more competitive in the world. Palmer students need to master the fundamentals of chemistry. “The agreed that there was no need for fundamental change, but decision that we have to make is to determine the critical added, “I think there’s a way to make a much bigger impact mass of time that we need to be spending teaching these with what we’re already doing.”