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