There are three arenas in which we can make a difference. The one most central to the hearts of most faculty is graduate education. Although we may do a superb job in training students for research careers in oceanography, the variability in funding, the decline in national interest in science, and the decreasing numbers of students interested in becoming teaching faculty all suggest we have some work to do to better prepare our students for a life other than that of a research scientist. We should begin by asking what roles the differing degrees play and what are the expectations and rewards for different levels of academic effort. We must ensure that graduate education is more than a research apprenticeship. One question we might consider is what role a thesis should play in the degree and what role it should play in relation to student learning and subsequent employment. One question that can be asked is: How do we envision doctoral thesis research? In the past, the thesis was seen as piece of lone scholarship developed by the individual student working as much as possible independently of everyone else. But today many of the problems that are being investigated require multi-disciplinary teams and teams that have programs that last longer than the duration of a student's thesis years. How do we develop team-based collaborative research and teach students how to make significant creative contributions to shared societally relevant problems?
A survey carried out at Stanford University (Massey and Goldman, 1995; see also Golde and Fiske, 1997) revealed recently that 60 percent of doctoral students are looking for careers outside academia or not involving research. In other words, a minority of students are considering traditional careers in academia. In addition, 70 percent of the students claimed they had changed their career goals while at graduate school. But I surmise that an overwhelming majority of the present faculty believe that the only good students are those who are planning to become faculty! That is certainly the perception of the students in the survey who assert that faculty are considerably more supportive if they perceive the student to be pursuing a research career. The Stanford survey showed that students overwhelmingly (73 percent) felt that the doctoral degree takes too long to obtain and that 80 percent claimed advising was the most important aspect of doctoral studies. It would seem then that we must, as faculty address our responsibilities to explain to prospective and in-residence students the differing career paths and do so in a supportive manner. We must also develop better methods of providing students information on differing career tracks (e.g., through professional societies). The American Physical Society already does this. Their Web page is a good example of how to be supportive of beginning scholars in a field.
As a field, oceanography has been significantly absent from undergraduate education. In part, this is because many universities have their oceanography programs located at a distance from the center of mass of their undergraduate programs, but in part, it is a self-sustaining result. We didn't have undergraduates, so we don't have undergraduates, so we don't want undergraduates. But the entire field of Earth sciences has changed. Global environmental science has become of more immediacy to local and national politics and as Earth system science has recently become possible through structured and linked models and global observing networks. The future for oceanography may lie in much stronger linkages to other geosciences including atmospheric sciences, geo-hydrology, environmental chemistry, and sustainable biospheres. The isolation from undergraduate education may then become a major handicap to future university programs. The emerging integration of the global geosciences offers a stellar opportunity for oceanographers to become more actively involved in undergraduate education. It offers the chance to encourage smart students to enter graduate school, learn geosciences and then teach, and learn about the integration of the sciences and the role of collaborative studies in important societal problems. If we do not avail ourselves of this opportunity, oceanography could become marginal to many universities and thus, become even more dependent on federal research funds.
The last area in which we must examine our values and our responsibilities is in the area of societal education. In the past year the American public has been inundated by stories that involve the ocean. The movie Titanic, the novel The Perfect Storm, the widespread coverage of the impacts of warm Pacific waters through El Niño are perfect examples of a strong base on which we could build public interest and support for our science. Faculty or research scientists alone cannot undertake this responsibility. It is the shared responsibility of public and private universities and research institutions, of scientists at federal and state agencies and aquaria. While individuals look at what contributions they are making, higher educational institutions are increasingly re-evaluating their role in undergraduate education and K-12 education and outreach. Now would be an excellent time for NSF to re-evaluate its organization that separates education from research. Increasingly, we tie these together: leadership by the agency to integrate them at the funding level would be a strong signal of change.
To return to the beginning again to the words of Abraham Lincoln, "Public opinion is everything. With public opinion nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed."
In oceanography, in science, and in education, we must recognize, and we must realize, and we must respond to this concept.
Oceanography, and all of us who are committed to the field, will succeed when the public shares and supports our goals. We can succeed best when our goals and public goals are one and the same. This requires listening to an audience that we in academia rarely consider. While we educate the public about oceanography, we should also listen to the challenges that the public believes are important.