. "9 The Making of a Chemist: My Adventures in Graduate School." Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences: Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop
strongly agree. In the beginning, if we are to ensure an adequate supply of graduate students in the chemical sciences, we need to increase the number of students majoring in these subjects at the undergraduate level. This leads back to the need for quality instruction at the secondary school level, which often is sorely lacking. We need to make sure that those who are teaching science at this level have an adequate education in their subject area so that our youth have a positive image of science. In our colleges and universities, we need to promote the advising of undergraduates as a task to be taken seriously by faculty. Advisors need to take an active role so that their advisees are adequately informed about graduate study.
We must also be sure that those we send to graduate school are adequately prepared for the rigors of graduate study. This includes education in the basics of work in the lab. All too often I have seen new graduate students who cannot properly prepare a solution, or worse yet, do a simple mole conversion! Undergraduate laboratory instruction should stress these basic skills at all levels. The use of “open-ended” laboratory experiences, which have recently come into vogue, should also improve the preparation of students for graduate work. After all, in a research laboratory, there is no lab manual that will magically produce results if diligently followed.
Once students get to graduate school, one of the initial experiences that they usually have is being put in charge of several undergraduate laboratory sections as a teaching assistant (TA), often with minimal training. Unlike the humanities and social sciences, graduate students usually are not given the opportunity to lead a lecture class. TA experience in laboratories often does not provide adequate preparation of those who ultimately may want to pursue a career as a faculty member at an undergraduate institution. For those who want these experiences, we should provide avenues to obtain them, such as “teaching fellow” or “faculty apprentice” programs.
Another issue is the situation at larger institutions where a large number of TAs are required to support the large enrollment in undergraduate chemistry courses. There is an impression in the chemical community that the pressure to staff lab sections may lower the standards for admission to a graduate program. This obviously is a disservice to both the undergraduates receiving instruction from a less-than-adequately prepared TA and to the graduate students who may not adequately be prepared for graduate school. For those institutions requiring a large amount of TA labor, alternative sources of teaching assistants should be pursued, such as retired chemists (or science teachers) and recent college graduates desiring a break before going to graduate school.
As I have mentioned before, the cornerstone of one’s experience in graduate school is research. There has been some discussion as to sources of funding for students actively pursuing research. Traditionally, this has been through research assistantship funds directly awarded to faculty members through grants. A younger, less-established faculty member often does not have sufficient funding to directly support students, forcing them to work as a TA beyond the required period. An alternative idea is to give fellowship money directly to students, as is often done in the biomedical sciences. I think this is an excellent idea. It might enable younger, less-established faculty to be able to attract better students instead of choosing from the “bottom of the barrel.” In addition, students would be able to make the critical choice of advisor without having to place funding as high on the list, as many students often do. Industrial partnerships also are an alternative source for funding graduate students, and I think an excellent one for those who are definitely set on a specific industrial career. However, they seem to be a “flavor of the month” as of late. It is important that these programs do not sacrifice the integrity of graduate training for industrial interests. With the diverse job prospects for those trained in the chemical sciences today, students who are planning on a nonacademic career can still receive adequate training in a nonindustrial graduate program.
The relationship between a student and advisor is also important. Often students feel that they are