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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop Panel Discussion Stanley Pine, California State University, Los Angeles: I really appreciate the organizers getting these students here. It has been a very important part of this conference. One of the themes that came through, particularly from the students who spoke this morning, was a lore of graduate school that an advisor/boss will not let the students do anything outside of the lab. I think part of it is just something students always say, but there is some truth to it, and I hope one of the things that we can work on in our thinking about the graduate education program is how to get beyond that. Clearly, as we have talked about in this session, there is more to do than research in the lab. The fact is that there are some students who are a little afraid that if they spend any time outside of the lab broadening themselves they are going to be in trouble. Do the students have any comments on this? Karen E.S. Phillips, Columbia University: First of all, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I was able to do all of these things with C4 thanks to the cooperation of my advisor. He was able to look the other way and have different expectations of me during that time, and I think that he appreciates me for the strengths I have and the things I have to offer that might be unique. It is generally a problem, however. We would have had far greater participation from other students if this were not the case. And, as I said, students from other schools were coming to us and telling us that it is so hard for them to get away to do anything. So it is a reality, even though I know that I have been given a lot of flexibility. Laren Tolbert, Georgia Institute of Technology: I have faculty members who literally tell their students not to go to a seminar because they don’t want them out of the lab, even for something that is obviously part of their education. Karen demonstrated that graduate students have a lot more power than they give themselves credit for making things happen, and this is important. But I also have a concern. I want to know how you deal with it and what will happen when you leave. Who takes over and how do you make sure this continues? Karen E.S. Phillips: You see, this is another issue. Since we put on the forum, I, for example, had to concentrate on my original research proposal. Everyone in C4 got really caught up and busy with their
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop degree requirements. So we have not been as active since then, simply because we haven’t had enough time. I am trying to do things to revitalize the organization before I leave in the hope that it will be passed on to future graduate students and students that have come in since we have had these activities. That is why I am really, really anxious to put on this one last event and, again, make it an event of particular relevance to me. But the fact is that it is hard to keep the ball rolling simply because the students don’t have much time. Again, what I tried to hint at before is that if the institution or organizations could, for example, provide us with the funding to do these things, that would be one less thing that we would have to concentrate on, one less thing that we would have to spend time doing, if funding were already in place. But I still think that it is important for the activities to be initiated by students in order to get cooperation from everyone involved. Soni Oyekan, Marathon Ashland Petroleum: I want to applaud all the speakers this morning—Karen Phillips, Judson Haynes, Jonathan Bundy, and Richard Weibl. They touched on many aspects that also lead to some of the things that we have been hearing throughout this workshop. Karen and Judson emphasized the diversity of thoughts, actions, and programs, and the impact on their lives. Jonathan spoke of the need to have an adequate supply of students coming through the pipeline. He stopped at the undergraduate stage, but as Chancellor Fox said last night, we must go back all the way to the elementary schools to make sure that we have students to fill up those slots that we want in the future. In addition, while doing that, we cannot forget the underrepresented segments of our society. I must emphasize that again. I think it is important for us to look at countries that have failed to do this. For example, in my native country, Nigeria, the funds were not spent on education, and what you have today is a lot of panicking, a lot of unemployment, and weapons in the wrong hands. As a result there is no comfort or safety for anybody, including the wealthy. In this society, we can see what we gain from people when we give them the opportunities and ensure that most of our population segments are fully employed. We have seen that in the discussions in this meeting. I would like to remind this great body that this nation leads in terms of education. We need to put in place a national plan, so that 30 or 40 years from now we don’t fill up our prisons and cause difficulties for our society. It is more than just getting some superlative people to go into teaching. It is making sure that our population is fully employed. Lynmarie Posey, Michigan State University: We have heard a lot of discussion over the past day and a half about trying to broaden the background of graduate students, while maintaining some control over the length of the Ph.D. program. I would like to get the graduate students’ perspective on the best way to achieve this goal. What do you feel is the best way to broaden your background? Is it through course work, for example, by increasing the number of courses required or instituting rules that require students to take courses in areas beyond their area of specialization? Is it through the research experience? Or do you think that broadening students’ backgrounds is best achieved by informal experiences, such as forums to explore career choices? Judson L. Haynes III, Procter & Gamble: I think one good way to broaden the graduate student perspective is by having affiliations with or working within the professional organizations, such as the American Chemical Society (ACS). It is incumbent upon the students to start early, get involved, and get to know people in the ACS and network. If students don’t, and if they just spend 5 years in the lab, it’s possible that by the time they start interviewing they can be socially maladjusted. They have had little to no personal interaction with people outside of their research, which is different from industry,
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop where chemistry is often a teamwork effort. So, if you have toiled in the lab for 5 years and you come out with no interpersonal skills, you might be able to get the job done, but nobody is going to like you. It is important for students to start getting involved early with committees and with their local sector of the ACS. ACS is everywhere. It is something students have to do. Karen E.S. Phillips: Yes, but I would add that, as you mentioned, having forums where we can get, as Richard mentioned, the alumni to come in and talk to us about their careers is really important. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a full course. It can simply be anything that puts us in touch with the outside world and addresses how graduate school helped people to make the transition. Lynmarie Posey: I think the faculty response is to add courses, which then potentially increases the amount of time that students spend in graduate school. That is also a major concern for junior faculty, because they would like to get students doing things in the lab as soon as possible. Richard A. Weibl, Association of American Colleges and Universities: I would like to add that if it is important to happen, it must happen as a part of the degree program. That’s the bottom line. If you think it needs to happen, make it happen intentionally within your program structure. If you create a program structure that forces students to be in the lab 80 to 90 hours a week—I recall the article in Chemical & Engineering News about graduate student stress leading to suicide—that is not going to give a student a broad experience. And if you are creating an educational context—and I assume it is an educational context and not a cheap labor one—then you have to look at the program and decide where to make room and sanction student participation in these kinds of activities. Also, we must determine how we will dedicate resources so that the students can do these things. If you don’t do that, then it is extracurricular activity, and junior faculty, as well as senior faculty, will not value it. That is the only way it is going to happen. Jonathan L. Bundy, University of Maryland at College Park: I think the most important thing, as he said, is actually getting out of the laboratory, going to the national meetings, and interacting with your fellow graduate students both inside and outside of your laboratory. We are lucky to have a lot of postdocs from diverse backgrounds to help give us a perspective on many different things. It is important for graduate students to get out to national meetings, see what the other half is doing, and broaden their horizons from the black box of their research. Karen E.S. Phillips: Yes, but how many people are actually encouraged to do so? James D. Martin, North Carolina State University: I would like to make a comment with respect to today’s discussion of preparing students for the professoriate. We need to give some consideration to this in the context of comments made by Steve Berry yesterday on the institutionalization of interdisciplinarity. It is extremely important to give exposure and encourage people to gain skills in some of these areas, but institutionalizing requirements for professoriate training can run a bit amok. At North Carolina State we have a professoriate program in which I participated with one of my graduate students. I would argue that the institutional aspects of the program were moderate to okay. However, the real value that came out of the program was the time that I spent with the student back in my office discussing the realities of the professoriate and educational philosophy, as well as the mentored experience in the classroom. It was the personal interaction, the mentoring, as opposed to the formal instruction that had the greatest impact.
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop So, when I looked at Richard Weibl’s “did we have formal training in graduate school” list, my response is “absolutely not” to formal instruction, but I can say “yes” to experience or training in almost every one of those areas through interaction with my mentor and other chemistry faculty. We need to encourage ourselves as mentors to be available to our students and encourage our students to take action, more than creating a new set of requirements. Yes, we are busy, but I keep my office door open. If you come to my office and ask me if I am busy, the answer will be “yes.” But I tell my students to grab me by the neck if necessary and sit me down and talk to me. If we want to improve the preparation of students, I believe we must focus on our availability and interaction with them, not institutionalization of a new program. We don’t need a certificate from an organization saying that someone completed preparing for the professoriate, because we already write letters of recommendation. I can comment in my letters of recommendation for my students to anybody who wants to know that she or he did an outstanding job helping to teach graduate and undergraduate courses, prepare exams, and so on. Frankly, Karen Phillips, what you have done is preparing you for the professoriate to the nth degree. If I see something like your experience and demonstrated self-initiative on someone’s CV and package, it will undoubtedly stand out when I am reading 100 to 200 files for a job search. In particular, it will stand out because your organization of the C4 program is exactly the kind of thing that we all have to do as professors. We must articulate a need and take our own initiative to do something. Nobody is going to hand it to us. In our institutions, let’s facilitate and mentor student initiative, rather than spending great effort in designing new institutional curricular programs. Institutionalization of good programs can be okay, but it is not going to give you the same bang for the buck as mentoring. Robert L. Lichter, The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation: I want to follow up on that. I have been aware of the Preparing Future Faculty program for some time, and I think the notions are marvelous. I suspect that in many cases it does more, or at least as much, for existing faculty as for future faculty by sensitizing the former to the themes that have been presented here, as Jim Martin just described. I would, however, caution against the notion that institutionalization of these programs is always desirable in all institutions, and that working 70 to 80 hours a week is always bad. Life requires a lot of effort, choices have to be made, and priorities have to be set. You have to decide what you want to do, what you need in order to do it, and then go after what you need. Members of the faculty are not the graduate students’ enemies. To the extent that the issues discussed here are important, and they are, I encourage students to seek out allies among the faculty. They do exist. If Jim Martin says, “my door is open and, yes, I am busy,” but he also said to grab him by the neck, then grab him by the neck. And grab some of the others by the neck, too. Most will respond. More faculty are available for you than you realize. Some won’t be. Some of those you won’t ever have to deal with, but some you will. You have to learn how to do that; that’s part of negotiating your way through life. The guidance you can and should get won’t necessarily come via an institutionalized program. I am impressed with the array of students here because of their different career objectives. I hope that everyone here is engaged by and listening to what they are saying. I have one question for the first speaker, Ms. Phillips. I found your array of panelists for that forum very strange—not the people themselves, just the selection. You had two people from within Columbia, a third from an affiliated university, and the editor of Chemical & Engineering News, for example. I was curious about why you picked those people. Karen E.S. Phillips: With our limited awareness, we depended a lot on the advice of Professors Fine
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop and Breslow. We were given a list from which to choose. We were looking for people we thought would present interesting ideas but from different perspectives. We thought Dr. Osteryoung would be able to address the issue of funding for Ph.D. programs. Madeleine Jacobs had interesting statistics about the job market. Ed Wasserman might present ideas that demonstrated what change needed to take place, since running for the ACS presidency might bring him to conclusions and ideas about what needs to be changed. Sally Chapman presented a view of a chair from a small undergraduate university and the pressures of being affiliated with Columbia, but a liberal arts college nonetheless. We had a lot of interactions with Eduardo Macagno as students, and, as the dean of the graduate school, he seemed to be promoting the idea of broadening the curriculum and of encouraging students to do things outside the classic program. He has set up a broad-based ethics program at the university for graduate students, and so on. So, he seemed to have set ideas about making things more interdisciplinary, and I know he had been working with the department for quite awhile trying to get professors to be more cooperative. From our point of view, we were interested in a broad base of ideas, and we thought that these people would best serve the issues. We wanted to address issues such as the value of the Ph.D., where the Ph.D. was going, and what things might affect how the Ph.D. might change or not change. Victor Vandell, Louisiana State University: I would first like to commend all the panelists for what they said. Some very important issues were brought out about various obstacles faced by graduate students. One thing I want to call attention to is that it is obvious that graduate school is hard work. I could hear people chuckling at all of the things that were painful in the graduate school experience. I guess it is easy to laugh when you are on the other side of the fence. I have talked to a lot of graduate students and they share the sentiment that they do not regret choosing this path and—similar to the theory of no pain, no gain—it will all be worth it in the end. I still believe that graduate school is somewhat exclusive in that you have to be lucky enough to have a mentor who influences you early in your academic life and steers you in that direction. A lot of students don’t get to graduate school because they aren’t lucky enough to have had someone pull them aside and ask them if they had ever thought about graduate school or to tell them what graduate school is about. I have been working to bring down the wall that stops students from continuing in science. I tell as many undergraduates as I can that no matter how much hard work this is, you won’t regret it, and you will only benefit from it. My question to the panelists is, What are you doing to bring your experience to others and influence their lives? In other words, what are you doing to become role models that other students can follow down that path? Would you suggest other students follow the path you have taken? Judson L. Haynes III: I can address this in two parts. One activity that I did in graduate school was to go out and give chemical demonstrations. This allowed me to get back in touch with the real world after being required to spend long hours in the lab. It gave me an opportunity to reaffirm to myself that what I was doing was important, could affect people’s lives, and could excite the youth. So, I think that that is one mechanism of giving back. Second, now as a professional, I give back by tutoring kids, and I think that is important. When I was in high school, I didn’t have anybody that I could go to for tutoring in chemistry. What I try to do is set up or establish something so that students who have the desire or the initiative and want to learn can come to me and I can tutor them. If someone is interested in chemistry and they want to find out who can help them, they can come to me. Karen E.S. Phillips: Let me add to that. Like Judson, I came through the Minority Access to Research Careers program. Every year, they have a minority research program at Columbia, and every year since I have been there I go and talk to the students at the beginning of the summer session. I tell them what
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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop it is like to be in graduate school and what they can hope for. At the end of the summer, I help them with preparation for their final presentations and so on. Edwin A. Chandross, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies: I want to draw attention to what I consider a critically important thing that, except for a brief mention by Karen Phillips, has been overlooked—the interview process. I have a fair amount of experience interviewing people. I did on-campus interviewing at two institutions in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for many years. I have probably done more than 500 interviews. Let me tell you, you need to help your students with it. They really are unprepared. Let me punctuate this with a brief story of a personal experience. Forty-one years ago, I turned up at Bell Labs and was asked a question for which I was totally unprepared. I think the answer got me a job at a rather demanding institution. What is the value of your Ph.D. research? Being quite young—I had just turned 24—and naive and honest, I told them the truth: there is no value in it besides getting me a degree. I would never do anything like that again. But seriously, I think that this is something that the faculty needs to spend time on with the students and help them. You can give them a leg up by having them be better prepared. Edel Wasserman, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company: I would like to pick up on Dr. Haynes’s comment. The ACS is everywhere and can be very useful. There are 188 local sections, and student affiliate chapters exist at many colleges. These affiliates are groups that could be of use for some of the activities that Richard Weibl was addressing. It is easier to be a representative of a formal organization, when asking a faculty member to address a group, than to be an unassociated individual. The ACS has a great deal of support available within its Washington, D.C., headquarters. If you have a question on how to do something, there is almost always someone there who can provide an answer for you. With respect to Ed Chandross’s comments, we are trying to start communication workshops, which are focused on improving the skills people need in interviews on campus. There is a good deal for students to learn there. Communicating thesis work in a largely nontechnical way to trained scientists outside one’s own field, avoiding the jargon, and yet communicating the substance can assist the interviewing process. This skill is also necessary throughout one’s career as we deal with others of varied backgrounds.
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