These and other questions are not new and are not unique to the chemical sciences. Indeed, they have captured the attention of the National Research Council, the Association of American Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, the National Institute for Science Education, the National Science Foundation, a number of private foundations, and of course the array of industries that represent the largest cluster of employers of chemical scientists.
“Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences: Issues for the 21st Century,” a workshop held in 1999 by the National Research Council’s Chemical Sciences Roundtable, was organized to address whether and how the various chemical science communities should respond to the types of concerns described above. Speakers were asked to raise questions, rather than to give definitive answers, and to be provocative. The discussion was organized into four sessions that represented a nearly arbitrary framing of the topic: first, a general overview; second, viewpoints on existing circumstances; third, perspectives of and on graduate students; and fourth, some alternative organizational structures. In capturing the presentations and the discussion, these proceedings are intended to broaden the dialog and catalyze mechanisms for participants and others to improve graduate education in or through their own institutions.
Peter M. Eisenberger (Columbia University) opened the session with a presentation that included a review of the 1996 National Science Foundation (NSF) report Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Training in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences,1 which was based on a workshop organized by NSF’s Mathematics and Physical Sciences directorate to examine graduate education. After outlining the forces that prompted the NSF workshop and the core findings and recommendations that resulted, he summarized the changes that have taken place within the research and development (R&D) and educational enterprises since the release of that report. The forces that have motivated and are continuing to drive the changes and to shape both graduate education and the overall R&D enterprise in the United States were explored, and emerging trends and institutional and curriculum challenges were discussed.
Dr. Eisenberger argued that we are currently in the middle of a “knowledge revolution” that will have a deep impact on all aspects of our society, but he specifically addressed the emerging impact on R&D and on education. As with the onset of revolutions that have occurred in the past (i.e., the industrial revolution), new challenges will arise that will affect how these enterprises operate. Responding to these changes will have a profound impact not only on graduate education but also on the institutions responsible for education. He stressed the importance of identifying new challenges and addressing them quickly and effectively.
Edel Wasserman (DuPont and the American Chemical Society) accented the need to customize graduate education to match the strengths and weaknesses of the individual student, a task requiring sensitive mentoring. He believes that a diversity of options is desirable in a graduate program. He stated that formal requirements should be targeted to the needs of the good and very good students; the truly outstanding candidate may be a maverick who resists structure. For outstanding students, the university’s role is to provide an intellectual and physical environment that can be used for self-education. All students, however, should leave graduate school with the ability to renew themselves continually over a decades-long scientific career.
National Science Foundation (NSF), Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Training in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Report NSF 96-21 (Office of the Assistant, Directorate for Mathematics and Physical Sciences, NSF, 1996). The workshop summary report can be found on the NSF Web site at <www.nsf.gov/mps/workshop.htm>.