Because graduate education in the United States is intimately intertwined with basic research, national goals must include both the research objectives and the education of students within the same framework. Much of the work of CUSE seeks to leverage the quality of learning achieved by the faculty-graduate student collaboration into improved instructional opportunities at the undergraduate level. A recent publication by CUSE emphasizes the need for including the same techniques used so profitably in graduate education in the experiential learning of our best undergraduate programs.3
The COSEPUP report also emphasized the importance of producing well-educated Americans, people who understand the goals and achievements of science and the scientific reasoning that leads to those results. We need people who can conduct sophisticated scientific investigations, of course, but we also need those who are active in nonscientific roles in our society, especially those working in public policy, in the law, or as leaders in their communities to appreciate science. The reshaping of graduate education in science is therefore important both for the specialist and the nonspecialist, and being able to address both constituencies is an important part of academia’s responsibility to our nation.
Graduate education was not always so generously funded in the United States. Before World War II very little federal money was allocated to science in universities. It was the realization of the important contributions of science to the war effort and to the improved quality of life after the war that led to the model under which nearly all of us here today were trained. The portfolio for scientific research support has changed substantially over the last 50 years. Of course, in the early 1950s, defense was a national priority, and that emphasis continued for nearly 50 years as the Cold War was waged. But during that period, a gradual decrease in the fraction of federal support allocated to defense research was accompanied by increased payments to individuals. Beyond the support needed for national defense and mandated social payments, the discretionary portion of the federal budget is a smaller fraction of the total budget.
The same profile change over time also can be seen in the evolving budgets of federal agencies. Support for basic research from the Department of Defense has contracted while that related to human health, especially through the National Institutes of Health, has expanded. Support for fundamental science has always been a significant, but small, portion of the net federal investment.
This monetary shift is also reflected in a change in disciplinary emphasis over the same period. In 1950, engineering accounted for a large fraction of the research and development (R&D) budget, a situation that has shifted toward the life sciences over the years. The breadth of the portfolio has always reflected a cooperation between those who conduct basic research, mainly at our universities, and the federal government, while always addressing the most pressing problems faced by our society.
It is important to note that, despite these shifts in the nature of the work supported, the assumption that basic research would be conducted mainly at universities has been unwavering. Basic research, focusing on understanding the fundamental principles governing nature, is well aligned in the United States with higher education’s principal objectives, namely, educating our students in the sciences at a