Building the S&E Workforce of Tomorrow
The importance of collaborations in helping build the science and engineering workforce, particularly in key, high-demand skills areas, was raised by a number of participants. Many participants pointed to the current imbalance between the laboratory need for U.S. citizens and the university production of new domestic scientists in key areas of science and engineering. From the laboratory standpoint, it is increasingly difficult to find the trained personnel needed to conduct its research missions. The university output of physical sciences Ph.D.s has an increasing number of non-U.S. citizens (more than 50 percent), many of whom are thus ineligible for employment at a national laboratory. There are critical workforce shortages in special areas of science and engineering, including nuclear engineering and radiochemistry. Some of these are documented in the Chiles and Hamre commissions’ reports.1 Programs across various funding agencies to support the development of new graduates are often not coordinated, and the time scales of support are not consistent with students’ “time to degree.” In addition, laboratories require a number of staff who have scientific and technical training for jobs to operate equipment at
user facilities, for example, that do not require a Ph.D., yet universities are focused on developing the academic Ph.D. candidate. It is unclear what development path will provide that technical segment of the workforce.2
For a prospective employee, the increased scrutiny by the laboratories and government funding agencies of foreign nationals specifically, but even of non-native-born U.S. citizens, makes the laboratories an undesirable place to work, even with their great science facilities. The case of Wen-Ho Lee has been well publicized, and many participants stated that this situation has detracted from the perception of the labs as a great place to come and do leading-edge science. The point raised by Jill Trewhella from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was that since all of the successfully prosecuted spy cases have involved U.S. or British citizens, the foreign-born wonder, “Why am I being unfairly targeted?”
In terms of workforce development, Alexander King from Purdue University presented a model that described the challenges of developing science and engineering talent, and four key mechanisms of collaboration that he believes are effective in enhancing that talent. These include (1) research projects (first and foremost), (2) equipment support (the user facility access), (3) lab staff as adjunct faculty (actually working with students), and (4) advisory committee service. He also made the point that proximity matters, leading to strategic thinking about where collaborative arrangements between labs and universities might be more successful. As Charles Shank from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) pointed out, the long-time relationship and geographic proximity between LBL and the University of California have led to very productive collaborative programs.
Several laboratories have implemented fellowship programs that have been very successful in attracting talent to them. The Oppenheimer and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) fellowships, for example, provide an avenue for recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest scientists, even non-U.S. citizens,
and can be coupled with extended-term appointments that provide support and continuous-term employment as the fellows obtain their citizenship. All of the laboratories have cooperative (semester-long student employment) programs and other opportunities for students that were mentioned as being helpful to laboratory recruiting efforts. The challenge of increasing the number of women and minorities in science and engineering was raised as an important issue by many participants, but they also stated that for the most part, this is a broad national issue, and not
necessarily the responsibility of DOE alone to address. Nonetheless, all of the laboratories represented at the workshop did have some kind of program targeted to women and minority groups, as well as reaching out to specific disciplines in various science and engineering fields.
Most participants agreed that the best collaborations to support the development of S&E talent are those that reflect the primary missions of the partnering institutions.