Chemistry graduate education is under considerable pressure. Pharmaceutical companies, long a major employer of synthetic organic chemists, are drastically paring back their research divisions to reduce costs. Chemical companies are opening new R&D facilities in Asia rather than in the United States to take advantage of growing markets and trained workforces there. Universities, especially public universities, are under significant fiscal constraints that threaten their ability to hire new faculty members. Future federal funding of chemical research may be limited as the federal budget tightens. All of these trends have major consequences for the education of chemistry graduate students in U.S. universities.
To explore and respond to these intensifying pressures, the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology held a workshop in Washington, D.C., on January 23-24, 2012, entitled “Graduate Education in Chemistry in the Context of a Changing Environment.” The workshop brought together representatives from across the chemical enterprise, representing leaders and future leaders of academia, industry, and government. The goal of the workshop was not to come to conclusions but to have an open and frank discussion about critical issues affecting chemistry graduate education, such as the attraction and retainment of the most able students to graduate education, financial stressors on the current support model and their implications for the future model, competencies needed in the changing job market for PhD chemists, and competencies needed to address societal problems such as energy and sustainability. The ultimate objective was to capture ideas and opinions as input to the National Science Foundation
(NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other organizations in shaping current and future programs. The report summarizes the views expressed by workshop participants, and while the committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, the views contained in the report are not necessarily those of the committee.
This report of the workshop is organized into six chapters. Chapter 2 summarizes several presentations that focused on the challenges facing graduate chemistry education. Chapter 3 examines what the goals of chemistry education have been and how those goals might change in the future. Chapter 4 looks at the skills chemistry students acquire in graduate school. Chapter 5 explores how the structure of graduate education could change to meet future goals and impart necessary skills. Each of these chapters contains both summaries of the presentations made during the workshop and points raised during the discussion sessions held throughout the workshop. Finally, Chapter 6 compiles the suggestions for changes in and comments on graduate education described in earlier chapters as a way of summarizing the many ideas raised during the workshop.
Although not comprehensive, this report provides readers with an overview of several topics discussed at the workshop: (1) the challenges facing graduate chemistry education, (2) goals of chemistry education, (3) skills students acquire and would benefit from acquiring in graduate school, (4) how the structure of graduate education could change to meet future goals, and finally, (5) suggestions for change raised by individual workshop participants. This report does not contain any findings or recommendations related to these topics, as this was not part of the statement of task. This report summarizes presentations given at the workshop and the views expressed by workshop participants.
In his introductory remarks at the workshop, Joe Francisco, William E. Moore Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, who was chair of the committee for the workshop, said that U.S. graduate education has served as a global model for developing the best-prepared and most innovative chemists in the world. U.S. graduate programs continue to attract the best talents from around the globe. They provide employees for companies, universities, government laboratories, and other institutions in the United States and abroad.
However, he noted that the context for graduate education in chemistry is changing. The chemical enterprise has become more global. Chemistry graduate programs in other countries are becoming more competitive in attracting students and producing research results. These changes have profound implications for U.S. graduate programs.
Francisco listed a number of questions that could be addressed at the workshop.
• Do U.S. graduate programs need to do more to prepare students to be more competitive in a global chemical enterprise?
• Do educators know what industry is looking for in the new doctoral recipients that it recruits?
• What are the perspectives of students coming into these programs?
• Is the depth of training of graduate students more important than broader preparation? For example, do graduate students need more training in being able to communicate with people who do not have science backgrounds and with people from other cultures who speak languages other than English?
• If graduate training becomes broader, what will be given up, and will this compromise the quality of training?
• Do present-day graduate students need to be prepared for non-traditional jobs, especially given that many are interested in becoming entrepreneurs and others have been unable to find traditional jobs?
• Are graduate programs in chemistry contributing to societal needs on a local, regional, national, and global level?
• How can the diversity of chemistry graduate students be increased?