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Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (2018)

Chapter: 1 Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
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1

Introduction

For more than 70 years, the American science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) enterprise1 has served the nation extremely well, yielding great benefits in virtually every sphere of life, including the economy, the environment, national security, and the health of the public. On the economic front, for example, nearly 8.6 million Americans were employed in STEM jobs in 2015, 93 percent of which paid better than the average national wage (Fayer et al., 2017). STEM workers are also more likely to apply for, receive, and commercialize patents (Thomasian, 2011). The STEM education enterprise has excelled at serving the nation by training generations of professionals with STEM graduate degrees who have the deep knowledge base, advanced critical thinking skills, and ability to be the independent thinkers who are most likely to produce the innovations and scientific advances that have given the United States a competitive edge in today’s global economy.

However, since graduate degrees began to proliferate after World War II, and particularly in the two decades since the National Academies last reported on graduate STEM education (NAS/NAE/IOM, 1995), there have been profound developments in workforce needs, approaches to STEM research and education, demographic composition of graduate student programs, and potential societal applications of STEM expertise. Given these changes and the continuing evolution of STEM, many institutions, higher education associations, professional societies, and federal agencies have launched initiatives, conducted research, and developed strategies to ensure that graduate STEM education in the United

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1 This report uses the National Science Foundation’s definition of STEM, which includes mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, computer and information sciences, and the social and behavioral sciences—psychology, economics, sociology, and political science (NSF, 2018).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
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States continues to be dynamic. These efforts have seeded interest in the graduate STEM education community for a systemic approach for national-level change. Leveraging this momentum, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation called upon the National Academies to charter a committee to conduct a comprehensive review of the U.S. graduate STEM education system and recommend adjustments to how it operates. The resulting committee also received support from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Kobelt Fund, the NAS Scientists and Engineers for the Future Fund, and the NAS Coca–Cola Foundation Fund. The primary question the committee addressed was: How can the U.S. system of graduate education, given the significant contextual shifts in the 21st century, best serve students and the nation both now and into the future?

By asking that question, the Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century does not mean to imply that the U.S. graduate STEM education ecosystem is not preparing outstanding scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. Indeed, U.S. STEM graduate programs continue to be a magnet for the students from all over the world. However, the committee wants to ensure that the enterprise remains synchronous with the many related factors that influence its trajectory, such as the changes in the population of individuals seeking graduate degrees in STEM fields over the past decades. Increasingly, students pursue more varied career paths (St. Clair et al., 2017), and the population of students pursuing STEM degrees is itself more diverse in many dimensions, including gender (NSB, 2016a), race and ethnicity (NSB, 2016b), disability, socioeconomic background, and country of origin.

For U.S. society, the graduate STEM education system produces scientists, engineers, and research professionals by stimulating curiosity and enabling students to develop the intellectual capacity to recognize, formulate, and communicate complex problems; by helping students understand and create multidimensional, analytical approaches toward solutions; and by creating opportunities for students to discover knowledge that advances their understanding of the world around them. In addition, graduate STEM education also produces a substantial amount of the basic and applied research and development that directly and indirectly propels societal advancement, innovation, and economic growth. It achieves this through research and discovery, and by creating new products and services, spawning new start-up companies, and in partnership with government and business, developing programs that strengthen national security, protect the environment, and improve health and medical care.

THE ROLE OF GRADUATE STEM EDUCATION

Graduate STEM education plays an essential role in ensuring our nation’s place as a leading force in the world’s economy and in solving the most pressing problems facing the nation and the rest of the world. In many respects, the

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
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framing of graduate education from the National Academies’ report Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers (NAS/NAE/IOM, 1995, p. 1) continues to hold true:

Graduate education is basic to the achievement of national goals in two ways. First, our universities are responsible for producing the teachers and researchers of the future—the independent investigators who will lay the groundwork for the paradigms and products of tomorrow and who will educate later generations of researchers. Second, graduate education contributes directly to the broader national goals of technological, economic, and cultural development. We increasingly depend on people with advanced scientific and technological knowledge in developing new technologies and industries, reducing environmental pollution, combating disease and hunger, developing new sources of energy, and maintaining the competitiveness of industry. Our graduate schools of science and engineering are therefore important not only as sources of future leaders in science and engineering, but also as an indispensable underpinning of national strength and prosperity—sustaining the creativity and intellectual vigor needed to address a growing range of social and economic concerns.

For both the K-12 and higher education enterprises, graduate education is the lifeblood of the instructional system. Nearly all community college instructors and university faculty as well as increasing percentages of K-12 teachers hold graduate degrees. In considering the future of U.S. competitiveness, the contributions of STEM graduate degree holders in the broader education system will only increase as the global race to invest in science, education, and innovation continues (NSB, 2015).

Perhaps the most important outcomes of graduate education, in addition to the research generated by the faculty and students, is the preparation of innovators and entrepreneurs capable of advancing the frontiers of discovery. For students, graduate STEM education provides experiential, relevant exposure to the process by which STEM professionals conduct research, make new discoveries, and foster innovation.

Our nation’s future depends on a graduate education system that continues to evolve and meet its charge to create highly trained researchers, to develop future faculty and teachers responsible for the educational enterprise, and to support national economic, social, and cultural development. For the most part, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and behavioral and social sciences conduct a large percentage of the day-to-day research work at universities (NAS/NAE/IOM, 2014), and in doing so, are acquiring essential skills and other core principles fundamental to excellent research and contributing directly to the current research infrastructure (see Chapters 4 and 5 for more information on core competencies for the master’s degree and Ph.D., respectively). Indeed, graduate students are vital to the success

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
×

of the enterprise. As Vannevar Bush stated in his report to President Roosevelt, Science: The Endless Frontier (Bush, 1945, p. 23):

The responsibility for the creation of new scientific knowledge—and for most of its application—rests on that small body of men and women who understand the fundamental laws of nature and are skilled in the techniques of scientific research. We shall have rapid or slow advance on any scientific frontier depending on the number of highly qualified and trained scientists exploring it.

CATALYZING CULTURAL CHANGE IN GRADUATE STEM EDUCATION

The committee recognized at the outset of its work that (1) there are components of graduate education that can be improved, and (2) implementing many of the changes suggested in this report will require attitudinal, behavioral, and organizational changes among individual and communities of stakeholders in the U.S. STEM graduate education system. These stakeholder communities include students and their faculty mentors; academic department chairs, deans, provosts, and even institutional boards of trustees; the state- and federal-level government agencies that control policies for STEM and education; the public and private entities that provide financial support; and the employers that hire STEM graduates. Indeed, the committee recognizes that the overarching theme of its recommendations—an increased focus on the needs of students—calls for no less than pervasive and sustained cultural changes in academia, because without these changes nothing much will happen. As described in this report, the entire graduate education system should ensure that students achieve a broad set of core competencies and that the recognition and incentive systems of institutions offering graduate STEM degrees undergo substantial modification. Unless there is a clear, common commitment from all stakeholders to make the system work better for master’s and Ph.D. students themselves, the recommendations in this report will likely have no more than minimal impact, as have many previous reports on the same topic.

The committee’s data-gathering activities and conversations with graduate students, faculty members, and employers outside of academia revealed numerous areas of concern. Some primary examples are: (1) there is a mismatch between the incentives that determine the professional priorities of many faculty members and universities and the diverse education and career needs of STEM graduate students, notably at the Ph.D. level; (2) graduate STEM education is not fully meeting the needs of the entire population of potential graduate students, which is increasingly diverse with respect to dimensions including but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, visa status, or socioeconomic background at a time when the nation needs to access all available talent; and (3) although unemployment among those with STEM graduate degrees is low, demand is uneven across

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
×

fields. Some graduates have difficulty identifying career opportunities and may be underemployed (Xue and Larson, 2015). The outcome of these and other concerns is that STEM graduate education in the United States is far less effective than it might be at educating graduate students prepared for the wide range of STEM careers in this century’s ever-evolving work environment.

At many research-intensive universities today, STEM Ph.D. education to a large degree is intertwined completely with generating research results and publications. This integration is reinforced by the incentive systems under which institutions and their faculty operate—more research publications and research grants lead to greater rewards. The incentive structure under which faculty members operate regarding tenure, promotion, and procuring grants defines the culture of U.S. academic research institutions and deemphasizes the importance of teaching and mentoring.

Consequently, in the process of producing high-quality research, some of the educational needs of graduate students appear to be getting less attention than they require in their development. The current system therefore acts as an impediment to changes that would benefit students. Although there are institutions, departments, and individual faculty that have been able to overcome these barriers to change (some examples of which are highlighted in Chapters 3, 4, and 5), these adjustments have not been adopted evenly across the system. These incentive structure changes are essential to provide STEM graduate students with the education they need for successful careers and to address our nation’s challenges.

Beyond academia, the drivers of graduate STEM education employment also have changed considerably since World War II, mostly triggered by technological progress. For example, revolutions in data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation are profoundly impacting the global workforce, and in turn, demand changes in the ways in which the leaders of the future are educated. In an environment with a steep innovation trajectory, individuals who will thrive will be those who have been prepared with life-long learning skills in digesting new content, adopting new methods, and formulating creative approaches to problem solving.

In addition, the demand for graduates with master’s degrees in STEM disciplines continues to grow across sectors. The committee received comments from a range of employers, both inside and outside academia, affirming the value of the analytical, research, and critical thinking skills that STEM graduates at both the master’s and Ph.D. levels bring to the workplace. However, these employers also stated that many new hires struggle with a variety of other important skills—communication, working effectively in teams with members from different cultural or disciplinary backgrounds, mentoring, networking, and leadership. In response, many universities are working to develop programs for students wishing to pursue those career paths. In some instances, universities are working with local and regional businesses to design such programs and attract students to them.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
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Many studies and workshops have described the desire of graduate students in STEM to be provided with opportunities for career exploration that allow them to make more informed career choices (Fuhrmann et al., 2011; Golde and Dore, 2001; NASEM, 2016; Thiry et al., 2015). Indeed, one of the consistent comments we received from both students and nonacademic employers was that STEM graduate students would benefit from exposure to more varied educational experiences, perhaps through internships and coursework outside of their disciplines, to explore career options and determine skills necessary across a range of work environments.

A 2017 report from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) (Denecke et al., 2017) notes that while many universities offer students the opportunity to develop capabilities in addition to those related to research and disciplinary knowledge on an ad hoc basis, Ph.D. students report having difficulty finding out about those opportunities and taking advantage of them. The CGS report also identifies several challenges and barriers that limit the effectiveness of programs for enhancing graduate student professional development. For example, the perceived level of faculty support for professional development and exploration of multiple career paths can affect students’ pursuit of fields and relevant skills outside of academic research. In addition, funding for traineeships and fellowships that may promote capacity development in both research and professional skills is far outweighed by research assistantships, which lack mandates for education or familiarization with skills across a range of potential careers. Institutions, professional societies, and other organizations have developed resources to support professional and career development for students; however, many of these programs do not have the resources to support extensive evaluation, assessment, and sharing of effective practices. While federal funders have spearheaded national efforts and funded pilots to test the efficacy of these types of programs, the evaluation and assessment outcomes are not yet available. The absence of comprehensive data hampers engagement of key potential advocates including faculty, student participants, alumni, employers, funders, and senior administrators who could implement these programs.

As this report will show, there is both a demand and momentum to address these barriers, and in doing so, modernize the graduate STEM education ecosystem to reflect the ongoing changes in the conduct of science and the continued importance of STEM education to the health of the U.S. economy. The goal of such an effort is for the graduate STEM education ecosystem to become more inclusive and equitable, and to better meet the needs and interests of an increasingly diverse student body pursuing a broad spectrum of careers in a world in which labor markets, funding sources, institutional policies, and the very nature of STEM research are undergoing rapid change.

For graduate STEM education to remain aligned with broader shifts in science and engineering as well as 21st-century society, the entire system needs to undergo significant cultural change to reflect the ways in which the world

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
×

and the STEM enterprise have evolved. The system needs to establish core principles and learning objectives common across STEM graduate education and recognize that STEM advanced degree holders will be increasingly needed in many occupational sectors. The system also needs to become more student-focused and develop ways to prepare students with a broader range of research and transferrable professional skills to meet their educational and career goals. Funding agencies, academic institutions, and other stakeholders that hold power in the system should revisit their incentive and reward policies to better align recognition for achievements in education and research, and to support career exploration and diversity.

The committee recognizes that this kind of cultural change will not come easily, even with the best of intent. The committee is recommending substantial changes in the roles, behavior, and resource allocations among all elements of the graduate education system, beginning with faculty members, who would be expected to have a much greater role in mentoring and advising their students. Costs associated with supporting and rewarding this expanded role would have to include changes in the incentives that help determine faculty roles and behavior. These, in turn, will require institutions, working with departments and graduate schools, to realign their incentives systems vis-à-vis the relative weights assigned to teaching or mentoring and doing research. Research institutions as a whole will need to adjust the way they weigh their roles in teaching and research, and those funding agencies that traditionally have weighed research productivity most heavily in evaluating projects to fund, even if they have substantial responsibilities within them for graduate student education, will have to adjust their project selection criteria. None of this will be easy, and many of the committee’s recommendations may incur substantial costs, although the estimations for these costs were not provided because each program, department, and institution will face a different set of variables, constraints, and preexisting resources that will make the implementation of the recommendations vary significantly. In fact, the difficulty and costs in achieving the kind of cultural change recommended in this report may be the main reasons that earlier reports on graduate education have not been well implemented.

Additionally, the level of resources available at each institution can vary dramatically campus to campus. Many institutions that serve graduate students face considerable challenges related to funding instability, existing work burden on faculty, and strain on administration and support staff. For the changes called for in this report to flourish in a sustainable way, they might require institutions and departments to reflect on the existing structure of their graduate programs. Although pilot initiatives and optional programs can help develop ideas and test efficacy within a department or an institution, the recommendations point to a cultural change resulting from committed leadership, widespread faculty support, and shifts in the allocation of resources and the incentive structure.

There are some examples where large-scale efforts are under way, directed at

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
×

the kinds of system changes recommended here, and they are cause for encouragement that change is possible. A variety of academic institutions have already mounted experimental programs and made substantial changes that will help move graduate education at the local level in the directions outlined in this report.

At the national level, the United Kingdom provides an example of policies aspiring to drive cultural and behavioral changes. A new statement of expectations (UK Research and Innovation, 2018) from all seven of the UK Research councils and some other funders is attempting to stimulate major changes in the way graduate education is conceived and carried out in that country. While the diffuse nature of U.S. higher education makes it a challenge to identify a single leader with the capacity to mandate change, the federal funding agencies have the greatest potential to affect change. Another example of a policy action directed at stimulating significant change in graduate student training in the biomedical sciences is the recent release by the U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health of a new set of requirements and selection criteria for institutional graduate training grants (Gammie, Gibbs, and Singh, 2018).2 Again, the effectiveness of these efforts at system-level change, in both cases driven by government agency initiatives, will only be known after they have been in place for several years.

In summary, despite recognized shortcomings, the U.S. system of graduate STEM education has significant strengths and has contributed immensely to the nation’s prosperity over the past eight decades. However, even with that, it would be wise to acknowledge and understand the current and future challenges facing this system and take steps now to ensure that it remains vital, adaptable, and relevant for many generations to come. To neglect graduate education, or to ignore threats to its success, puts the economic, social, and cultural well-being of the nation at risk. Such a risk is one the nation can ill afford at a time when other nations are expanding their investment in STEM education.

BACKGROUND OF THE REPORT

To determine how well the current graduate STEM education system is serving the needs of various sectors and stakeholders, and to propose new guiding principles, models, programs, and policies that might be adapted to local needs and contexts, the National Academies convened an ad hoc committee, under the auspices of the Board on Higher Education and Workforce and the Committee on Science, Engineering, Medicine, and Public Policy (COSEMPUP), and liaising with the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable and the Teacher Advisory Council, to lead a study of STEM graduate-level education in the United States, revisiting and updating a similar COSEMPUP study completed 20

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2 See https://loop.nigms.nih.gov/2017/10/new-nigms-institutional-predoctoral-training-grant-funding-opportunity-announcement/ (accessed March 16, 2018).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
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years ago, Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers (NAS/NAE/IOM, 1995).

The Statement of Task for the Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century includes the following specific tasks:

  • Conduct a systems analysis of graduate education, with the aim of identifying policies, programs, and practices that could better meet the diverse education and career needs of graduate students in coming years (at both the master’s and Ph.D. levels—understanding the commonalities and distinctions between the two levels), and also aimed at identifying deficiencies and gaps in the system that could improve graduate education programs.
  • Identify strategies to improve the alignment of graduate education courses, curricula, labs, and fellowship/traineeship experiences for students with the needs of prospective employers—and the reality of the workforce landscape—which include not only colleges and universities but also industry, government at all levels, nonprofit organizations, and others. A key task will be to learn from employers how graduate education can continue to evolve to anticipate future workforce needs.
  • Identify possible changes to federal and state programs and funding priorities and structures that would better reflect the research and training needs of graduate students.
  • Identify policies and effective practices that provide students and faculty with information about career paths for graduates holding master’s and Ph.D. degrees and provide ongoing and high-quality counseling and mentoring for graduate students.
  • Identify the implications of the increasingly international nature of graduate education and career pathways, reflecting both the numbers of foreign students who enroll in U.S. graduate schools and the increasing global migration of U.S. STEM graduates.
  • Investigate the many new initiatives and models that are influencing graduate education, including massive open online courses, other digital learning programs, increasing numbers of alternative providers of master’s and Ph.D. degrees, and opportunities to secure credentials through multiple sources.
  • Create a set of national goals for graduate STEM education that can be used by research universities, Congress, federal agencies, state governments, and the private sector to guide graduate-level programs, policies, and investments over the next decade, and ensure that this “blueprint” for graduate education reform is revisited and updated on a periodic basis to reflect changing realities.
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
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Over the course of the resulting 18-month study, the committee held five meetings in Washington, D.C., Raleigh, North Carolina, and San Francisco, California, and convened five focus groups, conducted by Research Triangle International (RTI) in partnership with the National Academies, at Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Kingsville, South Dakota State University, the University of Northern Colorado, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and the 23rd American Indian Science and Engineering Society Conference in Denver, Colorado. The goal of these committee meetings and focus groups was to invite direct input from a range of students, employers, faculty members, and other stakeholders. The committee used the analysis prepared by RTI to better understand perspectives from students and faculty at institutions that might not otherwise be well represented in the research or at other public forums.3 The committee welcomed feedback from the STEM education community via participation at conferences, discussion sessions, professional society presentations, and webinars through the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, Association of American Universities, Council of Graduate Schools, Council of Scientific Society Presidents, Duke University, Emerging Researchers National Conference, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the Graduate Career Consortium, Institute for Teaching and Mentoring, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Washington, D.C., office, the National Postdoctoral Association, Princeton University, Transforming Postsecondary Education in Mathematics, the University of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The committee developed a discussion document and associated website to seek input from the broader set of stakeholders involved in U.S. graduate STEM education (Appendix B). To ensure that the concerns of graduate students were at the center of our activities, the committee talked with a number of current and recent graduate students and included as members of our committee early-career members and individuals who are advocates for STEM graduate students. The committee also commissioned a review of the academic literature on how graduate students learn and which conditions could improve retention, persistence, career outcomes, and other indicators of student success. This review was prepared by Margaret Blume-Kohout at Colgate University (Blume-Kohout, 2017). Finally, the committee commissioned a review of the interdisciplinary STEM program frameworks, with a focus on the Institute of Education Sciences Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Education Sciences. This paper was prepared by Jennifer Lebrón (Lebrón, 2017). In the review of research, the committee understood the limitations of the evidence. Within the field of education research, a small fraction is conducted on graduate STEM education. Because of the nature of graduate programs, which tend to be smaller than undergraduate programs and more specific to the field of study, there are

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3 A summary from RTI is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/pgasite/documents/webpage/pga_186164.pdf (accessed May 18, 2018).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
×

challenges in understanding whether a policy, intervention, or program will produce similar results in a different field, institution, or department. Although the papers cited in this report may have limited reach, the committee also referenced a number of previous reports with a focus on graduate STEM education (Hussain, 2017). For all the recommendations in these previous reports, the stakeholders identified will need to design pilot implementation activities and strategies that best meet the needs of the local context.

The summary of the recommendations made in these reports serves as a proxy for the concerns in the field since the NAS/NAE/IOM (1995) report, Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. This report, the first from the National Academies on the state of graduate STEM education broadly, made an impact on the field by raising awareness and giving stakeholders a set of defined issues to begin discussions. Although there are challenges in connecting specific actions to the 1995 report, graduate education has appeared in other national efforts, from the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate4 to the National Academies’ Rising above the Gathering Storm (NAS/NAE/IOM, 2007). The latter was used in the development of the 2007 America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69), which included provisions for the National Science Foundation regarding Professional Science Master’s degree programs and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program.5

The committee established several working definitions for the context of this report: STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and includes the social and behavioral sciences. The data in this report refer to the following broad fields: engineering, agricultural sciences; biological sciences; earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; computer sciences; mathematics and statistics; chemistry; physics; social and behavioral sciences; and medical and other health sciences (for Ph.D.’s only because these degrees are part of the “doctoral-research/scholarship” category as noted by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics). A glossary of terms is included in Appendix A.

In reference to diversity, the committee refers to the following definition: “Diversity in science refers to cultivating talent, and promoting the full inclusion of excellence across the social spectrum. This includes people from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented and those from backgrounds that are traditionally well represented” (Gibbs, 2014). Dimensions of diversity to be considered include, but are not limited to, national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, educational background, and family structures. The concept also encompasses differences among people concerning where they are from and where they have lived and their differences of thought and life experience. When the committee references historically underrepresented

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4 See http://gallery.carnegiefoundation.org/cid/ (accessed March 27, 2018).

5 See https://www.congress.gov/110/plaws/publ69/PLAW-110publ69.pdf (accessed March 27, 2018).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
×

minority groups in STEM (URM), these groups include women, persons with disabilities, and three racial and ethnic groups—blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives. Other groups, such as students who identify as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander or students who identify as two or more races are acknowledged as underrepresented in STEM; however, because of the way data collection has historically included these groups of students in broader categories (Asian or Other), we are unable to include them in the definition of historically underrepresented groups.

STRUCTURE OF THE REPORT

Recommendations in this report are directed at each of the stakeholders in the U.S. STEM enterprise, including federal and state policy makers and funders, institutions of higher education and their administrators and faculty, leaders in business and industry, and the students that the system is intended to educate. The report acknowledges the multiple roles many of these stakeholders play. For example, federal and state governments and industry serve both as funders of graduate education and as potential employers of master’s and doctoral students. The recommendations contained in this report should help the nation’s STEM graduate programs meet the needs of their students and the prospective employers of the graduates, as well as the national needs for STEM expertise to address the nation’s toughest challenges.

As this report documents, the main obstacles to responding to the needs of both master’s and Ph.D. students are largely tied to the academic culture and the current tenure and promotion system that rewards research output over the quality of education, advising, and mentoring. This report serves as a call to action to faculty members, deans, provosts, presidents, and other university administrators to accept responsibility for the role that the policies and culture of academic research institutions play in creating barriers that complicate graduate student exploration of the range of career options in today’s rapidly changing science-related work environment.

The committee also offers recommendations directed to state and federal research and education funding agencies because they contribute both directly and indirectly to the academic incentive system through their specific funding policies. Finally, the committee calls upon prospective and current STEM graduate students to be more intentional about recruiting supportive mentors, creating professional development plans, fulfilling the core principles and learning objectives of STEM graduate training, and advocating for and helping to develop additional resources as needed for career exploration sufficient to inform confident career choices by the time of completion of graduate training.

Following this introductory chapter, the remainder of this report, dealing with both master’s and doctoral STEM education, lays out the committee’s analysis of the current education system and the nation’s needs in Chapter 2. Chapters

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25038.
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3, 4, and 5 offer recommendations to ensure that the system remains dynamic by addressing current needs and anticipating future contexts in graduate education. Chapter 6 presents a summary of what an ideal graduate education system would be like if all the recommendations in this report were to be implemented. It also provides a listing of the committee’s recommendations organized by stakeholder to make clear what each must do to actualize the revised graduate STEM education system that the committee envisions.

REFERENCES

Blume-Kohout, M. 2017. On What Basis? Seeking Effective Practices in Graduate STEM Education. Commissioned paper prepared for the Committee. Available: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/pgasite/documents/webpage/pga_186176.pdf (accessed May 7, 2018).

Bush, V. 1945. Science: The endless frontier. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Denecke, D., K. Feaster, and K. Stone. 2017. Professional development: Shaping effective programs for STEM graduate students. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.

Fayer, S., A. Lacey, and A. Watson. 2017. STEM occupations: Past, present, and future. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available: https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-occupations-past-present-and-future/home.htm (accessed January 22, 2017).

Fuhrmann, C. N., D. G. Halme, P. S. O’Sullivan, and B. Lindstaedt. 2011. Improving graduate education to support a branching career pipeline: Recommendations based on a survey of doctoral students in the basic biomedical sciences. CBE Life Sciences Education 10(3):239-249.

Gammie, A., A. Gibbs., and S. Singh. 2018. Catalyzing the modernization of graduate biomedical training. Bethesda. MD: National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Available: https://www.nigms.nih.gov/training/instpredoc/documents/ABRCMS.pdf (accessed May 20, 2018).

Gibbs, K., Jr. 2014. Diversity in STEM: What it is and why it matters. Scientific American. Voices blog. Available https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/diversity-in-stem-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/ (accessed March 16, 2018).

Golde, C. M., and T. M. Dore. 2001. At cross purposes: What the experiences of today’s doctoral students reveal about doctoral education. Philadelphia: Pew Charitable Trusts.

Hussain, Y. 2017. Key Recommendations from Selected Recent Reports on Graduate Education (1995-2017). Commissioned paper prepared for the Committee. Available: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/pgasite/documents/webpage/pga_186162.pdf (accessed May 7, 2018).

Lebrón, J. 2017. Forming Interdisciplinary Scholars: An Evaluation of the IES Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Training Program. Commissioned paper prepared for the Committee. Available: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/pgasite/documents/webpage/pga_186161.pdf (accessed May 7, 2018).

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The U.S. system of graduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has served the nation and its science and engineering enterprise extremely well. Over the course of their education, graduate students become involved in advancing the frontiers of discovery, as well as in making significant contributions to the growth of the U.S. economy, its national security, and the health and well-being of its people. However, continuous, dramatic innovations in research methods and technologies, changes in the nature and availability of work, shifts in demographics, and expansions in the scope of occupations needing STEM expertise raise questions about how well the current STEM graduate education system is meeting the full array of 21st century needs. Indeed, recent surveys of employers and graduates and studies of graduate education suggest that many graduate programs do not adequately prepare students to translate their knowledge into impact in multiple careers.

Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century examines the current state of U.S. graduate STEM education. This report explores how the system might best respond to ongoing developments in the conduct of research on evidence-based teaching practices and in the needs and interests of its students and the broader society it seeks to serve. This will be an essential resource for the primary stakeholders in the U.S. STEM enterprise, including federal and state policymakers, public and private funders, institutions of higher education, their administrators and faculty, leaders in business and industry, and the students the system is intended to educate.

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