National Academies Press: OpenBook

Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers (1995)

Chapter: 1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION

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Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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1
THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION

The American system of graduate education of scientists and engineers,1 organized around an intensive and realistic research experience, has become the world model for simultaneously conducting basic research and educating graduate scientists and engineers. Scientists and engineers with PhD and other advanced degrees play a central and growing role in American life.

Graduate education is basic to achieving national goals in two ways. First, our universities are responsible for producing the teachers and researchers—investigators in industry or academe who will lay the groundwork for the paradigms and products of tomorrow and who will in turn educate future teachers and researchers. Second, graduate scholarship and research are key contributors to meeting broad national goals of technological, economic, and cultural development. The increase in scientific and technological knowledge and the ways in which that knowledge is applied are fundamental to the pursuit of many general national objectives, including developing new technologies and industries, combating disease and hunger, reducing environmental pollution, developing new sources of energy, and maintaining the competitiveness of American industry.

Persons educated in and part of our graduate education system provide expert service to society via their development of original ideas, which are brought to fruition in teaching, industry, business, and government. Graduate students often go beyond the thinking of their professors and create a new generation of science and engineering thought. The student learns from the professor, but the professor also learns from the student. Our system of graduate education is therefore important both as a source of future leaders in science and engineering and as a source of new ideas. We must maintain the strength of this system to sustain the

1 Throughout this report, the term graduate scientists and engineers refers to persons who have attained a master's or doctor of philosophy degree in science or engineering. Science is taken to include the life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, and mathematics. Engineering is taken to include all specialties of engineering.

Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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creativity and intellectual vigor that will be needed in the United States to address a growing variety of social and economic concerns.

The efficacy of our system originated in a series of policy decisions that were prompted by the major role that science and technology had in the outcome of World War II. Among those decisions were the following:

· The public, through a number of government agencies, would assume an important role in funding basic and applied research.

· Through public funding, researchers at universities throughout the country would become major contributors to the nation's scientific research expertise.

· The universities would conduct basic research and the graduate education of scientists and engineers as joint, synergistic activities.

The graduate-education enterprise in the United State is diverse and decentralized. Because of the diversity of missions and agencies participating in higher education, any important changes require cooperative efforts based on a shared understanding.

There are many independent participants including more than 600 public and private universities and colleges (which offer master’s or doctoral degrees in science and engineering), scientific and engineering societies (which help to define what scientists, and engineers should know and do), state government (which provide support for universities), the federal government (which supports research and education), philanthropic organizations, accreditation bodies, the Council of Graduate School, the Association of American Universities ,and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.

Box 1-1: The Graduate-Education Enterprise

The dual role of the graduate science and engineering enterprise was designed to benefit the nation by educating students through the active conduct of cutting-edge research. According to a report by the National Research Council in 1964, "graduate education can be of highest quality only if it is conducted as part of the research process itself" (NRC, 1964).

By educating students in the context of research, the American system of graduate education has set the world standard for preparing scientists and engineers for research careers in academe, government, and industry. And by attracting outstanding. Students and faculty members from throughout the world, it has benefited from an infusion of both talent and ideas.

The products of research have contributed abundantly to the health, defense, and well-being of the country, and American has generously supported the education of its scientists and engineers with both state and federal funds and with donations from industry, large nonprofit organizations, and the universities themselves.

States have the longest tradition of supporting graduate education. Beginning with the Morrill Act of 1862, states funded on-campus agricultural research to serve the public goal of bringing technology to the nation's farmers. Today, by subsidizing tuitions, they have ensured wide access to graduate education at low cost. The state universities and land-grant colleges

Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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subsidize about half the doctoral-degree recipients in the United States and employ the professors who educate them.

Federal support for graduate education of scientists and engineers, a more recent phenomenon, expanded rapidly after World War II with the establishment of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other agencies. Funding for the education of graduate scientists and engineers grew rapidly in the late 1950s after the launching of Sputnik in 1957 and passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958. The federal government has developed a number of programs for the direct support of graduate education, including fellowships, traineeships, research-infrastructure grants, and institutional development grants.

The number of graduate science and engineering students increased roughly in parallel to the amount of federally funded scientific and engineering research from 1958 to 1988. Between 1958 and 1968, the number of PhDs awarded annually to scientists and engineers tripled to about 18,000. That swift growth lasted until the early 1970s, when national policy changes brought about the curtailment of most federal fellowships and traineeships.2 Thus, the annual production of science and engineering doctorates peaked at near 19,400 during 1971-1973 and fell to fewer than 18,000 during 1977-1985. The production of PhDs began to rise again in the late 1980s and reached 25,000 in 1993 (see Figure 1-1). Most of the net growth after 1985 was due to an increased number of foreign students with temporary student visas (see Figure 1-2).

Since the late 1980s, the institutions that conduct research in concert with graduate education have been buffeted by a series of political, economic, and social changes. The end

The doctor of philosophy degree is the highest academic degree granted by North American universities. PhD programs are designed to prepare students to become scholars, that is, to discover, integrate, and apply knowledge, as well as to communicate and disseminate it.

A doctoral program is an apprenticeship that consists of lecture or laboratory courses, seminars, examinations, discussions, independent study, research, and, in many instances, teaching.

The first year or two of study is normally a probationary period, during which a preliminary or qualifying examination might be required. The probationary period is followed by an examination for admission to full candidacy, when students devote essentially full time to completing dissertation research. This research, planned with the major adviser and the dissertation committee, usually takes 1-3 years, depending on the field. An oral defense of the research and dissertation before a graduate committee constitutes the final examination.

Source: CGS, 1990

Box 1-2: The PhD Degree

2 For example, the NSF training-grant program was terminated, and research fellowships were cut back to 500 (they have since returned to 2,500). Only the NIH's training-grant program was maintained, through the intervention of Congress; but even this program was reduced as overall federal funding for direct support of graduate science and engineering education fell by 80% in the early 1970s.

Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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image

FIGURE 1-1 Number of doctorates awarded by US institutions, by broad field, 1958-1993.

SOURCE: NSF, 1994f: Table 1, for 1983-1993; unpublished ''decade" tables, Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel, National Research Council, for prior years.

NOTE: The physical/mathematical sciences include physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, computer/information science, and environmental (ocean, atmospheric, earth) sciences. The life sciences include the biological, agricultural, and medical sciences. The social/behavioral sciences include the social sciences (e.g., economics, sociology, political science) and psychology. More detailed information on fields of doctorates awarded in 1983-1993 is presented in Appendix B, Table B-20.

Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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Page 15

image

FIGURE 1-2 Trends in citizenship of recipients of doctorates from US institutions, 1983-1993.

SOURCE: Calculated from NSF. 1994f:Table 3.

NOTE: The numbers are based on those whose citizenship was known (between 92% and 98% of each year's doctorate recipients in 1983-1993).

Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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of the Cold War has led to major cuts in defense spending, which are a source of R&D funding.3 The cuts began in 1987, when, for the first time, the overall increase in federal funding for research stopped growing faster than inflation. Not only have fiscal constraints affected the science-oriented government agencies, but the agencies have responded to political forces by shifting toward an emphasis on "strategic" research that is oriented toward national objectives.

The last decade has seen both a rise in international economic competition and cutbacks in basic research at large industrial laboratories. Industry is said to be hiring fewer scientists and engineers and shifting emphasis toward core businesses; industrial grants to universities, an important source of research funds, are said to be reduced and increasingly directed toward incremental, low-risk programs.

State governments are tightening their budgets, with some public universities experiencing absolute decreases of 20-25 % in state funding. That has reduced the ability of state universities to hire scientific and engineering faculty and to fund graduate students. Many state legislators view graduate education as a budget item that must compete with social requirements whose call on the tax dollar is at least as persuasive. Criticisms of faculty productivity are common, as is a general skepticism that the public receives an adequate return on its investment in graduate education. The Maryland General Assembly, for example, has ordered new policies that establish explicit expectations for faculty workload and responsibilities. Furthermore, state legislators have sometimes questioned the benefit of educating graduate students who leave the state on graduating.

Owing to these financial constraints, universities must use more of their own funds to support research, especially for projects considered long-term or risky. And they are less able to offer tenure-track positions to new young faculty.

As the financial support for basic research has plateaued, the graduate-education system has been criticized by the public and Congress for neglecting education and other societal needs. With the end of the Cold War and the growth of global economic competition, the nation's attention has shifted from defense to economic, environmental, and other social concerns: we are faced with the challenge of finding better ways to use natural resources, to produce energy, and to deliver health care, and we need to produce better products and services in an internationally competitive marketplace. The nation also has to deal with crime, violence, and poverty. At the international level, we are concerned with limiting population growth, stabilizing emergent democracies, and fostering appropriate industries in developing countries, as well as with sustaining national security and global economic health. The role of research in addressing those concerns is not nearly as clear to the nation as was its role in winning the Cold War or the "space race."

In the face of these complex societal concerns, scientists and engineers have been challenged to take more active and visible roles in society—roles that require leadership,

3 Universities became less dependent on Department of Defense (DoD) funding in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently, less than 14% of federal support of R&D in colleges and universities comes from DoD. A major cut in DoD R&D would affect federal funding of universities by only a few percent (Sapolsky, 1994). But this decline in defense R&D would probably be highly concentrated in particular fields (such as aeronautics and oceanography).

Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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cooperation, and flexibility. Society expects them to contribute to new debates on public policy, to improve our competitive position in global markets, to help to create high-value jobs, and to improve the education of citizens at many levels.

To repeat: American graduate schools have done a superb job of preparing young scientists and engineers to become original researchers—to become the scientific and technical leaders of the nation. It is the purpose of this report to examine how well graduate school prepares students to integrate and disseminate their knowledge and apply it to the full range of present societal needs.

Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
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Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
Page 12
Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
Page 13
Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
Page 14
Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
Page 15
Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
Page 16
Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
Page 17
Suggested Citation:"1 THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF GRADUATE EDUCATION." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4935.
×
Page 18
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Are we producing too many PhDs? Does the current graduate education system adequately prepare science and engineering students for today's marketplace? How do foreign students enter the picture? What should be the PhD of the future? These and other questions are addressed in this book by a blue-ribbon panel of scientists and engineers. Recommendations are aimed at creating a new PhD that would retain the existing strengths of the current system while substantially increasing the information available, the potential versatility of students, and the career options afforded to them by their PhD education.

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