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Graduate Education Focus at Philadelphia National Meeting

August 2, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 31

As ACS President, I've tried to draw attention to a focus area at each national meeting by organizing presidential events and publicizing related symposia. Programs at ACS meetings are incredibly diverse, and the depth of programming in a given area is often hard to recognize because it is spread over many divisions.

At the spring meeting in Anaheim, Calif., a presidential colloquium titled "Big Promise from 'Small' Science: How Nanotechnology Will Change Our Lives" helped to provide a focus on nanoscience for the meeting. There were 13 related symposia advertised, along with the presidential event that demonstrated the breadth of chemistry's contributions to nanoscience and nanotechnology.

At the ACS national meeting in Philadelphia this August, a presidential symposium titled "Changing Needs in Graduate Education" will provide a focus on graduate education for the meeting. The program was organized by the Division of the History of Chemistry, the Committee on Science, and the ACS Office of Graduate Education and includes overviews of graduate education and reports from universities involved in the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID). One session will cover experiments undertaken by CID departments on various themes, including the graduate curriculum, professional development, "climate" issues, and assessment issues.

Five related events are sponsored by divisions: a Division of Chemical Education symposium titled "Creating Complete Scientists: Graduate Student Visions of Doctoral Reform," a Division of Nuclear Chemistry & Technology symposium titled "Recent Advances in Nuclear and Radiochemistry," a Division of Polymer Chemistry symposium titled "Excellence in Polymer Science Graduate Research," a Division of Chemical Information (CINF) symposium titled "Graduate Education in Chemical Informatics: Needs and Opportunities," and a CINF poster session titled "Chemical Information Instruction."

I decided to focus on graduate education in Philadelphia because I believe we are at a critical juncture. Chemistry is becoming more interdisciplinary every day and has expanded rapidly into the biosciences, materials science, and nanoscience. Our graduates will likely be working in frontier areas of chemistry alongside experts from related sciences. We need to ask whether our current Ph.D. programs address the students' needs adequately.

CID has set up a program involving 11 universities that have agreed to reexamine their Ph.D. programs and share their ideas and plans at annual meetings. I am a member of a faculty-student committee at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that is taking a fresh look at Ph.D. requirements and programs as part of the Carnegie Initiative. Early in our meetings, it became clear that graduate students didn't fully understand the rationale behind our requirements, and more distressingly, faculty could only vaguely remember why the requirements were set up in the first place. Clearly, a fresh look at the Ph.D. was in order.

We seek to develop creative scientists and are asking how creativity can best be taught.

We began by asking whether our Ph.D. program was effective. We were very encouraged that we were doing something exceedingly well, as the quality of our Ph.D. graduates was outstanding. They had become experts and had developed into independent scientists.

Before looking at revising our requirements, we asked ourselves what outcome we desired from our Ph.D. program. We decided that we wanted our graduates to have expertise in their specialty area; to have breadth of scientific knowledge; to be able to solve problems and to find and define new problems; to have excellent oral, visual, and written communication skills; to have teamwork skills; and to be confident and independent scientists. We seek to develop creative scientists and are asking how creativity can best be taught.

We want our graduates to become what UC Berkeley chemistry professor Angelica Stacey has called "expert learners" who have learned important things in their field and have learned to connect to other fields. Expert learners work in multidisciplinary teams and face the continual challenge of being a beginner working alongside experts in other areas. Expert learners will need to have tenacity, courage, and humility to begin work at the low end of the learning curve over and over again.

We are now focusing our efforts on devising a graduate education experience that will achieve these outcomes.

I invite you to come to the symposia to learn about the current state of the chemistry Ph.D. and to join a dialogue on the future of graduate education in chemistry.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the committee.


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