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National Academy Workshop Explores Challenges Facing Chemistry Graduate Education

by Celia Henry Arnaud
January 30, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 5

Chemistry graduate education as it exists today may be unsustainable, leading chemists said last week at a National Research Council Board on Chemical Sciences & Technology workshop.

The educational enterprise “has been successful at what it’s been asked to do,” said Gary B. Schuster, a chemistry professor at Georgia Tech. But the world has changed, workshop participants noted, and universities are facing declining state budgets, a poor job market, changing employer expectations, and shifting U.S. and global demographics. Workshop participants considered how chemistry graduate education in the U.S. should respond to these and other changes.

George M. Whitesides, a chemistry professor at Harvard University, suggested abandoning the model in which, for a Ph.D. thesis, a student works as an apprentice for a single professor. Instead, he said, students should have broad experience, including working closely with more than one professor, involvement in multidisciplinary programs, and at least a part of the research organized around important societal needs—such as energy and health.

Participants also proposed that the NSF Chemistry Division fund experiments in chemistry graduate education at several universities. An internship program for graduate students was one suggestion.

No single solution will work for all universities, the workshop participants agreed. Schuster called for universities to do what works best for their unique circumstances. “Not every university can and should do the same things,” he said.

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Comments
Cameron (January 31, 2012 12:19 PM)
I received my PhD in 2009 and am now teaching at a regional (undergad only) state school. I was fortunate enough to have a pseudo-lecturer experience in graduate school--I taught what we called "recitation" sections which were in conjunction with the students' general chemistry lecture and lab classes. However, most PhD chemists that go into teaching and myself to an extent have never been taught to teach. We focus on the information and skills we need to know in chemistry, which is certainly important, but a few education classes or short-courses thrown in to the actual PhD program would certainly be beneficial for those of us who know teaching is our calling. This would clearly lead to a more personalized PhD experience, which should not solely focus on future teachers; for instance a business/management aspect might be another path... The key is that one size does not fit all in terms of a PhD!
Tavia Cleveland (January 31, 2012 12:46 PM)
Candidates need to have the flexibility to work outside of a university doing the day to support their families. I only earned 8.50 an hour as a grad student or should I say as an adult with a Bachelors degree.

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