Panel Discussion

Publication Details

Peter Eisenberger: I want to establish a focus, since I have been through this process before. The questions that occupied the previous discussion were: Whom are you educating and for what? and Whom do you expect to pay for that education? We can have more than one answer, but they at least have to be self-consistent. That is, if you see what the students you are educating are doing afterward, you should be preparing them for it. If, on the other hand, you prepare them for what you theoretically think they should do, you often end up with a high mortality rate, as they don't necessarily do what you spent money training them to do. Also, it is important to recognize that you can have your own idea of what education ought to be about, but you should also be sure that the sources of the money for it—the institution and the taxpayers—are, in fact, going to agree. If you can openly say, I am trying out a student—I am spending money on this—they have to agree. Unfortunately, if you spend $250,000 or $1 million on a student—I don't know what the dollar amount is for an experimentalist—who then leaves to be a stockbroker, that is a hard thing to sell to taxpayers.

R. Stephen Berry: It may be good for society.

Peter Eisenberger: It is a hard thing to sell to the taxpayers. We ought to be more efficient than that.

Isiah Warner, Louisiana State University: I want to make three quick comments. First, I believe that we have to be careful about the analogy we use for where we want to go. I don't agree with Ron Breslow that medical school is the appropriate analogy. I am old enough to recall when doctors would say to a patient, “I am God and I know everything.” Now they say, “I am one of many deities. I am the god of endocrinology,” or “I am the god of podiatry.” Medical school has become much more specialized.

I totally agree with the comments made by Joe Francisco. There are students that we have to be prepared to train. The best student I ever had is in my group right now. She came in, passed all of her qualifiers, and is doing all the things necessary for her to complete her Ph.D. in three years. At the same time, I have had students who have stayed in my group for as long as six years. I think we are doing a disservice if we set a specific timetable and say that all students have to graduate during that time. This is not going to work, particularly for the students who are not in Chicago, Harvard, or Caltech graduate programs.

The other thing is that we keep clamoring for a model in terms of science education at the undergraduate level. We don't have to go far from here to find a model, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). They have undergraduates who come into science and, 4 years later, 50 percent of these students are still in science. They have documented data regarding comparable students who came to their institution, interviewed, and elected to go elsewhere for various reasons. As I recall, only 3 percent of the students who went elsewhere are still in science. Clearly, this is a model that works, so I don't know why we continue to say that we have yet to find a model. The UMBC model works. Go over there and let Freeman Hrabowsky show you why it is working.

Edel Wasserman: I would like to come back to the point that Peter and Steve raised. We are dealing with individuals, and they are not going to fit into a single mold. The number of people, however, who will study molecular beams and then become stockbrokers is a sufficiently small fraction that we should not define public policy on such instances.

Most of the students we are discussing are hoping to have a career that is science related when they leave graduate school. They may change their minds. One of the reasons for a change is that through the graduate period they usually are exposed to only a few of the opportunities for those with a science-based education. If they saw a broader view, some might decide, for example, to stop with a master's degree in chemistry and obtain an M.B.A. to allow them to pursue other possibilities. The point is to be flexible. Individuals vary, and one answer does not fit all.

The criterion that someone ought to be able to choose an appropriate research problem as a requirement for a Ph.D. is, to me, unfortunate. Some of the most talented, valuable, and excited individuals I have seen in industry are incredibly good at solving problems but seem to have less interest in choosing broad research areas. Again, I believe we ought to keep a variety of possibilities in mind as we ask what education should be.

James D. Martin, North Carolina State University: Before I make my comment, I would just like to remind us that women are getting graduate degrees, and we need to include “she” in our vocabulary. The issue I would like to raise focuses on the relation of junior faculty to the discussion at hand. I think if you take a look at your junior faculty, you are going to see that many of these issues such as time to degree and interdisciplinarity are already being addressed. I don't know of many junior faculty who keep students in their labs more than four or five years for a Ph.D. Maybe it is because we are trying to get tenure, and we have a clock. The clock on us affects the time for students. Maybe we need to put a clock on senior faculty.

In terms of interdisciplinarity, most junior faculty that I know are interdisciplinary in the way that they look at science. Stephen Berry noted that in the days of scientists such as Linus Pauling there was a greater degree of interdisciplinary thought than is witnessed today. I believe the pendulum may be on its return. Those of us approaching the “messy problems” today have to be interdisciplinary in order to make progress in our research. At the same time, I resonate with the problem that comes when we institutionalize interdisciplinarity. This institutionalization generally comes at the direct expense of junior faculty. It takes a while until junior faculty are known in the community and sought out for collaborations. So, unless one is at an institution with an already established interdisciplinary center, junior faculty have little to no access to these resources. The majority of such resources seem to be going either to established faculty or established departments.

Furthermore, this issue of resources has a direct and major impact on our ability to offer a quality graduate education. This morning we heard that, overall, the funding situation is quite strong, and Dr. Wasserman made a comment to the fact that DuPont had money but was short of personnel to do new science. Yet I do not believe the sentiment in the “trenches” is that funding is good. We learned of the IGERT program in which a total of 58 awards was made over the last 3 years (out of 1,344 applicants). While this is a great program, numbers of that size are needed in the chemical sciences alone.

In terms of the availability of resources, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my graduate advisor discussing my pursuit of an academic career. In the mid-1980s, he indicated that one could reasonably expect approximately $100,000 per year in a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Today, that amount is the same, yet I now pay my graduate students more than 150 percent of what I was paid as a research assistant, and the NSF postdoctoral program in the chemical sciences has been eliminated. Graduate students clearly see a difficulty in obtaining resources and witness the frustration of their advisors trying to garner funding at the expense of time and energy that otherwise could be used to pursue education and science. I have unfortunately seen several leave science because, if one is to pursue a career with such a major responsibility to “chase money,” one can find greener pastures elsewhere.

Some major institutional issues need to change if we are going to create a model of true interdisciplinary science that also fosters education. We must also realize that the strength and uniqueness of America's science and its university system have their origins in the American frontier spirit that built this country, a place where the little person, with an independent will, motivation, and creativity can do great things. That frontier spirit, not the creation and preservation of institutions, is what made the American university great and is what will take us into the 21st century.

R. Stephen Berry: Funding in the physical sciences has not gone up. It has basically dropped, especially unrestricted core funding. It has dropped more in physics than in chemistry. Overall, our support for basic research in chemistry in universities is significantly lower, especially in buying power, than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

Frankie K. Wood-Black, Phillips Petroleum: This morning, I have heard several different talks, and I have heard a lot of the comments. The theme that strikes me when I am hearing these things is diversity. It is diversity in terms of thought, of culture, and of application. We have industry folks who want to break the barrier to work with the universities, and we have university folks who want to break the barrier and work with those in industry. There are different models at different places, and that is what makes our academic system so great. We need to strive to create that diversity and to keep moving in the direction of diversity, because that is what is going to make us take the next leap forward.

It sounds as though, from the talks we heard this morning, there is a problem, that we are in a place where no one is envisioning what it is going to look like on the other side. Those models are different, and we are in an age where knowledge is the driving force. We are going to have to work on diversity, and all these ideas have to be brought together. One of the problems that I am seeing, both in terms of my professional career with Phillips Petroleum and in terms of working with the American Chemical Society (ACS) (I am the current chair of the women chemists' committee for the ACS), is that we are not breaking that barrier and recognizing diversity in all its aspects—culture, thought, and so on. What we are also seeing is that, because we are not recognizing that diversity, we are seeing what I call self-selection. The pipeline is there. We are seeing a lot more people come in. That is apparent from looking at the diversity in this room. You have industry folks, government folks, minority folks, and a number of women in here. This is a very diverse set.

I predict that within the next 5 years we will see that a third of the folks will self-select themselves out of this profession, or out of industry, or out of academia. That is the crux of our problem, because we are seeing self-selection at the graduate level and at the undergraduate level. So, self-selection is another issue that we have to address.

Marcetta Darensbourg, Texas A&M University: I would ask, is there one thing that we could do to make a real difference? A few years ago NSF asked that new faculty members include a statement on education in their young-investigator grant applications. Those statements have evolved over the years—eventually into sort of a teaching philosophy—and are required in other grant applications now. In addition, those statements eventually turned into part of the college and university application package. The applicant must now include a statement about teaching in a research proposal. This has been good for teaching at the undergraduate level. It sent the message that teaching is important. Everybody knows the rules of the game, but the message says that teaching is important and your attitude toward this responsibility is important.

I think all the mechanisms needed to educate a student broadly are already present in graduate school. We have student seminars and presentations, research proposals, and so forth. The question is, Are our faculty really serious about mentoring the students in or through those mechanisms? On the average, current young faculty seem to be more dedicated to this than are the older ones. Maybe that is the main thing—all faculty should be encouraged to express their philosophy of what the education process should be for our graduate students. We need to express it as a reminder of our responsibility.

Ernest L. Eliel, University of North Carolina: I have two short comments, but before I start, I would like to agree with Dr. Darensbourg and Dr. Martin, my colleague down the road. I find our young faculty to be more flexible and receptive to ideas than the older ones. First, on the matter of globalization, I agree only half with Steve Berry. It is a one-way street. The Europeans come here, and they return globalized. But we Americans live on a big island, and very few students go abroad except perhaps later in their careers.

A good program at the undergraduate level is run by Professor James Boggs at the University of Texas at Austin, which allows undergraduate students in their junior or senior year to go to Europe. It is an excellent program and well organized. The students are slotted into appropriate science courses abroad, and their grades are accepted at their home institutions so that they don't lose a year. Unfortunately, participation in the program among universities is minimal. I think that is a great pity; the program could be used to a greater extent. I think the undergraduate years are the best time to get globalized, when you are young and receptive.

The other point I want to make is on the matter of time to complete a Ph.D. If there is a rule that after five years you lose your financial support, it means that many graduate students will work Saturdays and Sundays. It also means that both the professor and the student know that there is a five-year limit and they had better do something about it—that can have a beneficial effect. We make exceptions when they are justified. If someone comes with insufficient preparation, we might allow an extra year; we usually decide that at the beginning. Also, if the research takes a little longer than anticipated, we will allow one more semester, but not more than one. It can be done; it works for us.

R. Stephen Berry: In response to your challenge about globalization, certainly it is more one-way on one side. I think there are many opportunities for American students to go in the other direction. My teaching assistant this quarter walked into my office before I left Chicago to tell me that he is going to Hamburg today to do some experiments. One of my graduate students is currently spending a couple of months in Madrid. But American academics are probably not as ready as Europeans to use these opportunities.

Edel Wasserman: As to this question of best practices, I want to refer you to Chemical & Engineering News, which Ron Breslow produced in late 1995, after a workshop that he ran early in his ACS presidency. It was a summary of best practices as agreed to by a group of department chairs and a couple of people from industry.

James S. Nowick, University of California, Irvine: We all agree that there are tremendous changes happening, and we need to do something about graduate education. Knowledge is growing exponentially. We are looking at this fact and asking how to deal with it. We must recognize, however, that many social and political changes are sinusoidal, rather than exponential. When we look at addressing graduate education, we need to make sure that we are not trying to apply exponential models to sinusoidal issues.

Victor Vandell, Louisiana State University: I am a graduate student, and I might be the only one here. One of the problems I foresee with trying to fit everyone into a single formula to solve the issues arising with graduate education is the individuality of people. Specifically, different personalities and diverse backgrounds will make any solution difficult to impose. I would like to see a more external approach taken to address the issues of how we solve some of the problems in graduate education and generate more interest in graduate education in the next century. That approach may be through marketing.

Why is it not an option to improve the marketing of graduate education in the chemical sciences? This would excite young people about the discipline and encourage them to pursue advanced degrees in these areas. I don't see that happening. I think this area of the chemical sciences rests on its laurels that it is already a well-established science and everyone knows it is there if they would like to pursue it. In this day and age, when life is fast moving and the youth are into activities that keep them excited, we need to increase marketing. For example, we should hire whoever designed the milk campaign to promote the chemical sciences, because everyone is excited about drinking milk.

I think the youth would respond if they saw that going into the sciences could be exciting and create a future for them. It is left for people to know that if they want to go into chemistry, there is going to be a future in it. A lot of students don't see that, and they get steered into other disciplines.

Why is that not an option? I am going to put that question out to see if the panel would like to address it. Why can't we get some aggressive campaigning going to market chemical sciences—maybe all the way back through high school—and make them interesting, so that students will be excited and look forward to coming into these areas.

R. Stephen Berry: I will take that on first, just to cause trouble. I am not a proselytizer. My belief is that I want people to go into chemistry because they see it as a calling. I don't like to feel that I am persuading people that chemistry is where they should be. If they decide that, based on what they have experienced as undergraduates, that is great, and I try to make my undergraduate courses interesting. There are so many wonderful things to do in the world that I am not convinced that everybody should be subjected to my persuasion to become a chemist. I know that is anathema in this group.

Edel Wasserman: Just to keep this issue going, whether we advertise or not is not the main issue. I think the real issue is, Do we think we are here to fulfill the curiosity of people who want to—I will make it extreme—play in the chemical sciences, or is there a social purpose? I believe it is the latter. We are given money by the taxpayers to find the best people, who will be educated, go out into the world, and play a constructive role by contributing their chemical knowledge to society. If we can find them by getting the information out to the people so that they can decide that there is an opportunity that matches their talent and interests it is important to do so.

Dady Dadyburjor, West Virginia University: I would like to switch gears and return to the question we raised earlier regarding interdisciplinary work versus core competencies. If the question is interdisciplinary or core, I think the only answer to that has to be yes to both, in that each one nourishes and reestablishes the other. I have to disagree a little with Professor Berry. I don't think one does the interdisciplinary work just to reinvigorate a mature profession. I didn't think you meant that, but I wanted to say that I think each one builds on the other and reinforces the other.

R. Stephen Berry: I picked those examples as cases where it happened to work in that direction. It could go in the other direction as well.

Stanley I. Sandler, University of Delaware: I am a chemical engineer, not a chemist, and therefore perhaps I see things a little differently. Only a small percentage of our chemical engineering graduates go into academia.

I am troubled by this discussion of the generalist versus the specialist. Ron Breslow commented that a doctor still needs only 4 years of medical school, but in fact, medical practice has changed, as I discovered recently when I needed orthopedic surgery. I found that there are surgeons who specialize in knees, others who do only hands and fingers, or only shoulders, and so on. In general, if we look at other professions, whether medicine or law or even tax accounting, we find they have all become very specialized.

The question then is, What should our role as educators be and what sort of education are we trying to deliver? For future academics, the example is clear: being a specialist is what it takes to get tenure. However, from the industrial point of view, as we have heard here, a generalist seems to be more appreciated. I don't see how we can do both, so how should we decide on the appropriate goal?

Also, our discussion so far has been centered on the Ph.D. and maybe the postdoc as being the termination of formal education. With the present situation of frequent (and sometimes unplanned) career changes, and also because of the explosion of new technologies and scientific advances, there would seem to be a role for formal continuing or lifelong education. Indeed, this could become an increasingly important function of academia in the future. However, there has been no discussion of this, even though it is becoming more and more common in professions like medicine or law. In contrast, formal continuing education seems to play only a very minor role in the sciences and engineering.

Catherine Fenselau, University of Maryland, College Park: I am fairly familiar with the departments in a number of universities in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area. I would suggest that there has been a sincere effort to respond to the 1995 NSF discussion and the publications and suggestions that followed from it. I think that there is a great deal of interest across the country in issues associated with graduate education and a real recognition of the problems and opportunities. Many departments would like to see some strong national leadership. When we discussed some curriculum reforms recently at College Park, Maryland, someone said, “What exactly is it that ACS wants us to do?” Consequently, I would like to second the suggestion that was made, that perhaps a best-practices document could be put out by the new ACS graduate office.

Laren Tolbert, Georgia Institute of Technology: I would like to return to an unrepresented group here, that has been mentioned from time to time, which I think is an important part of the discussion, and that is taxpayers. Speaking as a liberal Democrat, I find myself uneasy in this role, but in fact, what we are talking about is going to be financed largely by the public. It does little good to talk about what the new programs are going to be if there are not funds to make that happen. If you look at what the taxpayers and the Congress respond to, it is initiatives in fields such as cancer research. Those are heavily research-oriented activities. So, we can talk all we want about improving graduate education but, in fact, the research model that gets the money is the one that is targeted toward specific research agenda. We need to take that into consideration, and that certainly should affect what we do. Otherwise, all we are going to have are these relatively small programs such as IGERT, which are not going to have a major impact on graduate education.

Derrick Tabor, National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS): I would like to address the question of whether or not diversity is a valid topic for this group to consider. Our group, Minority Opportunities in Research, is dedicated to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in the sciences. So, this is a very important issue to us. Some of you may have seen the article, I think it was in the New York Times, that showed 100 Ph.D. degrees were offered to African Americans. I ask this group in particular, Who is responsible for that? This number could certainly be higher. It does not include Native Americans or Hispanic Americans and was not broken down in terms of women.

I think that this group needs to be asking, What more can we do to make sure that science is open to everybody, and not just to a specific few. So, I definitely would like to bring that question up again and to say that NIGMS is interested in knowing what you can do and would be interested in doing. Our director, Marvin Cassman, has addressed this in his guidelines, in terms of what is important for NIGMS to do. What can we do to encourage more creativity among educational institutions and graduate institutions to address this question? You are some of the most creative people in the world, but this seems to be one of the most difficult questions to address.

The second thing is that the MIRT program, which is Minority International Research Training, addresses globalization. It was started by David Ruffin's office to make sure that minority students, underrepresented minorities, are exposed to issues in international science. We send students all over the world. I took a couple of students to Australia, and we send students there every year. So, there is an active program. There are opportunities, and we need to support them, encourage them, and recognize them. This program is for students at the undergraduate level. So, when they get to your institutions, some of them may have already gone away for an international experience.

Edel Wasserman: I would like to comment on the last speaker's remarks. I think we don't have hard evidence as to whether increasing diversity will affect the fundamentals of science, although it clearly will help the world we live in. I don't know if there is something unique that a particular minority group or gender group has to contribute to science. Are there fundamental changes or fundamental things that are done only by women, and not by men, in the laboratory? Perhaps. If so, we ought to find these things out. By and large, I think it is a secondary question. These are major groups in society that we have to work at bringing into the graduate education process.

Derrick Tabor: Let me say this. I want to applaud the ACS for having the forethought to have the Minority Scholars Program. I think that the SEED program is fantastic. I am rather perplexed as to why you would say what you just said regarding minorities. My greatest fear—and I have not before expressed this publicly—is not as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) employee but as a member of the ACS. After those minority students complete graduate school, there will be no place for them, and this is not something that ACS has been planning for. In other words, these students will graduate and become members of the ACS, but there will be nobody out there to say, “Come to my table. We have been waiting for you because we believe diversity is important.”

Edel Wasserman: Let me respond briefly to that. I don't know what the ACS will do with it, but please have the students contact me at DuPont. There will be a place at the table.

Isiah Warner: When you look at the composition of advisory boards for various companies in recent years, you will note that they have brought in women and minorities to serve on these boards. Suddenly they are recognizing that a diverse board brings a different perspective to the table. That is also true of science. You approach science from your own cultural perspective. I don't mean that a diverse group changes the basic tenets of science, since those tenets are absolute. However, one can vary in terms of how you bring others into science or how you teach science. I suspect that is why, and not because I am black, I attract a lot of black graduate students. It is because culturally I look at science somewhat differently. I think all of that contributes to the betterment of science in this country and that is the aspect on which we need to focus.

Lynda Jordan, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University: As someone who is a woman and of African descent, I am aware of the contributions of both minority and women scientists. I would remind you of the contributions that we have already made to the chemical sciences. Look at George Washington Carver, who at the early part of this century made significant contributions to society, and more recently Henry Hill, who is annually recognized by the ACS at the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers meeting. These are only two of the many contributions of minority scientists in this country and the world to the advancement of science.

The mere fact that we have to address these issues at a meeting of this caliber indicates the major biases that are associated with diversifying the demographics of the chemical sciences in this country.