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National Research Council (US) Chemical Sciences Roundtable; Burland DM, Doyle MP, Rogers ME, et al., editors. Preparing Chemists and Chemical Engineers for A Globally Oriented Workforce: A Workshop Report to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004.

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Preparing Chemists and Chemical Engineers for A Globally Oriented Workforce: A Workshop Report to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable.

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7Attracting and Preparing Chemists and Chemical Engineers for a Global Workforce


Georgia Institute of Technology


In today's world, scientists and engineers need to prepare to be part of a workforce that is global in perspective. At the same time the serious potential decrease in the workforce of scientists and engineers in the United States does not bode well. This presentation addresses the preparation of chemists and chemical engineers for a global workforce, with emphasis on changes in undergraduate and graduate education that can meet the chemical industry's needs.

U.S. Supply of Scientists and Engineers

According to data from the National Science Board, the fraction of science and engineering doctoral students in the United States who are U.S. citizens has dropped from 70 percent to 56 percent in the last 25 years; the average enrollment dropped steadily from 118,000 in 1992 to about 100,000 in 1998. Reversing these trends will be difficult, and the consequences of not doing something, potentially damaging. According to the Department of Labor, 60 percent of future jobs require skills only 20 percent of Americans have.

International students have typically been attracted to the United States by the standard of living and the great opportunities to carry out science and engineering research. This has been of great benefit to the U.S. science and engineering workforce. In the United States, 10 percent of holders of bachelor's degrees, 20 percent of master's degrees, and 25 percent of doctorates in science and engineering were born in other countries. This trend might not continue in the future. In fact, some countries other than the United States are trying to counteract it as competition for scientists and engineers increases. For instance, China now has special programs with funds for Chinese citizens that want to return to China and start up laboratories. Recently in the European Union (EU), 1.9 million high-technology jobs were made available to non-EU applicants.

The percentage of students going into science and engineering outside the United States is increasing rapidly but the percentage of U.S. students going into science and engineering remains very low (a few percent each year). If that continues, the United States will become less competitive. We should continue to focus on improving the quantity and quality of U.S. students so that there is no need to worry about the supply coming in from other countries or about foreign students returning home.

Attracting More U.S. Students to Science

One possible solution to the potential shortfall in scientists and engineers in the future is to work on making science more attractive to young people in the United States. Improving the teaching of science in elementary and high school is critical. There have to be more programs that bring scientists and engineers into schools to talk to students about science and give high-school teachers opportunities to develop exciting demonstrations and make the laboratory more attractive to students. Money also needs to be invested in improving laboratory facilities at those levels. Summer research fellowships for senior high-school students to do research in neighboring junior or 4-year colleges could offer incentives for young students to see what research is like.

One way to improve recruitment at the college level is to pay undergraduates to do research, much as graduate students are paid. Some bright students are unable, for economic reasons, to follow their desired vocation. Also, many undergraduates do not know that graduate students get paid; if they did, it might make science careers more attractive.


In 2000, workshops were held as part of the Tenth Chemical Research Applied to World Needs (CHEMRAWN X) workshop and focused on the topic “The Globalization of Chemical Education—Preparing Chemical Scientists and Engineers for Transnational Industries.” Potential solutions to the global workforce challenges discussed earlier are presented below relative to ideas presented at those workshops.

Alternative Degree Programs

The University of Texas (UT) at Dallas has said that in a global economy there is a need for chemists with doctoral level skills, practical attitudes, and the ability to work with teams of engineers. The school has designed a doctorate of chemistry (D.Chem.) to prepare students for such careers. In the third year, every student works for 9-12 months at an industrial site. The technical managers that the group works with become a voting member of the students' advisory committees. During the year, students learn how to work with a variety of people within the company, which provides them with insight into the U.S. industrial world. It seems that this kind of exposure has to occur for students before going globally. So far, industries seem to view the program positively, as do most of the students, who thus far have had no problems in locating jobs after completing the program.

The International Experience

Most European countries have enthusiastically embraced the idea and practice of providing international students and teachers with exchange opportunities. The exchange networks that have developed in Europe, such as the European Chemistry Thematic Network (ECTN), have led to various activities, including exchanging curricula, development of short courses, and multinational-multilingual tests. Expanded exchange programs help students get to know about other countries, languages, and cultures, and this helps in the global aspects of the profession.

Multinational Chemical Employment

As Mary Good pointed out at CHEMRAWN X, chemistry at the undergraduate level is taught as a disciplinary subject in the expectation that students will either go to graduate school or work for a chemically focused industry. Graduate students are expected to find academic positions or research positions in industrial laboratories. No thought is given to the fact that most of the chemical and pharmaceutical companies are multinational. People who aspire to become leaders in those companies are usually expected to have some non-U.S. experiences, but students are not introduced to the chemical industry and its complexities. She has sought ways to include industrially relevant material from the multinational perspective throughout the curriculum.


Where do students go after graduation? Of the 11 million science and engineering degree holders in 1999, business and industry employed 78 percent of bachelor's degree holders, 70 percent of master's degree holders, and 40 percent of doctorate holders (these values are 73, 62, and 31 percent, respectively, for companies in the private, for-profit sector).1 The academic sector was the second-largest employer of scientists and engineers, but the largest employer of doctorate holders.

It is not clear why such a distribution occurs. Why are more Ph.D. holders not going into industry, and does this constitute a problem? The distribution has something to do with the current educational system at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. A complete overhaul of education might not be necessary, but some things might be done to enhance science and engineering education to prepare students better for global industrial jobs.

At the undergraduate level, changes in coursework could help to broaden education. Some schools are requiring biology for chemistry majors. Such electives as computer science, management, political science, and languages, would also be helpful. As discussed earlier, requiring a research thesis and encouraging industrial research experience (cooperative) would also attract students to science and engineering while potentially fostering a global perspective.

Collaborative research between students and laboratories in different countries also fosters a global perspective. In fact, the international division at the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsors a program that has allowed students (including mine) to spend short periods working in an overseas laboratory. In return, students from those countries spend time working at the U.S. school. This kind of exchange has proved to be wonderful. The funds for such programs, however, are not abundant, and it is not certain how long they will continue, but it is a great start and should be enlarged.

There also has to be increased attendance at international scientific meetings by U.S. students and scientists in general. In the past, a large fraction of audiences at these meetings was from the United States. This is not the case now, possibly because the U.S. research experience is becoming less international or funding in that direction is not as it was before. It is important that American scientists and engineers attend meetings in other countries.

Making changes in graduate education is not as straightforward. For those going into industry, learning more about the business aspects of chemistry is important. There is also the idea of having two types of degrees at the graduate level: a Ph.D. degree and a doctor of chemistry degree like the one given at UT-Dallas. The present degree could be refined to make it more global. One way might be to reinstate the foreign language requirement.

At the same time, students must still be able to take more of the fundamental courses that they want and gain deep understanding of different subjects. The greatest challenge is in balancing all the requirements that will at the end make this country competitive and prosperous for a long time to come.

A great example of the need for fundamental understanding of science and engineering is the success of Bell Labs. If it were not for the number of laboratories there performing fundamental work in solid-state physics, computers today would still be using vacuum tubes instead of chips, and the landscape of the world economy would probably be drastically different. Bell Labs has since changed, but the fundamentals will always be essential for continued exploration of new frontiers in science and engineering and for the global future.


After the presentation, there were many comments and a few questions from the audience. People had strong opinions on such issues as education at all levels, including a new program called the doctorate of chemistry.

Existing Programs

Donald Burland, of NSF, agreed that a lot of existing programs could solve some international questions, but people are not aware of them. He believes that in existing NSF programs, and potentially National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Energy programs, virtually anything worth doing can be done. For example, Discovery Corps, recently announced in the NSF Chemistry Division, allows a postdoctoral student or a senior faculty member to conduct an activity other than research, such as developing a program with a less developed country or working with a school board to establish relationships with industries. Another example is funding that exists for undergraduate research centers, where freshmen and sophomores are encouraged to begin research. Burland stated that these years are targeted because most losses of chemistry students in universities occur then.

Michael Rogers, of NIH, echoed Burland's thoughts on the ability to make use of current funding mechanisms. NIH supports postdoctoral fellowships, and trainees can select foreign sites. It is rare for one postdoctoral fellows to propose training at a foreign site, but if they do, it must be justified. If the study section feels that equivalent training could be obtained in the United States, it can grade the application down accordingly. Part of the job is to convince colleagues that international training is important; if this happens, not only will it be possible to consider new funding programs, but there will be better use of existing programs.

William Koch, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), highlighted other funding opportunities that have proved successful. Models all over the country are working, and he is not sure that a national solution and more laws are going to fix the problems being discussed. At NIST, students from high school to graduate school are brought in during the summer in a special program in collaboration with NSF. NIST also has a grant fellow program. He said that more of the best practices can and should be shared.

Working in Developing Countries

Burland pointed out that there are many efforts to work with European and more-developed Asian countries, but very little work is done with the developing world. He wondered about the problems and potential solutions for this situation.

Mostafa El-Sayed commented that developing countries have a lot of problems to which chemistry and engineering can be applied and be helpful. For example, in Mexico City, pollution is a huge problem that could benefit from the help of U.S. scientists in analyzing it, determining its sources, and making recommendations to reduce it. This is probably being done to some extent, but there must also be student involvement. In exchange, students from the United States could learn from the experience and acquire publishable work. It would help if people were aware of NSF funds available for such projects.

K-12 Education

George Lorimer, of the University of Maryland, pointed out that students at his university typically attend for two semesters a year, totaling 28 weeks. High schools typically teach 30 to 35 weeks of the year. Industry does not operate only part-time in such a manner. He noted that the current schedule reflects the agrarian past, when long summer breaks existed so that children could work on the farm, but does not reflect our industrialized nation. He suggested a revolution that would involve extending the high-school year to 45 weeks, which would allow students to take additional courses that could teach the higher-order skills that have been discussed. To fund the effort, Lorimer suggested that there be a graduate tax. Undergraduate education could be much less expensive than it is now, but a tax could be imposed on the graduates who will most likely make more money as a result of the education they received at taxpayer expense. The added benefit of all this is that information would not be lost by students over the summer.

Douglas Selman, of ExxonMobil Chemical, commented that he has a son taking chemistry and questioned whether his son is learning any of the value that chemistry brings to our world. Children today are motivated to find jobs in which they think they can have a satisfying career and contribute to the world. Selman thinks that this motivation has to come in part through K-12 education.

Doctorate of Chemistry Program

Tyrone Mitchell, of NSF, does not like the doctorate of chemistry program that El-Sayed discussed because he thinks that getting a Ph.D. is an intellectual pursuit that teaches one how to think creatively independently. He has worked with people who have gotten the doctorate in chemistry, and he thinks that industry does not teach them how to think independently and be marketable throughout their whole career. He spent many years with General Electric and avoided company courses because they would have trained him only about General Electric when he wanted to learn more about chemistry in the global perspective. In addition, training people to go into industry helps only industry, so industry should not be participating in the educational process. There have to be more ways for Ph.D.s to gain experience that makes them more global. This involves developing Ph.D.s who can think independently and take on intellectual challenges no matter where they are in the world.

Selman prefers the doctor of chemistry idea because of the prospect of embodying the higher-level skills described earlier. ExxonMobil struggles to find people who have a balance of the breadth of skills to be a manager and the depth of technological understanding to manage technology and R&D. Selman also believes that the general interface between academe and industry must be strengthened rather than separated, because it is relevant to couple the science that can be developed from academic and graduate research programs with the application of that science. The more both sides understand each other and the more collaboration they have, the easier the transfer of technology will be.

Collaborations with Russia

Selman noted that in the late 1990s, the United States started going to Russia to solicit contracts with Russian research institutes. An environment was found in which there were a huge number of scientists and highly technically oriented people with nothing to do. He wondered why the U.S. government did not jump in aggressively to acquire this pool of people. Previously, there were many challenges to working in Russia, but now, U.S. companies have many opportunities to develop business ties and investments in Russia. The development of collaborations between the two countries could lead to more positive relations on the global scene in business and more broadly.

Attracting Students into Chemistry

B.J. Evans, of the University of Michigan (retired), believes that the will to include an international aspect in students' training is not present in the United States. He became a chemist because it was the best discipline on his campus and because he wanted a good life. Today, we must attract students to chemistry by taking them to American Chemical Society meetings and discussing with them the life available through a chemistry career. Because of the industry connection, chemistry can do things that other disciplines cannot do.

Regionalization of Financial Resources

Michael Doyle, of the University of Maryland, observed that 30 years ago, various nations had resources that they were willing to give to undergraduate students to spend time in the United States to learn something in another laboratory and experience the culture. Funds and resources were available in many countries, but they were minimal in the United States, because the United States liked to be the recipient of the largesse and held out the standard of excellence in science education.

Today, there is regionalization of these efforts. It is much more difficult to attract students from the European Community to the United States because the resources are not available. He asked whether regionalization of globalization is occurring because an international operation that previously favored the United States is now a regional operation that does not favor the United States.

El-Sayed thinks that the reason for this problem may be that those countries now have technical knowledge and do not need to learn from the United States as much as they used to. Very few foreign people now attend conferences in the United States. The United States may now be able to learn something from them. They may have something that this country does not, or they may be developing a product in a different way.



National Science Foundation. 1990. Division of Science Resources Statistics (NSF/SRS), Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT).

This is an edited transcript of speaker and discussion remarks at the workshop. The discussions were edited and organized around major themes to provide a more readable summary.

Copyright © 2004, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK83665


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