FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | December 06, 2012

ACS Issues Report: Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences

Media Note: Report will be released during a press conference scheduled for Monday, Dec. 10, see below.

WASHINGTON — The 21st century’s first major analysis of the education of chemists, whose work impacts medicine, drug discovery and virtually every other field of science, will be issued on Monday, December 10, 2012. Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences, a report to be released by the American Chemical Society (ACS), identifies major changes critical for ensuring that graduate education serves the needs and aspirations of students and society as a whole.

Although the report concluded that the state of graduate education in the chemical sciences is productive and healthy in many respects, it found that the education of doctoral-level scientists has not kept pace with major changes in the global economic, social, and political environment that have occurred since World War II, when the current system of graduate education took shape.

“We haven’t looked at the goals and the concepts for graduate education in chemistry in the U.S. in decades,” said Larry R. Faulkner, Ph.D., who chaired the ACS Presidential Commission on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences. Faulkner is President Emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin and a former Professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Commission report, almost a year in the making, was released here at a press conference held by the ACS, the world's largest scientific society. “The time for a close look was long overdue,” said ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., who organized the Commission as one of his presidential initiatives. Shakhashiri is a chemistry professor who holds the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “We hope the Commission's work will create the best possible experience for future scientists upon whom society will depend so heavily to address the great global challenges facing us all. They include climate change, population growth, finite resources, malnutrition, spreading disease and water management.”

The Commission found that:

  • Current educational opportunities for graduate students, viewed on balance as a system, do not provide sufficient preparation for their careers after graduate school.
  • The system for the financial support of graduate students, as currently operated by private, institutional, state, and federal funds, is no longer optimal for national needs.
  • Academic chemical laboratories must adopt best safety practices. Such practices have led to a remarkably good record of safety in the chemical industry and should be leveraged.
  • Departments should give thoughtful attention to maintaining a sustainable relationship between the availability of new graduates at all degree levels and genuine opportunities for them. Replication in excess is wasteful of resources and does injustice to the investment made by students and society.
  • Postdoctoral training and education is an extension of graduate education that is important for success in a variety of career paths, particularly for faculty appointments. Postdoctoral associates should be treated as the professional scientists and engineers they are. A postdoctoral appointment should be a period of accelerated professional growth that, by design, enhances scientific independence and future career opportunities.

The report’s recommendations have been crafted to address fundamental concerns. First, employment opportunities for chemical scientists and engineers have changed and will continue to do so. Graduate programs must prepare Ph.D. candidates for the present and future marketplace of opportunity. Second, science has become much more collaborative; colleagues may be located next door or around the globe, which necessitates stronger communication skills across disciplinary and cultural lines. Third, as many nations worldwide have greatly strengthened their scientific capacity, by building universities and developing new businesses and markets, it is essential for the U.S. to revitalize its own capacity for the scientific enterprise by engaging more women and students from underrepresented populations to bring new talent and energy to the chemical enterprise.

Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences is available in advance on an embargoed basis to credentialed media by emailing Joan Coyle, j_coyle@acs.org. Media are invited to attend a press conference, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Monday, December 10, 2012, in the Murrow Room of the National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. Refreshments served at 9:15 a.m.

On Monday, Dec. 10, to view the press conference virtually and download the report, visit: www.acs.org/gradcommissionwebcast. Reporters viewing online may submit questions by email to Joan Coyle, j_coyle@acs.org. During the press conference Commission leaders will provide remarks with Q&A to follow.

ACS is a leader in science education policy. ACS serves as co-chair of the STEM Education Coalition. For a full discussion of additional policy points, please visit the ACS STEM education policy Webpage.

To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society contact newsroom@acs.org.

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NOTE TO MEDIA: The American Chemical Society has many educational resources and programs. They include college scholarships for minority and economically disadvantaged students, summer research opportunities for undergraduates, teacher training, and grants for high school chemistry teachers. These and other programs can be found at www.acs.org/education, www.acs.org/scholarships and www.acs.org/grants.