Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"My men are here! I am here! But soon *you* will not be here!"

The mysterious "Andre the Chemist" talks about the NSF's call for suggestions on how to improve STEM graduate education:
As an academic, my view is of course thusly tainted and all the "real world" chemists can object to me having thoughts on the matter (although please be aware that I do have experience as a chemist outside of academia to draw on as well). All that being said, I have two suggestions I think would be useful: 
1) Mental health education, routine personal private screenings, and appropriate available services for all chemistry graduate students. 
2) The creation of a new terminal degree, distinct from the PhD, that graduate students can obtain.
He has interesting thoughts; go over there and read. (I'm nervous about the PhD' (or whatever you might call it) and how it might be valued...)

9 comments:

  1. "2) The creation of a new terminal degree, distinct from the PhD, that graduate students can obtain."

    Um.... don't we still call that a masters?

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    1. My first thought was to call for more masters degrees (MS degrees), but these are tainted with a (undeserved, in many cases) "couldn't-hack-the-PhD" asterisk, which is why I believe something different needs to fill the void. Also, they aren't precisely a "terminal degree" in the way I understand the phrase.

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    2. Are you saying the asterisk is undeserved or the consolation MS is undeserved?

      I think at the very least, PhD programs in the sciences should offer (at least, and at best require) alternative courses (perhaps even certificates or a completely separate degree to indicate mastery), including finance, management, law, etc.



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    3. If we have ACS-certified bachelor's degrees, maybe we should also have a ACS-certified Master's (and PhD?) degrees just for such valuation. Something that guarantees lab experience, producing publishable data, writing/presenting, safety familiarity, etc. And perhaps would include work experience at a parity or discounted parity to grad school lab experience.

      Even the terminal thesis Master's doesn't mean significant independent lab experience. Grad programs are often idiosyncratic, but one could imagine some parameters or metrics that would be reasonably objective and useful to employers.

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    4. Back in the early 2000's, when the job market was still relatively tight, there was some discussion about creating a "professional" master's program. I was on a panel at an ACS meeting where several industry representatives talked about how they needed more MS chemists and U.S. universities weren't training MS chemists properly for pharma work. (I remember one guy from Pfizer claiming that they went to Canada to recruit MS chemists because Canada had some kind of MS program for industrial chemists?) But it never really went anywhere - and then the job market started to fade. These days, there are so many PhD and experienced BS/MS chemists out of work, I'm not sure there's as much demand for straight-out-of-school MS chemists.

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    5. The ACS certification is worth the paper it's printed on, though. All it means is that you took a few more classes than the typical chemistry major. I didn't get my BA certified by the ACS and I've been working in pharma for over 20 years. Didn't hurt me getting into graduate school or a job.

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  2. Some disciplines have what is called a "Professional Science Master's Degree." It's typically a non-thesis degree with an emphasis on specific, practical skills. I would argue that chemistry is too broad for a general-purpose degree of this type to be of much value. But perhaps one in "synthesis" or in "analysis" would be marketable.

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  3. Maybe if we can somehow remove the stigma that a master's degree is not a real degree, that would be a good step forward. An MS can be a real, viable option to the PhD for people who could, if they wanted to, complete a PhD, but who choose not to for a variety of reasons. An MS can lead to a meaningful, intellectually stimulating career path (although, admittedly, different companies have different cultures and this can be harder at some of them). It is not just a consolation prize for people who couldn't hack the PhD program. Maybe it's unfortunate that an MS can indicate such a broad range of kinds of people with varying skill levels, but I think that's the same with PhDs.

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  4. I suppose that's what I meant, in response to everyone: we're all familiar with the consolation masters as an end to PhD work, but I see plenty of people now working on MS degrees, often in engineering fields, who are specifically trying to acquire skillsets to be useful in industry. I have the feeling if there were some sort of organization encouragement for the degree and maybe some better guidance as to what someone holding that degree should be able to do, it might work well all around. But there are many stakeholders in this particular problem - it might be easiest to address on a smaller scale at first.

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