June 29, 2018

“Revitalizing” the Graduate STEM Experience

Posted by Danya AbdelHameid

Its an evolution, not a revolution,” said Dr. Alan Leshner, chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century, about the process of transforming graduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in the United States 

The committee, composed of sixteen additional members from a variety of disciplines within the STEM and higher education fields, publicly released a Consensus Study Report on Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century at the NASEM Headquarters on 29 May 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Having recently completed my Bachelor’s degree in Physics (along with an almost-minor in Geology) and with intentions of pursuing a graduate degree on the horizon, I attended the report release eager to hear the committee’s recommendations and to consider how their insights may influence my own soon-to-commence graduate school search.

Although there has been much discussion about the need to reform graduate STEM education to better serve current and future workforce needs and to remedy the social and mental health challenges often faced by graduate students, the committee emphasized that what makes this report unique is its firm call for a much-needed culture change in graduate STEM education. To guide this call-to-action, the report provides an outline of the key tenets and competencies of an ‘ideal’ graduate STEM education at the masters and doctoral levels.

I nodded along excitedly as the committee elaborated on what exactly an ‘ideal’ graduate STEM education should encompass and I found the committee’s recurring mandate that STEM graduate students ought to be able to engage with the ethical and social dimensions of their work to be particularly promising.

My interest in STEM is at its core an extension of my dedication to social and environmental justice, and it’s often been difficult to juggle my STEM-based interests in the Earth and environmental sciences with my more social science-oriented interests in the social, cultural, and ethical dimensions of science and technology.

Learning of the committee’s recommendations has encouraged me to continue to find subtle but meaningful connections between my two seemingly disparate interests and pushed me to consider how each of these interests can perhaps inform one another.

The committee also advocated for a restructuring of the graduate STEM education incentive system, urging for effective teaching and mentoring to be placed in higher regard. Additionally, the committee encouraged higher education institutions to provide prospective students with department-specific data on the career outcomes of program alumni,  to aid in the graduate school search and selection process.

The full report includes myriad suggested programmatic and cultural changes but overall, the committee exudes a tone that is student-centric and optimistic about catalyzing meaningful change in the STEM education system.

The full report can be accessed at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25038/graduate-stem-education-for-the-21st-century.

Danya AbdelHameid is the Summer 2018 Talent Pool Intern.