The ACS study “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences” presented five major conclusions and approximately thirty recommendations. Our first Call to Action was to ask the community – faculty, students, and policy-makers – to evaluate the recommendations and provide feedback, including a prioritization of the recommendations.  The survey was available from August 15, 2017 to February 28, 2017.

 

Executive Summary of the Survey Results

 

The entire community of stakeholders of chemistry doctoral education—undergraduates who plan to go to graduate school, graduate students in various stages of their studies, recent graduates and postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and administrators—were invited to participate in the survey. The more than 1200 respondents to the survey reveal that some ACS study recommendations are universally popular, such as teaching additional professional skills to graduate students, which was given a high priority by three-quarters of the respondents, regardless of demographic group affiliation. Others were less popular, such as adding a requirement for at least two research proposals as hurdles to graduation, a recommendation that became even more unpopular with students as they progressed in their studies. Of particular interest, however, are the controversial recommendations, as disagreement could foretell conflict and therefore barriers to reform. For example, the recommendation to shorten the average time to Ph.D. degree from the current six–seven years in chemistry to less than five years was strongly supported by students, recent graduates, and administrators, with more than half considering the issue a high priority. In contrast, two-thirds of the faculty disagreed with the recommendation or gave it a low priority. Importantly, no demographic group should be singled out as obstructionists, such as, for example, the faculty in the case of the recommendation to shorten the average time to Ph.D. degree. Indeed, survey results disaggregated by demographic group of doctoral education stakeholders reveal something obvious, yet telling. Specifically, stakeholders view reform from their own perspective, their lenses filtered by their own pains and needs. Indeed, resistance was indicated for all of the demographic groups with respect to recommendations that appeared to add to their pain or that failed to meet their needs. The stark reality is that reform is unlikely unless the pains and needs of each stakeholder group are recognized and addressed. We suggest, however, that this reality can only be effectively confronted in doctoral programs that allow and even invite candid conversation about the pains and needs of every stakeholder group—including, and especially, students.

 

Overarching Observations

 

  • Each demographic tends to support the recommendations that potentially benefit them and oppose recommendations that would not significantly impact them, especially if those recommendations involve investing resources (e.g., Figures 1, 15, 17, 19, 22, and 28).
  • Some of the statistics were skewed by strong differences of opinion between US and non-US residents (cf. Figures 17 and 22).
  • As groups, students/postoctorals, faculty, and administrators frequently have very different views (e.g., Figures 8, 15, 19, 26, and 28).
  • It is surprising that the faculty support the idea of decoupling student support from individual grants (Figure 13).
  • Many national studies have suggested more practical training in areas like entrepreneurial skills is needs, but there does not seem to be much support (Figure 10), even though there does seem to be support for providing more general professional skills (Figure 4). It is also interesting that that preparing students who are seeking employment in academia is not given higher priority (Figure 11).
  • Interesting, while there is strong support for the ACS to collect aggregate data about graduate programs (Figure 21), there is tepid interest in sharing best practices between departments (Figure 12).
  • There is some push-back from faculty and administrators regarding the recommendations that involve reshaping graduate programs (e.g., Figures 4, 5, and 28).

 

Responses To Individual Questions

 

The numbers refer to the figure numbers of the histograms in the Supporting Information. Click no the link for each figure to see the individual histograms.

 

  1. The highest priority overarching conclusions for all demographics are focused on graduate students (rather than safety, postdoctorals or programs).
  2. All demographic groups agree that providing greater oversight over the progress and opportunities of individual graduate students should be a high priority.
  3. All demographic groups agree that active diagnosing and remediation of deficiencies in the preparation of first-year students should be a high priority (especially first-year students and faculty).
  4. All demographics agree that incorporated additional professional skills into graduate curricula should be a high priority (although less-so faculty).
  5. Except for the faculty, all demographics agree that shortening the TTD should be a high priority.
  6. Most either disagree with moving away from a single-mentor model or believe it should be a low priority.
  7. All demographics agree that incorporated IDPs into the graduate student mentoring process should be a high priority (particularly administrators).
  8. There is mixed support for including elements of collaboration, with the least support coming from faculty and administrators.
  9. There is significant opposition to requiring two (or more) original research proposals, especially from graduate students who are near the end of their studies.
  10. While there is not strong opposition to including entrepreneurial skills in graduate curricula, it is a low priority, especially among graduate student who are nearing the end of their studies, postdoctorals, and faculty.
  11. Courses to prepare students who intend to seek academic employment receive more support from first-year graduate students and postdoctorals.
  12. While there is not strong opposition to surveying graduate programs to ascertain best practices, it is a low priority.
  13. There is very strong support for decoupling student support from specific research projects.
  14. While there is not strong opposition to repurposing GAANN funding, there is not a consensus regarding the priority.
  15. There is strong support for using GTAs more strategically for professional development among all demographics except faculty and some administrators.
  16. There is very strong support for making more fellowships available after the first year and for restructuring the timetables and sources of student support.
  17. There strong opposition to the recommendation that international students receive more support from their home countries. 30% of US residents and 65% of non-US residents disagree with the recommendation.
  18. There is strong support for adopting better safety practices.
  19. There is strong support for departments to adjust graduate program sizes to reflect attractive career opportunities for graduates, especially amongst recent graduates, but less-so for faculty.
  20. There is strong support for having departments focus their graduate programs toward their competitive advantages, especially amongst administrators.
  21. There is strong support for having the ACS collect and publish aggregate data on graduate programs, especially from undergraduates who are considering graduate school and graduate students after their first year of study.
  22. There is significant opposition to having departments build up their fraction of domestic graduate students. 27% of US residents and 60% of non-US residents disagree with this recommendation.
  23. There is support for placing an emphasis on attracting and empowering students from underrepresented groups, particularly from administrators.
  24. There is support for placing for informing undergraduates the graduate education is generally free to them, especially amongst undergraduate students who are considering graduate school and faculty. Note the students who disagree may be commenting on whether graduate school is “free.”
  25. There is strong support for ensuring that postdoctorals develop professionally.
  26. There is general support for having funding agencies require postdoctoral mentoring plans, but a difference of opinion regarding whether it should be a high priority. The greatest support comes from administrators.
  27. There is general support for teaching postdoctoral associates, but a difference of opinion regarding whether it should be a high priority. The greatest support comes from postdoctorals.
  28. There is general support for linking the size of Ph.D. programs to job availability, but a difference of opinion regarding whether it should be a high priority. The greatest support comes from students and postdoctorals, with less support and some opposition from faculty and administrators.

 

Supporting Information