Graduate Education for the Leaders of 2035

Tuesday, 7 October 2014: 09:20
Expo Center, 1st Floor, Universal 1 (Moon Palace Resort)
D. T. Schwartz (University of Washington)
The science and engineering employment landscape for much of the developed world has been drifting away from traditional manufacturing sectors, but the last decade has brought a seismic shift in the character of employment, with serious implications for how we train the next generation of leaders in the tech sectors that underpin the ECS. 

In 1950, U.S. data shows that non-farm employment was evenly split between goods producing industries and private services producing industries, with government service employment being a much smaller component of the economy.  By 1999, employment in private service producing industries dominated the U.S. economy; the percent of employment in goods producing industries had shrunken markedly [1].  During these decades the tech professionals at ECS certainly noticed changes, but a deep dive into more recent employment data reveals a dramatic shift in employment over a short period of time. 

In 1999, nearly 50% of U.S. chemical engineers and chemists worked in Chemicals Manufacturing, and less than 20% worked in an area now known as Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (PSTS).[2] The main activities in the PSTS sector are R&D, Testing Services, and some other management services. By 2012, employment in PSTS areas had doubled for chemical scientists and engineers, and basic chemicals employment declined by a third.[3] Materials sciences and engineering followed a similar trend, though in 1999, that field was not so concentrated in a single manufacturing sector.[2,3]  On a more local level, data shows that the State of Washington employment scene has strong demand for PSTS professionals with the agility to work in a small start-up company environment. Through two tough recessions over the past 12 years, our State has had just three years with employment contractions. Yet, if you remove the jobs provided by our youngest start-up firms,  8 of 12 years would have experienced employment contraction.[4]

The data raise key questions: Are universities doing a good job educating our students to be global PSTS leaders of 2035? PSTS includes the word “Services” in it, so how do we educate STEM students for a service industry (would you care for steamed milk with your hybrid perovskite)?  Should we reconsider the roles of B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. educaiton as we think about engineers and scientists working in a service industry?  Lastly, is this all a bunch of heresy that will destroy B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. STEM education?

Over the last eight years, I have felt the data compelled me to run experiments to tackle some of these questions.  For example, I am PI for an NSF IGERT program (and now a USDA program) that brings Ph.D. students in energy and the environment to Northwest tribes where they negotiate a project with the Tribe and then do the required research. It takes half their time for a year of their Ph.D. program.  I am PI on a Education Department GAANN program that emphasizes innovative product R&D and has engaged a local venture capital firm; it chews up half their time over a year of a Ph.D..  And, I have taken and taught a couple of short-format NSF-funded programs, as an inaugural faculty awardee in the I-Corps program and as a teacher of the NSF  “Future Innovators Workshop” (an add-on program for NSF Grad Research Fellows in the Engineering Directorate). I’ve learned a ton.  I will tell you about it.

[1] J. Hatch and A. Clinton, “Job Growth in the 1990s: A retrospective”, Monthly Labor review, pp. 3-18, December, 2000.

[2] http://www.bls.gov/oes/1999/oes_nat.htm

[3] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrci.htm

[4] Amy Martinez, “New businesses run leaner, holding down job growth,” Seattle Times, 3/22/2004