How to Retool Graduate STEM Education

With shifts in demographics, research technology innovations, changes in the nature of work and increased employer demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) expertise, graduate STEM education in the U.S. is ripe for strategic change. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently released a report that proposes a graduate STEM education system that better equips students of all backgrounds to meet all types of occupations. The report outlines the characteristics of an ideal education system, core competencies for students, and recommended changes to make the system more student-centric and adaptive to current workforce needs.

Key Recommendations for Graduate Programs and the Science Enterprise

  • Reward effective teaching and mentoring.
  • Collect and disseminate better data on master’s- and Ph.D.-level educational outcomes.
  • Ensure diverse, equitable and inclusive learning environments.
  • Provide information and opportunities to explore a variety of career options.
  • Design curricula and research projects to reflect the latest knowledge and technology in how research and education are conducted.
  • Fund research on the graduate education system and outcomes.
  • Provide mental health services to help students achieve optimal mental health, and work with faculty to reduce behavior that reinforces power differentials.

One recommendation, “Career Exploration and Preparation for Ph.D. Students,” is of particular relevance to the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) program. It highlights the need for employers in all sectors to provide financial support for internships and other types of career experiences to students and recent graduates. It also calls on professional societies to “collaborate with leaders in various sectors to create programs that help Ph.D. recipients transition into a variety of careers.”

AAAS CEO Emeritus Alan Leshner served as report chair. Kenneth Gibbs (2011-12 Executive Branch Fellow), Melanie Roberts (2006-07 AAAS Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow and 2007-08 Executive Branch Fellow), and Kate Stoll (2011-13 Executive Branch Fellow and 2013-14 American Chemical Society Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow) were also members of the report committee.