argue that you should be active participants in the effort to
advance the field in the chemical sciences.
Reforms, Recommendations … and Elephants:
We Need to Get on the Same Page
How do we start the graduate education reform movement so
the educational opportunities for graduate students shift toward providing better career preparation? I suggest we begin
by all getting on the same page. The 2012 ACS study presented
five major conclusions and approximately thirty recommendations. The community of stakeholders—undergrads who
plan to go to graduate school, grad students in various stages
of their studies, recent Ph.D.s and postdocs, faculty, administrators, and employers—were recently asked to comment on
whether they support the study’s conclusions. If so, they were
asked what the priorities should be in addressing the issues
The survey revealed that some of the ACS study recommendations are universally popular, such as teaching additional professional skills to graduate students.
Of even greater interest, however, are the recommen-
dations that elicited significant disagreement. Notably, for
example, the recommendation to shorten the current average time to obtain a Ph.D. from 6–7 to fewer than 5 years was
strongly supported by students, administrators, and employers, but not by faculty (Figure 1, Bottom). Although a natural
tendency exists to focus on addressing issues that garner universal support, we cannot ignore more controversial topics,
the proverbial “elephants in the room,” and “time” is one such
beast. Faculty face considerable pressure to deliver more to
their institutions, their funding agencies, and their students.
Therefore, asking them to deliver doctoral-level education
in less time would require substantive changes. Academic
institutions, like elephants, move slowly; further, it’s an uphill
battle to change institutions with ingrained traditions, like
those of academia.
The stark reality is that change is unlikely unless educational institutions are encouraged to better meet the needs of
students. I argue that the students themselves are the best people to vocalize those needs. However, their graduate schools
must start treating them like collaborators before their voices
can be heard.
Figure 1. Relative priorities for some recommendations of the 2012 ACS Study. Responses are included for
undergraduates who are considering graduate school; graduate students at the beginning, middle, and end of
their programs; postdoctoral scholars; faculty; and administrators.
The current time to degree
(TTD) of 6–7 years should
be shortened to less than 5
Require at least two
original research proposals,
at least one in the student’s
Additional Professional Skills
Should Be Incorporated Into
First Year Grad Students
Grad Students at Mid-Point
Grad Students at End
20 405060 80
20 40 50 60 80
20 40 50 60 80
disagree with the recommendation