WORKSHOP RECAP: JSPG, GPS-STEM & SAi Collaborative Workshop on Creating Actionable Change for STEM Education & Workforce Development
On November 12, 2021, the Journal of Science Policy & Governance (JSPG) in collaboration with Graduate Professional Success in STEM program (GPS-STEM) at UC Irvine and the STEM Advocacy Institute (SAi) organized a workshop on Creating actionable change for STEM education and workforce development. The workshop was focused on discussing ways to support the next generation of scientists who encounter STEM education and training, help them achieve their potential in science and utilize their talents in society. The event featured Dr. Gary McDowell, CEO of Lightoller, LLC and Co-Founder of Future of Research. Watch the event recording here. This workshop is leading up to the JSPG-Sigma Xi call for papers for a Special Issue on Re-envisioning STEM Education and Workforce Development for the 21st Century with a deadline of January 23, 2022, which is a great opportunity for the next generation to shape policy change on this topic.
The U.S. prides itself on the quality of STEM education and training that it provides. But is STEM education and workforce development in the U.S. meeting society’s needs? In particular, are we focusing enough on the people in the system, as well as the outputs they produce? In this session, we wanted to reframe how we envision the future of the research enterprise, and to think more about the individuals who pass through the system who make up the STEM workforce. A NASEM committee produced the most recent report on graduate STEM education, noting that while graduate education works well for funding agencies, institutions, and professors, but that it benefits graduate students least. And while the system may to an extent benefit a proportion of graduate students who are staying in academia, it is debatable whether the system works even for those who stay. This is because the system does not train the next generation on skills they will need to run their own laboratories in the future. And while graduate and postdoctoral training is focused on getting the practical work done from trainees on grants, studies of what happens to those in training roles during and after these positions is poorly studied and unintentional (or at best passive). We need to think more deeply about how we can use the wealth of talent passing through our universities to maximize solving society’s problems while advocating for necessary systemic change.
During the registration process, we asked early career researchers (ECRs) to describe one aspect of the current STEM educational system that bothers them, and to propose some changes they would like to see as context setting for the discussion. The results are shown below in Table 1, and focus on a number of areas including the lack of career and training opportunities, lack of breadth in training for ways to address societal impact, and other issues inherent to the system itself including low salaries and issues with lack of diversity in STEM.
Within the event itself, attendees expressed concern with the current state of affairs of STEM education and workforce development by pointing out the areas where early career researchers face challenges. These include lack of mentoring from faculty, as well as power dynamics, in addition to low salaries and lack of avenues for career and professional development (Figure 1).
Following a presentation by Dr. Gary McDowell, in the breakout rooms, participants dissected some of these topics and discussed more in-depth the problems and solutions to the system in four different areas. The sections below summarize discussions that took place in the breakout rooms.
1. Value of STEM pipeline and potential
2. Scientific literacy and how the scientific process works
3. Value of peer review and relationship to identity as a scientist
4. Exposure of trainees to STEM for addressing societal issues
Many common problems and solutions have emerged from these discussions, which point to valuable changes that need to be made in the system to support the next generation. These revolve around a number of areas that point to issues related a system that does not train the next generation on ways to manage a laboratory or team of people, or budgets, or multi-personnel projects: we teach people how to do benchwork to a high degree of skill, and then expect them to just pivot to a completely different role as a faculty member. Because the unstated, but clear, goal of graduate and postdoctoral training is to get the practical work done that people have written into their grants, what happens to those in training roles during and after these positions is poorly studied and unintentional (or at best passive), meaning that we are not thinking about how we can use the wealth of talent passing through our institutions to maximize solving society’s problems. Ultimately, these discussions concluded that we need workforce development focused on the trainees as people, not just vessels for research output. The call to action includes more funding and pathways for trainees and faculty wishing to develop and pursue non academic track ventures towards social impact, such as science engagement and informal STEM initiatives that can help. But there is also a broader call to action warranted here whereas several stakeholders, including universities, need to act in ensuring that our next generation workforce is successful in society.
For further reading or information, we have compiled a list of resources for ECRs to utilize, and for others who wish to think more about actions to take in improving the research enterprise. You can download the document below.
The Journal of Science Policy & Governance is a nonprofit organization and open-access peer-reviewed publication managed by and for students, policy fellows and young scholars in science, technology and innovation policy. JSPG publishes high-quality articles covering the widest range of topics in formats that are accessible to policymakers. Since 2011, JSPG has served as a vehicle for students and early career researchers to bolster their research and writing credentials in science policy. Visit sciencepolicyjournal.org and follow on Twitter @SciPolJournal to learn more.
The Graduate Professional Success in STEM program (GPS-STEM) at University of California Irvine aims to better prepare graduate students and postdoctoral scholars for a variety of careers within the STEM research workforce, and empower trainees to become not only skilled scientists, but also polished professionals. The program was funded from 2014 – 2019 by the NIH-BEST (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) grant for providing career & professional development avenues for STEM trainees. Visit https://gps-stem.grad.uci.edu and follow on Twitter @BiomedGps to learn more.
The mission of the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) Advocacy Institute (also known as the Science Advocacy Institute or SAi) is to provide access to research, infrastructure, mentorship, community, training, and funding to, put simply, make it easier for diverse founders and leaders to experiment, explore and ultimately build impactful and sustainable informal STEM learning (ISL) programs that strengthen the connections between people and science. Visit https://stemadvocacy.org and follow on Twitter @STEMadvocacy to learn more.
About Lightoller LLC
Lightoller LLC is a consultancy providing research expertise on the early career researcher population. Visit https://lightoller.org and follow on Twitter @Lightoller_llc to learn more.
This post was co-authored by Adriana Bankston (JSPG); Harinder Singh (GPS-STEM); Fanuel Muindi, Erin Saybolt, Moraima Castro-Faix, Nicole Catanzarite, Gwendolyn Bogard (SAi); and Gary McDowell (Lightoller LLC).