April 2012

Indications of a bright future through science

 

Scientific training: the human capital driving innovation
Well-trained human capital is vitally important for the sustained success of R&D initiatives in the U.S. Robust economic growth that outlasts fi nancial-sector upheaval requires innovations that will be developed only if our highest-caliber students choose careers in R&D rather than fi nancial derivative packaging and sales. The route to successful R&D careers includes undergraduate training with hands-on research experiences in STEM disciplines and possibly additional graduate school (1). Careers in R&D pay higher median salaries and historically exhibit lower unemployment rates than other jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree (1). Earning a STEM-discipline Ph.D. further increases the likelihood of landing and keeping R&D employment, along with even greater job security and a progressively higher wage distribution for many years after receiving the degree (1, 3). The majority of all STEM degree holders, including Ph.D.s, must ultimately develop careers outside of academia (1). Therefore it’s critical to advise students and mentees to consider several career possibilities, conduct informational interviews, pursue internships and expand their nascent professional networks by all means possible. As China begins to train more STEM degree holders than the U.S., from bachelor’s degrees to Ph.D.s (1), the U.S. must develop policies aimed at attracting and keeping large numbers of highquality students on a scientifi c training and career path over the next decade (4).

Whether you’re conversing with students, parents or U.S. senators, it’s important to build and reinforce your advice and arguments with accurate data. Such information helps high school seniors make college choices, undergraduates select majors, graduates select areas of specialty and young scientists select career paths using rational logic. The 2012 SEI provides an excellent resource for understanding how STEM disciplines are impacting the U.S. economy and being shaped by fi scal and societal forces.

As many of us know, the initial stages of new discoveries are built upon the foundation of new knowledge attained through basic research. While industrial investment in basic research is an important component, for the past few decades federally funded academic investigators have conceived and conducted most of the basic research performed in the U.S (1). Although the majority of STEM undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows ultimately will work outside of academia, during their training they have the opportunity to participate in formulating and solving the motivating questions that will increase our understanding of many important issues driving our economy and transforming our society.

References
  1. 1. Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/.
  2. 2. Surowiecki, J. The New Yorker. Published Feb. 14, 2011. Accessed March 11, 2012. www.newyorker.com/talk/fi nancial/2011/02/14/110214ta_talk_surowiecki.
  3. 3. Bradley, M.J. ASBMB Today. (August 2011).
  4. 4. Drew, C. The New York Times. Published Nov. 4, 2011. Accessed March 11, 2012. www.nytimes. com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/why-science-majors-change-their-mind-its-just-so-darn-hard.html.

Michael-BradleyMichael J. Bradley (michael.bradley@yale.edu) is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University.

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