Graduate Education in Physics Report: Executive Summary

The Status and Future of Graduate Education in Physics

Conference Report

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Reporting the status and future of graduate physics education. (1MB)

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The Directors of Graduate Studies (DGS) from 66 of the nation’s Ph.D.-granting institutions met for a day and a half at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD, in February 2008 to discuss trends and practices in physics graduate education. 

Also represented at the conference were professional societies including the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American Physical Society (APS) and its Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA), the American Institute of Physics (AIP), and the European Physical Society (EPS); National Science Foundation (NSF); and industry representatives were also present. The conference was sponsored by the APS and the AAPT with partial funding from the NSF.

Motivation for this meeting came from the Joint AAPT-APS Task Force on Graduate Education in Physics, whose 2006 report1 indicated that the physics graduate curriculum has been static for many years, and from the National Academy of Science’s Rising Above the Gathering Storm2 report in 2005, which sounded alarms about the state of science education in general and the implications for U.S. competitiveness. 

A survey of DGS (see Appendix III) prior to the conference indicated that two-thirds of the responding departments are considering or are implementing significant changes in their graduate programs, and that all were very interested in finding out what does and what doesn’t work in other physics programs.

APS Executive Director Judy Franz noted that opportunities for graduate study in physics in Europe and Asia are far more exciting and attractive than in the past, which means that U.S. institutions face far stronger competition than before in attracting high quality students—perhaps the most significant and widespread concern raised by participants. 

This document contains the recommendations that emerged from major topics of discussion at the Graduate Education Conference. The recommendations are followed by a section on promising practices that departments and professional societies might adopt to implement the recommendations. 

These practices emerged from discussion and specific examples presented at the conference, and would obviously be adapted to local conditions. While the conference specifically addressed issues in graduate education, many of the recommendations are also pertinent to undergraduate education. The presentations of the speakers and participants are available at the conference website3.

1The Report of the Joint AAPT-APS Task Force on Graduate Education in Physics. See Appendix I for the executive summary.
2Rising Above the Gathering Storm, The National Academies Press
3Graduate Education in Physics: Which Way Forward?, Conference Report