August 1994



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Diandra Leslie-Pelecky

The general topic of graduate education is receiving attention from all quarters. APS has announced interest in a conference on graduate physics education, the National Academy of Sciences is concluding a year-long study of the state of graduate science education, and Science magazine will devote an upcoming issue to the topic. Interest in the training of graduate students is heightened by the growing realization of the need to address the un/underemployment of recent graduates.

Although there is a growing body of research in physics education at the undergraduate and pre-college levels, there is a surprising lack of similar work at the graduate level. This is a significant discrepancy, as the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences states in their report "Graduate Education in Transition", "without reform in graduate education no lasting change in school or undergraduate education is likely...the attitudes and skills of school teachers are, in the long run, molded in colleges and universities, where these teachers are instructed by the products of our graduate schools. One does not have to subscribe to a domino theory to see that all parts of our education system are interdependent."1

In an informal poll of scientists from industry and government labs, I asked what skills physicists looking for jobs most often lacked. Two responses dominated the answers. The first was the perception of a narrow focus in both attitude toward what constitutes interesting research and in the breadth of techniques known by applicants. The employers felt some new employees had difficulty adapting to the different requirements of industry or government labs compared to academic research environments. The second comment was regarding a lack of oral and written communication skills. This issue features programs designed to address these perceptions.

The need for emphasis on management and communication skills is emphasized in an article by a physicist-turned-management consultant. (Mark Paul) This article details the evaluation of a graduate science program using techniques traditionally applied in the business world. The results show that development of management skills, written and oral communication skills and problem-solving abilities are essential to success beyond graduate school and argues that schools providing their students with these skills will be rewarded with increased interest in their programs.

While graduate coursework in experimental techniques may seem like an oxymoron, the lab training of experimentalists is often hit-or-miss. A graduate-level course in the theory of experimental techniques can both broaden the students' range of knowledge and ensure a strong understanding of the fundamentals. Although the program featured here is for Condensed Matter Physics, elements of this program can be translated to other fields.

Due to the impact on undergraduate courses, the area of graduate education that has received the most formal attention is the training of graduate teaching assistants. TA training has dual purposes: improving the quality of graduate student supervised laboratories and recitation sections and also improving the ability of the graduate students not only to teach, but to present their ideas orally. This skill spplies not only to their assignments as Teaching Assistants, but also to their eventual performance as physics professors. This issue contains an overview, discussing the rationale for increased attention to TA training, and reports on two programs designed to assist incoming graduate students with their duties.

The American Association of Physics Teachers' Committee on Graduate Education is working toward answering many of these concerns. Their activities and plans for the future, as well as areas where AAPT/APS collaboration could be increased, are detailed in this issue.

Finally, the database for registration of summer research opportunities for undergraduates is ready for registration. `Comments from the Chair' explains the rationale behind establishing the database and how you can register your opportunities.

Like many physics departments, we at the University of Nebraska are examining our graduate program and starting to address these issues by providing, for example, seminars on professional development topics (such as how to give a technical talk or write a vita). I hope this issue gives you some ideas about your role in the education of graduate students.

In addition to the article authors and interviewees, I'd like to thank Jack Hehn and Frank Peterson for their assistance with this issue.

1) "Graduate Education in Transition", Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 39, 398 (1992)