From designing and building human tissues on a 3-D printer to developing new energy sources to power vehicles in space, science careers increasingly require students to understand multiple disciplines, collaborate with international colleagues, and solve complex problems—none of which U.S. students are prepared for, according to a panel of experts at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Friday morning.
“You’ve got these big groups coming together, and that’s when you require communication skills, that’s when you require diversity and the ability to work with others,” said Julie Thompson Klein, a research faculty fellow for interdisciplinary development at Wayne State University. “There are all these big drivers” of modern science, she said.
More than 6,000 researchers and science enthusiasts converged on Washington D.C. this week for the AAAS annual meeting, whose theme this year is global science engagement.
A recent survey of employers in science, technology, engineering, and math fields found a disconnect between the skills graduating college students think they have and what employers say they actually have when it comes to working in interdisciplinary science teams.
For example, 59 percent of college students entering STEM fields said they were adept at analyzing and solving complex problems, but only 24 percent of STEM employers agreed. Only 19 percent of employers thought graduating students would be competent working with colleagues of diverse backgrounds, and only 15 percent thought students had sufficient awareness of and experience with cultures internationally. By contrast, 55 percent of students thought they could work well with people of different backgrounds and 42 percent thought they had enough experience with diverse cultures outside the United States.
Moreover, the same study found more than 9 in 10 employers reported being more likely to hire a new college graduate if he or she had participated in project-based learning or an internship, Klein said.
“We have some significant and serious gaps in the people we are able to recruit, hire, and get to stay in science,” said Melvin Greer, a senior fellow for Lockheed Martin’s advanced technologies office. “You are producing students that are not capable of being solid scientists and engineers in industry. ... We’re going to have to start opening our own schools.”
Graphic: A 2013 survey found a strong disconnect between students and employers over how well-prepared students were to enter science, technology, engineering, and math careers.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.