To the Editor:
In his Commentary “The Democratization of Scientific Knowledge” (Feb. 7, 2007), Dennis M. Bartels argues that our national scientific priority should be developing universal technical literacy, not increasing the number of Ph.D.s in science and engineering.
In fact, these are complementary goals, and both are critical to enlarging the pool of technically competent Americans in order to enhance U.S. competitiveness in the 21st-century global economy.
We must expand the pipeline for science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) fields to develop a long-term supply of talent. We must encourage students, especially from underrepresented groups, to pursue STEM education at all levels. But we need also to increase both the breadth and depth of Americans’ scientific knowledge.
The issue is not just a numbers race, although the United States until recently produced more Ph.D.s than any other region of the world. It is about having a highly skilled workforce.
Doctoral education trains students to become scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and experts in a wide variety of fields. It is where our nation’s future leaders develop the ability to do original research and to identify and solve complex problems—skills required to advance the limits of knowledge. America’s competitors understand the relationship between human talent, research expertise, and economic leadership, and are expanding their own graduate programs accordingly.
Increasing the number of Ph.D.s in these fields must be a crucial component of our nation’s overall competitiveness strategy. If we are to maintain our global economic strength and national security, we must both develop our domestic talent pool and produce a highly trained workforce able to create and innovate.
Debra W. Stewart
Council of Graduate Schools
A version of this article appeared in the February 21, 2007 edition of Education Week as In Science, We Need Both Technical Literacy, Ph.D.s