U.S Not World Leader in Science and Engineering

March 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Need for internationalism in research and development

In an interview with Subra Suresh, the Director of the National Science Foundation, Suresh remarked on the troubling landscape of science and engineering the United States:

Other nations are investing heavily in science and engineering. The U.S. is not the world leader in terms of gross R&D expenditures relative to GDP.… U.S. students are not performing at the top of the charts in international math and science assessments. Foreign students who contribute significantly to the science and research enterprise at American universities and colleges have many more options to study and work in their home countries.

Unfortunately, Suresh is right. Despite the fact that ALL 10 jobs of the future, according to career specialists, have something to do with the sciences, technology, and engineering (even a social media manager needs a little technical know how!). But, compare those top 10 to the ten that CollegeBoard determines to be the occupations to be the ones with the most openings in the coming decade. This list barely has any science jobs on it, with computer systems analysts and computer engineers up there and that’s pretty much it. Even more troubling are the statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics on the most popular majors in American universities. It isn’t until the doctoral level do engineering and the hard sciences become popular. This may mean that students who study those fields during the undergraduate years are more likely to go on to higher degrees, but it also means that we need more students taking up these fields at the undergraduate level. Although these statistics also demonstrate the the number of these students taking up these majors are on the rise, it’s still not enough to cover the gap we have compared with other countries.

Will it only get harder?

Recruiting scientists remains difficult in this recession, but will it only get harder in the coming years? It doesn’t have to if we take a look outside the United States for quality talent. Although the status of the situation in this country does require attention, more time should be spent working with other countries to develop global solutions rather than putting the pressure on ourselves to come up with the solutions for everyone else. Other countries have talented, budding scientists and researchers and are doing great things as well (so many foreign students wouldn’t be studying at American universities if they weren’t talented). Our government may want to practice isolationism, but there’s no reason why the science community has to practice the same.

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