Wooing Potential Scientists

November 30, 2009

Yesterday Britain’s Royal Society announced that they were putting 60+ historical scientific papers free on the internet in celebration of their 350th anniversary of promoting science. These papers include Benjamin Franklin’s descriptions of flying the famous silk kite and James Cook’s feeding his crew sauerkraut to keep them from getting scurvy. Students will be able to read and see these accounts in the writers’ handwriting right in front of them on their computer screen, bridging the past and future. The papers can be found here at trailblazing.royalsociety.org.

Why did they decide to do this? The Royal Society is dedicating to raising the profile of science. For Americans, this ties in with President Obama’s announcement last week that he was launching the “Educate to Innovate” Campaign for Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (Stem) Education. This is a nationwide effort to get students studying science, and beyond that, into science related jobs.

Both of these initiatives are aimed at getting young people more engaged in science. Which do you think will be more successful? Do you think either of them will help?


The Number of New Scientists

October 29, 2009

According to a new study, the number of native-born Americans studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has stayed level over the past 30 years. These findings appear to be at odds with the public calls from the government and policy groups for more Americans to study science and engineering.

The paper was written by researchers at Rutgers University and Georgetown University. They conducted a longitudinal study, following students studying STEM through high school, college and into the workforce. They were looking for three things: the retention rate (how many students stayed in a STEM field), how this rate compared to previous generations, and the quality of the students who stayed with STEM studied.

What they found was a drop not in the overall numbers, but a drop in the final aspect, the quality. There was a sharp decline in the number of the highest performing students who continued to study STEM and join the workforce in an STEM related field. This decline began in the late 1990s.

This occurs because of the depressing wages in STEM fields, turning potential scientists and technology innovators into business people and office workers.

So is the public cry for more scientists beneficial? More scientists could cause a glut in the supply while driving down the quality.

Or instead, should we be more encouraging to those students who love science, and make sure there are more jobs available to them for wages commiserate with their importance.