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Reshuffling Graduate Training

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Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 528-530
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_528

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Summary

The commingling of graduate education and research in the United States has created a system that is the envy of the world in terms of research productivity. It's also not a bad deal for the student, who typically doesn't pay a penny to earn her Ph.D. But that wildly successful system comes at a high cost to both students, who end up providing their advisers with several years of skilled labor at below-market rates, and the profession, says Nobelist Roald Hoffmann. And it's not sustainable, he argues, especially during tough economic times like these. A better approach, says Hoffmann, would be for the government to stop supporting graduate students on research grants—roughly 30% of a typical chemistry grant from the National Science Foundation pays for graduate students, for example—and use the money for competitive fellowships that students could use at the university of their choice. That seemingly minor shift could have huge consequences for universities and for the entire U.S. research enterprise. Although they admit Hoffmann's proposal faces long odds, some community leaders say that such a change is long overdue and that his suggestion offers a promising road map.