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April 13th, 2012

Who is going to do the work? Workforce development for ceramic and glass industries

Published on April 13th, 2012 | By: Eileen De Guire


Workforce development is more than developing undergraduate programs. Three sessions at ICC4 will address the global, diversity and career development issues for building a robust ceramics and glass workforce. The bottom right image that looks like hot chocolate with marshmallows is an AFM  image of tin oxide nanostructures used by Brian Huey in a demonstration to high school students and teachers. Credit: Lynnette Madsen, NSF.

Who is going to do the work?

It is a question that comes up often in STEM disciplines. Recently, for example, we reported about a webcast featuring leaders from several important (to STEM fields) federal agencies alerting us to the shortage of qualified people who can handle “big data.” Similar issues exist in the ceramics and glass STEM niche.

The issue of workforce development is complex and must be thought about in multiple contexts. Some questions to consider are: How is a worker different from an entrepreneur? How is diversity defined, nurtured and maintained? Why do students choose to study ceramics, and how can more be attracted (and should they)? Where would they work? How does career development differ in industry, academia or government? What is the global impact on workforce development? What opportunities are available at the BS, MS and PhD levels? Are there mid-career workforce issues?

Shaping the Future of Ceramics is the theme of July’s ICC4 meeting in Chicago, and appropriately, one of the themes is Workforce Development. It will have three sessions and is being organized by Lynnette Madsen, program director in NSF’s Division of Materials Research.

The three sessions are: Global Challenges; Creating an Effective, Competitive Workforce; and International Challenges and Opportunities. In a summary of the theme, Madsen lists some of the big issues that the sessions will tackle, such as entrepreneurship and crossing “the valley of death,” defining and reaching grand challenges, effective collaboration between theorists and experimentalists, diverse workforce development, mentoring students at all levels (undergrad through post-doc, global trends in materials science and more.

Many of these topics are much more subtle and nuanced than one might think from the titles. For example, Mario Affatigato is giving a talk on undergraduate research, which seems simple enough. A theme that emerged over and over during my Materials Football Game of the Week series last year, is that today’s undergraduates choose their majors by first choosing the ‘Grand Problem’ they want to work on — such as renewable energy, health, environment, etc. — and then they look at which undergraduate programs offer the best pathway for them. Thus, undergraduate research opportunities have become absolutely essential to attracting and retaining materials scientists.

Similarly, I admit to having been tired of hearing about the problems of recruiting women to the STEM professions. After all, I see many of my kind when I go to meetings. But, last year I got to hear Christianne Corbett from the American Association of University of Women present the results of a study they conducted and available in the report (pdf), “Why so Few: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” She makes a compelling case that the issue is far from resolved.

The report is chock-full of interesting results that can apply across other categories of diversity, I think. The example that sticks with me is the influence of stereotype bias on test performance. The report cites a psychology paper showing that if a test-taking group was told that men tend to do better on the exam, they did, by a factor of five. On the other hand, if the group was told that men and women tended to perform about the same, they did. There are subtle ways to induce stereotype bias, too, but few professors are likely to be aware of them.

Here is a listing of the sessions, talks and presenters. I’ll be there, and I hope you will be, too.

Global Challenges
Monday afternoon, July 16
Moderator: B. Erik Svedberg, The National Academies

  • Entrepreneurship, Angus Kingon, Brown University
  • Integrated Computational Materials Science and Engineering, Umesh V. Waghmare, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, India.
  • European Science Foundation’s Expert Committee in Materials Science and Engineering, Patrick Bressler, Fraunhofer‐Gesellschaft Brussels Office
  • Materials Science in the Developing World: Challenges and Perspectives for Africa, Federico Rosei, Université du Québec, Canada.

Creating an Effective, Competitive Workforce
Tuesday afternoon, July 17
Moderator: Tom Oder, Youngstown State University

  • Why so few?, Christianne Corbett, American Association of University Women
  • Diversity Changes in Materials Science and Engineering, Keith J. Bowman, Illinois Inst. of Technology
  • Involving Undergraduates in Research, Mario Affatigato, Coe College
  • Career Opportunities at Coca‐Cola in Glass Science and Engineering, Louis Mattos, Coca‐Cola

International Challenges and Opportunities
Wednesday morning, July 18
Moderator: Martha Mecartney, University of California, Irvine

  • Joint Doctoral Programs, Jean‐Luc Adam, University of Rennes, France.
  • Opportunities to Work with Scientists in Japan, Fumiyo Kaneko, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, DC Office.
  • Programs for Foreign Scientists from Chinese Academy of Sciences, Hongjie Luo, Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, China
  • Mentoring of Postdoctoral Scholars, Judith A. Todd, Pennsylvania State University (winner of a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring)
  • Strategies to Encourage International Cooperation, Mary Lynn Realff, Georgia Institute of Technology

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