Perhaps one solution to the problem of excess chemistry PhD production by our institutions is to take a step away from the path of pure scholarship into the applied sciences. That is, a chemistry program wherein chemical science is integrated with economics and business. The goal is to support the industrial part of our civilization with scientifically educated people who desire to apply their knowledge to the industrial arts, i.e., manufacturing, sales, management, and distribution.
I’m suggesting that chemical education could be split into two streams- scholarship and applied science- because that is where the grads go anyway. Presently, the scholarly route supplies the entire supply of chemistry graduates. I think there are several reasons for this. Faculty produce graduates along the manner in which they were schooled. Another reason for this singular path is the effect of the ACS standardized curriculum. Most chemistry departments struggle to maintain their ACS certification as a validation stamp for their program . It also serves as a foil for deans who want to gut the chemistry budget because it is typically very costly. The ACS program has basic requirements and that is that.
An applied science program would require a modification to the usual faculty profile. Instead of having a faculty of stellar Harvard , MIT, and Stanford graduates, the faculty would have a few from Dow, DuPont, Air Products, etc.
An applied chemical science program could include coursework on the manufacturing processes of petroleum feedstocks from crude oil to BTX, polyolefins, and maybe into some fine chemicals or extractive metallurgy. It would cover the regulatory environment and give students familiarity with EPA and OSHA regulations as well as those regs governing transportation of hazardous goods.
At some point there should be coursework in basic accounting, marketing, law, and finance. A business minor would be very useful. A student should know how to calculate the manufacturing cost of a product based labor & overhead as well as the cost of raw materials. There are many possibilities here to use real life examples. Y ou never know what will happen to a student once they understand how to get a product to market. The just might want to go do it themselves.
It is not inconceivable that a program along these outlines and with the right faculty could produce graduates who are inclined to do a startup. Once you know something about what is required to get a product out the door, it is natural to begin to dream about doing it yourself.
American chemistry lacks a culture of strong entrepreneurship among chemists. This is not quite as true for chemical engineers, though. Chemists are afraid to start a company because they have not been exposed to much of the business environment because they are partitioned in the lab. They do not know what the issues are or how to attract resources to get the thing started.
I was on the phone with a professor the other day who has $$ in his eyes. He has a customer who wants x kg of his compound and he thinks that he is going to staff a small production campaign with students in a rental space. He admitted he had no idea of what is required once you have employees doing hazardous activities. He had no idea of what workmans compensation insurance was.
His business model was simply a larger version of his research lab. The university would pay his students a stipend and he would have them laboring off campus making some stuff that is too nasty for use on campus. It is much like gold fever. Otherwise rational people become greedy and foolish when they think there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The over arching goal of an applied science degree program is to produce graduates who have a better understanding of our industrial culture and are prepared to strengthen it by a lifetime of effort in making better things for better living. The future holds the inevitable confrontation with scarcity. We need a layer of educated industrialists who can help fashion a good life in the US with smarter manufacturing that can accomodate reduced energy and materials consumption.