Increasing American Fellowship Support for Scientists and Engineers

Posted on December 6, 2006  Comments (10)

A great research paper is available today from the Brookings Institution: Investing in the Best and Brightest: Increased Fellowship Support for American Scientists and Engineers by Richard B. Freeman. For those interesting in science and engineering education and/or economic policy I recommend it.

In 2005, the United States employed about 31 percent of the world’s scientist and engineer researchers and financed 35 percent of R&D while accounting for 5 percent of the world’s population and 21 percent of the world’s GDP…
The U.S. share of global science and engineering activity is declining, however, and will continue to decline

I agree the declining trend is likely to continue, mainly due to the improvement of science and engineering efforts worldwide, see, for example: Diplomacy and Science Research and – U.S. Slipping on SciencePhony Science Gap?.

The growth of high-tech employment in Silicon Valley and in university-based locations of scientific excellence suggests that innovation, production, and employment in high-tech fields occur largely in areas strong in basic science.10 The supply of scientists and engineers is a major factor in the location of these centers of excellence.

Again I agree. I am in danger of confirmation bias since this report basically reinforces what I believe – so of course I find it worthwhile.

While no one can be sure of the particular areas where an increased number of scientists and engineers might make their greatest contribution, our recent history is filled with examples where young innovative researchers have made major contributions to economic progress: The Internet. The biotech industry. The PC. The mathematics of cryptography that underpins Internet commerce.

Again I agree. This is why so many countries have been devoting significant resources to improving their science and technology infrastructure – the economic benefits of doing so.

Thirty years ago, many U.S.-educated PhD science and engineering graduates from Taiwan and Korea remained in the United States. Today, a larger proportion of these graduates return to their native countries. Such a pattern is a natural part of global economic progress.

Again I agree, this is a trend that is likely to work against the USA scientific and engineering centers of excellence and in favor of others. And actually it is a positive development. It is just one that indicates the USA needs to develop more internal science and engineers (or cede even more of that work to other countries).

Because investments in K-12 will improve the science and math education for many students who are likely to never consider science and engineering careers, moreover, they will invariably be less cost-effective than the proposed fellowship program, which focuses on highly able students who are interested in

Finally something I don’t necessarily agree with. He might be right, but I think it is an open question. And I would split increased funding between k-12 and higher education (though truly I would need to do more research first). It could very well be that k-12 investments create a pool of great candidates for fellowships that would not otherwise be available. And nothing her says how much that would cost (it could be that only 30% of the benefit goes to increased science and engineering graduate success but the overall payoff is so large that even just 30% directly benefiting the target is higher than 100% of the fellowship benefit). Perhaps for the cost of 100 fellowships with smart k-12 initiatives you can create 1000 more science and engineering graduate students down the road. Plus the benefits to raising the level of science and engineering in others can also provide worthwhile benefits.

Related: Engineering Graduates: USA, China, IndiaWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree DataProposed Legislation: Graduate Scholar Awards in Science, Technology, Engineering, or MathEngineering the Future EconomyChina challenges dominance of USA, Europe and JapanBasic Science Research FundingScience and Engineering in Global EconomicsTop degree for S&P 500 CEOs? EngineeringEngineers in the WorkplaceShortage of Engineers?

As I have mentioned before, I work for ASEE on the IT systems in support of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Operation Center (the ASEE portion of the program), along with the other fellowship programs at ASEE). This blog is my own and is not affiliated with ASEE.

10 Responses to “Increasing American Fellowship Support for Scientists and Engineers”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science
    December 14th, 2006 @ 7:34 pm

    […] How much public money to devote to science and engineering fellowships is a political decision that greatly impacts science. Exactly what laws should be adopted to slow global warming is a political decision. The problem is not that politics and science can’t interact but how that interaction takes place. […]

  2. Asia: Rising Stars of Science and Engineering
    January 22nd, 2007 @ 12:15 am

    […] Excellent reading, the report is full of useful information I have not been able to obsorb yet.[…]

  3. CuriousCat: $10 Million for Engineering Education Scholarships
    May 9th, 2007 @ 7:19 pm

    “Kao today will announce that his family foundation is donating $10 million to establish scholarship funds at six regional universities for students majoring in electrical and computer engineering…”

  4. ASEE Science and Engineering Fellowships Blog: Increasing Fellowship Support for American Scientists and Engineers
    June 26th, 2007 @ 10:32 am

    This chart was included, it shows the number of female awardees by gross field over time (over 50% of awards are to women now)…

  5. Engineering &… » Senator Proposes Free College tuition for Math and Science Majors
    August 25th, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

    […] interesting proposal. There has been quite a bit of talk the last few years about increasing government incentives to support students studying science, engineering and math. View the current America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, […]

  6. CuriousCat: Proposal to Triple NSF GFRP Awards and the Size of the Awards by 33%
    October 14th, 2007 @ 7:16 pm

    Hillary will increase the number of fellowships to 3,000 per year. She will also increase each award from $30,000 to $40,000 per year…

  7. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Funding for Science and Engineering Researchers
    November 10th, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

    This bill started with the same name as the Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act – though seems to be missing much on fellowships now…

  8. Anonymous
    June 10th, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

    Even if the declining trend in the US continues I still see us as being a large player for a time to come. I think this is, however, how globalization works and eventually all things, not simply science and engineering, will balance out globably.

  9. Alan Jones
    June 10th, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

    You raise some interesting points but I don’t think just throwing money at K-12 education is going to solve the problem. What the US needs is to have a culture that encourages technological development and education more than celebrity gossip. Unforuntatly you can’t just spend money to change the country to be that way.

  10. Anonymous
    September 14th, 2010 @ 11:05 pm

    There has been quite a bit of talk the last few years about increasing government incentives to support students studying science, engineering and math. View the current America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technolog

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