Education as Employer

Judith Hannah, Colorado State University


Employment opportunities exist for geoscientists at every level, from kindergarten through research universities.  In a 1993 survey of occupations of 96,500 people with highest degrees in Earth Sciences, 4050 were teaching at the college level, and another 4000 were secondary earth science teachers (National Science Foundation data).  But the nature of these opportunities and their potential for growth vary greatly.

Newly minted Ph.D.s will find a modest number of positions available each year at the college level, but the overwhelming majority of these are at schools very unlike those that train the Ph.D.s.  While unemployment among new Ph.D.s is not high, job dissatisfaction is.  This mismatch between graduate training and the available jobs in academia has bred a host of problems, from inadequate training for teaching to unmet expectations for research opportunities.  As of 1995, one in ten full-time doctoral faculty members in science and engineering were over the age of 60.  What will happen as these individuals retire?  To predict the impact requires
understanding of long-term demographic trends for students entering higher education, shifts in disciplinary interests of those students that might result in reallocation of faculty lines, and changes in how colleges and universities accomplish their mission of undergraduate education.

At the K-12 level, the picture is quite different. Shortages of teachers with training in the sciences has been a perennial problem, and several trends suggest that the demand for earth science teachers in particular may increase.  National Science Education Standards, published by the National Research Council in 1996, include specific benchmarks for earth science content.  To the extent that states implement part or all of these standards (and such implementation to date has been highly
variable), geoscience may become an increasingly important part of the curriculum at every level.  There is a strong push on several fronts to reduce the number of teachers teaching “out of field”, an effort that could easily increase the number of earth scientists employed in secondary education.  At the K-8 level, recognition of the need for improved science literacy and comfort among teachers opens opportunities for those with an earth science background, both in teaching and in teacher
training.

These issues merge in our Geoscience departments.  The pendulum is swinging back toward greater attention to undergraduate education and greater rewards for the scholarship of teaching. Similarly, there are new opportunities for graduate student support that is independent of narrowly focused, faculty research grants.  If we are to prepare our graduate students well for the available academic jobs, we must train them more effectively as teachers as well as researchers.  If we are to
prepare future K-12 teachers effectively, we must model good teaching practices.  If we are to expect greater attention to earth science education at all levels, we must demonstrate its value to our majors and generate enthusiasm among the large number of non-technical students who pack our introductory courses.  There is a future for geoscience educators, but only if we foster that future through our departments.

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