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Rob Spiegel
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Keeping international students
Rob Spiegel   12/2/2011 1:04:49 PM
There are some many problems to solve in our education system that would drive up the number of students on physics, that the quickest road to more Ph.D.s in the field might be Tom Friedman's suggestion. Take each science diploma earned by an international student and stable a green card to it.

This is especially important at a time when an increasing percentage of our bright international students are returning home with their degrees rather than making a life in the United States.

Dave Palmer
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Pay it forward
Dave Palmer   12/2/2011 10:34:23 AM
A better title for this article might be "Laws of Physics Under Attack by Political Science." The economics of supporting STEM education are clear.

Since the early 2000s, the majority of physics PhD's granted by U.S. universities have been to students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.  This is true even despite an overall decline in the number of international students in the post-September 11, 2001 era.

The majority of engineering PhD's granted by U.S. universities also go to students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.  Arguably, however, this has to do with the fact that engineers who are citizens or permanent residents can get jobs in industry with a bachellor's or master's degree, and only rarely stick around to get doctorates.  International students have a harder time getting jobs in industry - many employers don't want to go through the paperwork and bureaucratic hassles required to sponsor a visa - so they tend to stay in academia and get doctorates, do post-doctoral research, etc.

Personally, I'm glad that so many international students come to the U.S. to study.  Having classmates from many different countries made my educational experience better.

That being said, there are a lot of potentially talented kids in the U.S. who aren't getting the chance to develop their abilities.  We like to believe that anyone can be successful in the U.S. with hard work, creativity, and talent.  That statement is probably more true in the U.S. than it is in just about any other country - but there are still a lot of kids who have the cards stacked against them.

The fact is that many students, especially low-income and minority students, receive a sub-standard primary and secondary education which doesn't prepare them well for college.  And as this article points out, for those who do manage to make it to college, the community colleges and universities which serve low-income and minority students are often the first to face budget cuts.  This is the reality we live in.

The causes of this are complex, but the consequences are clear: an erosion of scientific and engineering talent, with troubling implications for economic growth and national security.

I would encourage any and all engineering professionals who are concerned about this to get involved in tutoring and mentoring programs.  If you don't have time to tutor students every week, volunteer to give a career day presentation, judge a science fair, or speak to a science class.  All of us are very fortunate to have benefited from an engineering education.  Now is the time to pay it forward.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
How do we meet the need for physics now?
Rob Spiegel   12/2/2011 8:31:04 AM
Nice post, Geoffrey.

Your comments make me wonder how we're filling the need for physics now, with just 4,000 to 5,000 annual graduates. Is this a discipline that is covered by immigrants and green-card visitors?

If so, I would imagine the current anti-immigration mood in the country will further complicate our ability to grow a sustainable number of physics teachers, professors and programs.

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