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Bailey College of Science and Mathematics

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Number of Scientist-Educators on the Rise but Training and Funding Not Yet Aligned

MAY 23, 2013

Contact: Seth Bush

Hire date graph.SAN LUIS OBISPO — Science education may benefit from a new trend in faculty positions. Cal Poly Chemistry Professor Seth Bush is a member of the research team that recently published the first large-scale study of U.S. science faculty with education specialties (SFES). The researchers conclude that the number of these faculty members is increasing nationwide.

 “SFES have been hired specifically by science departments to focus on issues in science education,” said Bush.  "Their research addresses not just how you learn but how you learn science." SFES also focus on strengthening undergraduate and K-12 science education programs, Bush said.

The possibly bad news: those with greater training don't necessarily receive greater funding.

In a study published in the April 15 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research team finds that SFES at master’s degree-granting institutions are almost twice as likely to have formal training in science education as SFES at other institutions, who have trained only in their scientific discipline.

But surprisingly, the SFES with education training are less likely to have received grant money for science education projects than their colleagues at doctorate-granting institutions.

"There's a disconnect between where grant money goes and where training has happened. Having training in science education gives you no advantage in getting funding in science education," Bush said.

It may be that SFES at doctorate-granting institutions are more likely to get science education grants based on their personal or departmental reputation in the basic sciences. The disparity may also be due to the emerging nature of the field of science education.

"The NSF are scientists, and they're looking at it from a scientist's perspective," Bush said. "But the people doing this are hybrids between scientists and social scientists."

The PNAS paper is a follow-up to a study published in the journal Science in 2008, which explored the characteristics and training of science faculty with education specialties in the California State University system.

The new study included 289 SFES faculty members from 45 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, with the overwhelming number of faculty — 94 percent — trained as basic science researchers. Only 43 percent of them had formal training in science education.


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