Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A tribute to liberal arts colleges in the USA

Which institutions the best job training scientists at the undergraduate level in the USA?
If you want a job teaching highly gifted and motivated undergraduates where should you try and work?

The answer is not what you might think? [Ivy League, Berkeley, Stanford, ....]

If you look at the undergraduate origin of the recipient of doctoral degrees from US universities you find something surprising. For all academic fields, of the top ten, six are small private liberal arts colleges [i.e. they have no Ph.D program]: Harvey Mudd, Swarthmore, Reed, Carleton, Grinnell, and Oberlin. For science, the results are similar.

Thomas Cech shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and was President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for a decade. He graduated from Grinnell and has an interesting article Science at Liberal Arts Colleges: A Better Education?

Asides: Reed College is interesting [for many reasons!] because it has resisted involvement in institutional ranking exercises (even though it is often very highly ranked) because it considers them flawed. I find this refreshing!
An earlier post considers the teaching philosophy of one of their distinguished physics faculty, David Griffiths.

This is all relevant to two of the claims made by Hunter Rawlings in an article featured in an earlier post:

Small colleges play an important role in making the diverse US system so strong overall.

At large research universities undergraduates have become peripheral to the whole enterprise [sports, hospitals, research, grad students, professional schools, infrastructure, ....]

There is a helpful article in Physics Today, Hunting for Jobs at Liberal Arts Colleges written by two faculty with experience at hiring people.

The Australian education minister recently announced that Australia needs to move towards a more USA-like university system. Somehow, I don't think small liberal arts colleges is what he has in mind!

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