COSAM News Articles 2022 May Auburn chemist seeks to find evidence-based issues and solutions of doctoral education through NSF CAREER Award for $737,148

Auburn chemist seeks to find evidence-based issues and solutions of doctoral education through NSF CAREER Award for $737,148

Published: 05/03/2022

By: Maria Gebhardt

Jordan Harshman, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is the first member of the Discipline-Based Educational Research (DBER) cluster in the College of Sciences and Mathematics to receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for $737,148.

Harshman is using this award to research and analyze faculty perspectives of doctoral education in the field of chemistry.

“Dr. Harshman has added a wonderful new dimension to the research mission of our department,” said Doug Goodwin, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Discipline-based education research, specifically in chemistry, is providing much needed knowledge for informing data-driven decisions and initiatives in chemistry education at all levels. Dr. Harshman’s focus on doctoral education in chemistry is particularly important. I anticipate that his work will impact how doctoral programs are conducted, and that will influence the practice and instruction of chemistry in all sectors where PhD chemists work. This includes, but is not limited to, private industry, government, the academy and education broadly defined. I am excited that the Auburn University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry will be one of the first beneficiaries of the knowledge his research generates.”

With 196 rigorous PhD chemistry programs across the nation, his project will uncover the goals of traditional graduate school education in chemistry and how it impacts the training of future scientists. 

“The identity that a professor assumes in a research-intensive university creates a culture among chemists that directly impacts how they educate their graduate students,” said Harshman. “The theoretical perspective of professors’ research can play a role in the overall quality of teaching, mentoring and even professional development.” 

His research will look at how the beliefs and values of chemistry faculty shape the educational programs that are found in chemistry departments today.

“The core structure of a doctoral degree program has not changed in more than a century,” Harshman explained. “This research will look at all of the different roles faculty believe they play in pedagogy, research and seminars asking if they help or hinder the next generations of scientists.”

Harshman will be explicitly spurring innovations at Auburn University as well as four other universities across the nation.

“Since chemistry is the central science, everything you touch, use, consume, depend on, etc., can be traced back to the work that chemists do everyday,” Harshman added. “This NSF-funded research project will look at the issues and solutions to the graduate education model in chemistry in hopes to improve chemists’ abilities to do the chemistry that is so vital to quality of life.”

He is part of the emerging DBER cluster with faculty in each of the five STEM-centric departments in the college. Through DBER, faculty are able to investigate how students are taught and how they learn within their home disciplinary units.

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