"A college education is not job training"

Quoth Dr. Stemwedel, from Adventures in Science and Ethics.

In the case of Universities and four-yr colleges, I completely agree. If you're looking for job training, go to a community college.

This post is in response to one of the comments from the other day. This commenter expressed frustration at having a completed a bioinformatics training program that left him/her with a certificate but without the right skills to find a job.

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He/she suggested that "the government must select candidates for teaching from industry"

This post is my answer.

In the U.S., instructors are not chosen by the government, they are hired by colleges and Universities. Universities and four-year colleges do not consider it their mission to train students for jobs. They educate students for life. This is not a bad thing, but is important for students to understand what a University education is and what it is not.

As far as training people for specific jobs, community colleges have a different philosophy. Job training is one of their primary missions.

The success of a community college program is based on their ability to both educate students and help place them in jobs. Because of this goal, they work hard to get feedback from companies about the sorts of things that they should be teaching. They work with advisory boards, populated with representatives of local companies. They have internship programs. And they do their best to hire people with industry experience.

Colleges and Universities, on the other hand, have a different mission, and look for different things when they hire faculty. In the case of Universities, the faculty are hired based on their research record. (I'm speaking about science faculty here, since I don't know much about other departments.) In the case of four-year colleges, faculty are hired on their research record, plus their teaching experience.

All college faculty, no matter where they teach, have the problem that, unless they're teaching in their subject area, they must often develop syllabi and pick course content based on second-hand information and hearsay. Community colleges try to make up for this problem by hiring people with industry experience whenever they can. Many of the biotech faculty, that I know, were hired with research or industry experience. Faculty without direct industry experience are usually encouraged to do internships in biotech companies so that they can use their own knowledge in designing curriculum.

Biotechnology training programs have been around for about 15 years now, and it's finally becoming more clear, what to teach and how to teach it. But, even with the large number of post-docs and former industry people who became instructors, it took time to define which skills should be taught and how to teach them.

Since most people don't really seem to know what bioinformatics is, and there isn't much of a stand-alone "bioinformatics" industry, so to speak, it's a much greater problem for schools to decide what to teach. I don't expect this question to be resolved any time soon.

More later.


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All college faculty, no matter where they teach, have the problem that, unless they're teaching in their subject area, they must often develop syllabi and pick course content based on second-hand information and hearsay. Community colleges try to make up for this problem by hiring people with industry experience whenever they can.

Hrmmm... I suspect you have never sat on a CC hiring committee? In all of the Arts & Science division hiring criteria I have seen at CCs, "industry experience" is never listed, nor really considered. We might consider an applicant more highly who has a broad set of life experiences, and consequently might be better able to understand the broad life experiences our students bring with them.

Perhaps you meant to write that CCs value industry experience for vocational training programs? In the more vocational programs (e.g. nursing), it is more likely that these programs would value experience in the trade, but still often require graduate education, and structure their courses to value critical thinking as much as technical knowledge.

I have been on CC hiring committees. You're right, through, my comments aren't universally true. My program, biotechnology, was vocational, so I tend to forget that there are other degrees. :-)

My comments were meant to apply to vocational programs like biotechnology, web design, nursing, culinary arts, nanotechnology, and the like.

"A college education is not job training"

I used to think that years ago. Have you looked at tuition lately?

Only those with inherited wealth or willing to take on crushing debt can be educated in today's US society.

In the classical sense a college education prepared one for a life of the mind. One studied the classics, history, philosophy and mathematics. Wikipedia says 'Education has as one of its fundamental aspects the imparting of culture from generation to generation"

I have BS in Engineering and an MS in Computer science yet I consider my EDUCATION stopped with high school English literature and history. All of my college course were aimed at preparing me for a "profession". There were no classes on ethics or where our work fit in civilization.

The only difference between vo tech schools and my training was that I had a great deal more theory and little hands on. Employers looked to see if I had managed to make a long term goal (College degree) and meet it. Only then did they look at my acquired knowledge. It is my belief that vo-tech grads are looked at to see if they can immediately add to the company's bottom like.

Perhaps you should reconsider the title and use College training is not preparation for work on the assembly line.

By john hawkins (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

John: you say that "College training is not preparation for work on the assembly line"

I agree, but, neither is vocational training these days, at least not in biotech. Between 30-50% of my students had bachelor's degrees - and often in biology - well, usually zoology.

And many of the courses that I taught - like Immunology, Recombinant DNA technology, and Genetics - transferred to the UW as senior level courses.

The reason that we had so many college graduates was, as you rightly surmise, that companies wanted students who already had lab skills. They didn't want to have to train students to pour gels, run columns, do HPLC, do tissue culture, or graph data. Those are acquired skills and you don't really learn them without hands-on practice.

I don't think it's a bad thing to have different goals for different kinds of education, but I do think that it's important that students are aware of the difference.

Hi All,

I read your comments.

What can we do to train students come out from the colleges to meet the bioinformatics industry standard? I am talking from India and here I did not find anyone to answer my questions when I start to search jobs. So I turned into IT industry and now I am a web programmer.

Can we able to provide training to students by online? How many companies accept such a person, if we can provide so? How many of them are searching for such a training in internet?

I think it is possible to provide such online training in bioinformatics but not in biotechnology.

I am feared that our discussion will continue but Nothing will happen at the end. It is like the discussion to reduce the daily expense of goverment in a STAR HOTEL.

By Aniesh Joseph (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

I agree, but only to a degree. How many people do the same job forever? One of the advantages of college is that, in theory, you get a mindset that gives you the ability to adjust to change.

Aniesh: You have many good questions that deserve thoughtful answers. I'm not even going to come close to answering them here.

You ask: "what can we do to train students to meet a bioinformatics industry standard?"

I don't think there is a "bioinformatics industry standard." I don't even think it's clear that there is much of a distinct "bioinformatics industry." There are companies, like ours, who write bioinformatics software, and there are biotech companies and academic researchers who use bioinformatics, and also write some of their own programs.

The skills that are needed and the form that they take are different in each of the three settings (software companies, biotech companies, academics).

I will write more about this later.

Deepak: First, I don't think education has to end with a college degree. Luckily, many community colleges help out and offer lots of one and two year programs for people who wish to change careers or develop new skills.

Second, I agree with you, college should prepare you to take a variety of paths. I've known too many scientifically illiterate marketing people, and business people who cannot write coherent, jargon-free sentences.

Unfortunately, college is sooo expensive, that most students don't have the luxury to enjoy it merely for the sake of learning.

I think colleges have an ethical obligation to look beyond the ivory towers and help students combine intellectual preparation with a few courses that equip them with marketable skills.