"A college education is not job training"

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Sandra Porter

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.