The CHIPS and Science Act: An Opportunity to Support the Next Generation STEM Workforce Through Policy Change

by Adriana Bankston | May 08, 2023


Last year, the CHIPS and Science Act was signed into law. This important legislation will fund research to help boost U.S. global competitiveness in science and technology. While many articles have been written on the CHIPS and manufacturing side of the bill, a focus on the science-related provisions is necessary. This is especially true when it comes to advocating for “real money” to make programs on the next generation of scientists a reality.

Previous articles on the legislation relate to improving the scientific environment, as well as including and retaining international talent within the U.S. research enterprise, both of which are critical to our nation’s competitiveness in science and technology. In addition to supporting research funding, another important element is the education and training of the next generation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A recent article highlighted the lack of the legislation’s focus on broad-based career education, outreach and awareness, including mentorship and career services, which can lead to the loss of valuable talent in the sciences if not properly addressed.

To this end, for the past several years, efforts have been made to include specific language in the legislation on graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, who are the backbone of the enterprise. While graduate students and postdoctoral researchers drive the future of science forward, emphasis on their long-term career paths in science has traditionally been somewhat limited legislatively. Moreover, professional and career development in the sciences is often an afterthought for academic advisors and those who may partner with universities to improve the STEM pipeline, often following the publication of papers and grants as the main measure of success, and this needs to change.

Section 10313 of the CHIPS and Science Act (Graduate STEM Education) contains provisions focused on mentoring, career training, and professional development funding for graduate students. During my prior work, I was fortunate enough to contribute language to this section of the legislation that enabled postdoctoral researchers in particular to be recipients of the professional development supplement. This is significant given that postdoctoral researchers are often forgotten within the pipeline despite their role in driving scientific innovation forward.

My hope is that this change in the legislative language included in the bill will raise awareness for the need to not only support graduate students, but also postdoctoral researchers in their research endeavors. It also has the ability to place an emphasis on STEM training and education through acquiring important skills that contribute to societal change. At the federal level, the release of the President’s Budget in March 2023, which includes significant funding for the science agencies and STEM workforce programs, and the arrival of a new Congress this year, are both opportune times to engage in policy changes that can make a difference for the future of science.

At the state level, the CHIPS and Science Act emphasizes regional innovation and creating opportunities everywhere. Therefore, these elements are critical to overall societal improvement. Many groups have developed various opportunities for trainees to participate in policymaking at the state level, whether through state-level policy fellowships, local science policy boards and committees, state capitol visits, as well as organizing training workshops and policy discussions at their institution. This includes Sigma Xi’s new platform (coming late 2023), which will provide a roadmap for scientists, including early career scientists, to learn about and engage in the policymaking process through training opportunities, resources and connections to achieve desired policy change at the state and local level.

Across the country, and regardless of the level of engagement, now is the time for policy change. The ideas outlined in the CHIPS and Science Act need to support the next generation of scientists and implement much needed research and educational programs. It's time to see an emphasis placed on diversity that can lead to cultural change in research and a competitive edge in global science and technology.

A promising way to build a strong STEM pipeline is by emphasizing diversity in STEM and broadening participation through legislative provisions. This is particularly important when it comes to the National Science Foundation. NSF’s FY 2024 Budget Request to Congress requests for STEM education to closely align with the Administration’s priorities in supporting diversity and expanding opportunities across the U.S. in order to build a strong and highly skilled STEM workforce. This includes partnership development to better move forward the ecosystem outside the classroom, as well as improving better practices for STEM education by teachers and students training the next generation.

As a scientist who has advocated for placing a stronger focus on future scientists and their future in science for the past several years, these developments are promising. I hope that we will see continued investments in the future of science for generations to come, through the CHIPS and Science Act and future legislation that drives research forward.


Adriana Bankston
Senior Fellow, Civic Science & Public Policy
Sigma Xi

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