Why is the number of students majoring in engineering and the physical sciences at the undergraduate level declining?
The life sciences and biotechnology are fabulous right now. But in the physical sciences, the future is bleak. So when a student talks to a guidance counselor and learns that funding is not good and that it will be hard to go to graduate school, [he or she loses interest]. At the same time, when many students arrive at college, their intellectual equipment is insufficient for them to take on the rigors of a bachelor's degree in engineering or the physical sciences. It is hard work.What does that mean for our economy?We see the consequences. If you look at any industry with a big demand for people in the physical sciences and engineering, an increasing number of the people working in those industries are non-Americans.Yet now the number of foreign students coming to the U.S. is falling, right?Nationally we've seen a 30% falloff in applications for graduate school from international students. A lot of things feed into this. It is very hard to get into the U.S. now. Yet Canada, Australia, and Britain are making it easier for people to go there for graduate education.Why is that a problem?People have come from around the world to be educated in the U.S., and they have stayed. They have become part of America's economic engine. And it's not the case that we have plenty of native-born Americans to fill these roles. So if we cut off these opportunities, these people will go somewhere else. And ultimately, we could lose our position as a world leader in science and technology.Why is it so important that women move up in the academic world?Universities play an absolutely critical role. They are training the next generation of leaders. And while I was not daunted by not having women faculty, it is hard for [many women] to imagine a career [in a university] without seeing someone to set the path. And second, the U.S. is falling behind in our production of scientists and engineers. We need every person in the nation who has a love of science and technology.What do you think your appointment as president of MIT will mean to young women?I'm hoping it will give confidence to girls and young women that there are opportunities that will be open to them that they can't imagine right now.