Synopsis of the Workshop on Gaps in Postsecondary Quantum Education and Training

Synopsis of the Workshop on Gaps in Postsecondary Quantum Education and Training

On October 12, 2021, the Laboratory for Physical Sciences (LPS) Qubit Collaboratory (LQC) hosted a free virtual, public Workshop on Gaps in Postsecondary Quantum Education and Training. There were over a hundred registrants, and speakers and panelists included representatives from academia, industry, and government.

The workshop began with opening remarks by Dr. Charles Tahan. Dr. Tahan is the Assistant Director of Quantum Information Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Director of the National Quantum Coordination Office, and Chief Scientist and Chief of Quantum Information Science at LPS. He shared that LQC is a new national Quantum Information Science (QIS) Research Center, and one of its research thrusts is quantum education and workforce development. In doing so, he framed how the workshop fits into the mission of LQC, and that the workshop’s larger goals are to develop collaborations to fix the educational and training gaps.

Next, Dr. Richard Ross gave a keynote address. Dr. Ross is now a program director at UCLA, but he shared about his over two decades of experience at HRL Laboratories growing their quantum science and engineering research. His insights included the difference between small teams and startups, where employees work across a variety of skills, vs larger teams where employees are more specialized.

Throughout the morning and afternoon, speakers gave a series of 12-minute “lightning talks.” Educators shared their curricula in quantum information science, including the educational gaps they we’re trying to fill and the gaps that remained. Other speakers shared their insights on skills gaps from the hiring perspective, as well as programs to train employees. This was also explored during a lunchtime working session of ten industry speakers. A program manager shared what their funding agency is doing to expand QIS education and training.

An LQC-led panel composed of individuals with different perspectives from different backgrounds vocalized the spectrum of needs, concerns, and perspectives. The panel explicitly discussed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues and explored the academic, cocurricular, and nonacademic gaps or issues in any aspect of post-secondary education. The workshop ended with an open discussion to prioritize the gaps that were identified in the workshop.

Many common needs arose in the discussions, and some of the major ones include:

  • Quantum software engineering. Many companies expressed the difficulty of hiring software engineers and identified it as an ongoing issue that would persist for the foreseeable future. Often, quantum physicists know how to program, but the kind of programming done in the lab is usually for a single user. It is much more challenging to find physicists who are also trained in software engineering, who can write well-documented code that is shared among many users in larger projects. Conversely, many software engineers do not know QIS, and so they do not apply for QIS jobs, despite many positions requiring no knowledge of QIS. Teaching software engineers the basics would be helpful. It is also challenging to hire the best software engineers because of salary competition.

  • Quantum 101. Historically, QIS education has focused on graduate students. As more and more universities are creating majors, minors, and specializations in QIS, however, there is a need for freshmen-level QIS courses without many prerequisites. Some of the speakers shared their own courses along these lines.

  • Broadening participation among underrepresented groups. This has been identified in many workshops, but another component that arose in the workshop was the need to bring quantum information science to primarily undergraduate institutions (PUI’s). There was a recognition that many students choose a field because it was what was available to them at their university. Many PUI’s lack QIS experts across the “full stack” and the resources to purchase expensive teaching laboratory equipment, so collaborations may be needed for students to gain broad QIS skills.

  • Hands-on hardware experience. Laboratory equipment for teaching quantum hardware may be prohibitively expensive. Even if a university makes an investment, it may only invest in one type of qubit technology. Internships and collaborations may be needed for students to have hands-on experiences with various types of quantum hardware. At the undergraduate level, there is a need for affordable QIS labs that are teachable by the majority of physics professors; many existing labs for quantum mechanics do not have a QIS focus. Training programs for faculty members to teach introductory hardware courses would broaden participation. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited access to in-person, hands-on experiences.

Overall, the workshop was very productive, and LQC anticipates continued activities to further QIS education and training.