Graduate Group in Science and Mathematics Education (SESAME)

The Graduate Group in Science and Mathematics Education is an interdisciplinary academic unit dedicated to advancing the understanding and practice of learning and teaching in science, engineering, and mathematics. It acts in most respects like a regular department, carrying out research, teaching courses, and offering a graduate program leading to a PhD degree in science or mathematics education. The faculty of the group consists of professors from several of the Berkeley science and engineering departments and the School of Education, and instructors associated with other units on campus such as the Lawrence Hall of Science. The group operates under the auspices of the Graduate Division.

SESAME is closely related to the EMST (Education in Math Science and Technology) program and shares many courses with EMST. A major difference in the programs is that SESAME students are expected to obtain at least master's-level competency in their mathematical or scientific disciplines. It produces scholars who can communicate well with scientists and engineers as well as with educational researchers and practitioners. The program includes studies that connect human development, cognitive science, and educational technology with the learning of science, mathematics, and engineering.

SESAME PhDs have frequently taken positions in college science, mathematics and engineering departments, teaching courses in the discipline but serving as the "education person" in the department and doing research on the teaching and learning of the subject matter. Through the years SESAME students have also focused on learning in informal settings and have gone on to careers in institutions such as museums and science centers.

Focus of Study

SESAME offers a graduate program leading to a doctoral degree in science, mathematics, or engineering education. The program is designed to produce graduates who have advanced expertise in a scientific discipline as well as in educational theory and research methodologies.

This Graduate Group was established so individuals with training or experience in a mathematical, scientific, or technical discipline could pursue advanced studies focused on educational issues in these disciplines. SESAME is an acronym for Studies in Engineering, Science and Mathematics Education. The Group was formed in 1968 by several Berkeley faculty members in science and mathematics departments.

SESAME students work with the Group's faculty to gain a better understanding of learning, to design more effective teaching approaches, and to create experiences that enhance the scientific and mathematical literacy of the general public. A major aim of the Group is to identify general theoretical principles that can guide the design of effective instruction.

Many of the students' projects are concerned with college-level teaching in their disciplines. Others are concerned with curriculum development for elementary and secondary schools, research into cognitive processes underlying good performance in scientific domains, investigations of principles for the design of computer-based educational software, or studies of informal learning in science museums and other places open to the public.

Discipline Specific Nature of the PhD

SESAME's faculty consists primarily of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists. SESAME students therefore can have closer contact with faculty in their disciplines than is typically available in education programs.

Many SESAME students have thesis advisors from their discipline. Most take graduate-level courses, serve as teaching assistants, and attend seminars and lectures in their fields. SESAME students often consult with faculty in their discipline while working on their doctoral research projects.

Transfer from One Program to Another Within the Berkeley Campus

Application for admission to the doctoral program by students already enrolled in a graduate degree program of the Berkeley campus is formally accomplished by submitting a Graduate Petition for Change of Major or Degree Goal.

These petitions are considered along with other applications for admission to the doctoral program. A petition for Change of Degree Goal should be accompanied in all cases by a statement describing the reasons for the proposed change and the nature of the program of studies contemplated. Any applicants previously admitted by the Graduate Division must still submit the standard application form and required letters of recommendation. We may also request a copy of your file from your current department.

Program Structure

The graduate program includes advanced courses in the student's discipline, science and mathematics education, and psychology; teaching experience; seminars dealing with research projects of faculty and fellow students; colloquia presented by outside speakers; and research into an educational problem connected with mathematics, science, engineering, or computer-science education. Students are expected to enroll full time and to complete their studies in 10 or 12 semesters (depending on whether they already have a master's degree).

While SESAME does emphasize research in the processes of learning and teaching; it is not a teacher training unit. This program does not prepare pre-college teachers (see various School of Education credential programs for teacher training programs). Those interested in careers in college-level math/science teaching (along with educational research), science museum program development, or research in the learning and teaching of science per se are likely to find a doctoral program like SESAME suitable. SESAME students who take jobs as faculty in schools of education-and even in college-level mathematics and science departments-frequently have teacher training responsibilities.


Fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships in science, mathematics, or computer science departments, and University Block Grants provide financial support for most SESAME students.

Career Paths of Graduates

Graduates of this program take leadership roles in promoting educational innovations in academic, industrial, and museum settings including the Exploratorium and the Lawrence Hall of Science. SESAME graduates often teach in two- or four-year colleges or universities. Others are directing educational programs of science museums or similar institutions that offer programs for the general public. Still others are active in educational research and curricular development, in industrial training programs, or in their own consulting businesses.