The BioFrontiers Institute’s Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology Certificate Ph.D. (IQ Biology) program (http://IQBiology.colorado.edu) recently was awarded a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. These funds will be spent over the next five years on supporting students in the IQ Biology program in their work toward advanced interdisciplinary degrees in the biosciences.
IGERT (http://www.igert.org) is the National Science Foundation’s flagship interdisciplinary training program, educating U.S. Ph.D. scientists and engineers by building upon their disciplinary knowledge with interdisciplinary training. One of the goals of the IGERT program is to give students the personal and professional skills to succeed in 21st century careers. Since 1998, the IGERT program has given 278 awards to top institutions throughout the country and provided funding for approximately 6,500 graduate students.
“The IGERT grant will allow us to expand our IQ Biology program beyond the successful foundation we have already built,” said BioFrontiers Director Tom Cech. “It is imperative that we train students to go beyond the limits of their academic departments and explore other research areas to develop solutions. The IGERT grant is giving us the resources to continue this program and confirms our belief that interdisciplinary education is a valuable component in training our future educators, scientists and engineers.”
The IQ Biology program is the graduate education arm of the BioFrontiers Institute. The program was designed to give graduate students the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. in one of eight academic departments:
- Applied Mathematics
- Chemistry and Biochemistry
- Chemical and Biological Engineering
- Computer Science
- Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
- Mechanical Engineering
- Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
In addition to an advanced degree, students also are immersed in an interdisciplinary culture where they gain additional skills in computational biology and mathematics, and complete lab rotations in areas outside their field of study. IQ Biology faculty members are active in interdisciplinary research themselves and offer a unique perspective to students wanting to prepare for careers in education or industry that demand a multi-disciplinary approach.
IQ Biology’s first class of nine students completed the first year of the pilot program in May and will be joined by a new class of seven students this fall. They entered CU-Boulder as interdisciplinary scholars and will continue to refine their training in their selected majors after their first year. Cech, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is the current principal investigator of the program and is joined by the following co-principal investigators:
- Kristi Anseth, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering
- Meredith Betterton, Associate Professor of Physics
- Robin Dowell, Assistant Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
- Manuel Lladser, Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics
NSF funded the IQ Biology program in part because of the flexibility it gives graduate students who want to cross-train in multiple disciplines, and customize their education to meet their individual education and research goals. The state of Colorado has benefited greatly from IGERT grants. The University of Colorado has had four other IGERT-funded programs:
- The Graduate Training in Optical Sciences and Engineering (OSEP 2), led by Dana Anderson, professor of physics and JILA Fellow at CU-Boulder, implemented a new graduate training program in optical science. Students in the program produced an ultrastable atomic force microscope for studying proteins.
- The Interdisciplinary Graduate Education in Computational Optical Sensing and Imaging (COSI) program, led by Rafael Piestun, professor of electrical and computer engineering at CU-Boulder, focused on using interdisciplinary approaches to develop instrumentation and algorithms that use optical forces to manipulate particles, molecules and atoms.
- The Carbon, Climate and Society program, led by James White, professor of geological sciences and director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at CU-Boulder, used interdisciplinary education approaches to better train graduate students on the carbon cycle, climate change and human interactions with the environment.
- The Sustainable Urban Infrastructure-Integrating Engineering, Planning, Policy, Health and Human Behavior Perspectives, led by Anu Ramaswami, professor of civil engineering and director for the Center of Sustainable Infrastructure Systems at CU Denver, addressed the interconnections between infrastructure engineering, urban planning, public policy, health and human behavior that need to be explored to design effective and sustainable urban infrastructure systems.
Additional IGERT grants have been awarded to the University of Colorado Denver, Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines.