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 the 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 are also 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 their 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. Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Tom Cech is the current principal investigator of the program, and he 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 Boulder has had three other IGERT-funded programs:
- The Graduate Training in Optical Sciences and Engineering (OSEP 2), led by Professor of Physics and JILA Fellow, Dana Anderson, 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 Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rafael Piestun, 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 Professor of Geological Sciences and Director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, James White, used interdisciplinary education approaches to better train graduate students on the carbon cycle, climate change and human interactions with the environment.
Additional IGERT grants have been awarded to the University of Colorado Denver, Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines.
The BioFrontiers Institute began in 2003 as a grassroots effort between University of Colorado scientists to break down academic barriers and work across disciplines on significant challenges in biotechnology and biosciences. The Institute is led by Nobel Laureate Tom Cech and Chief Scientific Officer Leslie Leinwand, and includes faculty members from across CU. In addition to research and its applications, the BioFrontiers Institute is also focused on educating the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists, beginning with its Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology graduate certificate program. The IQ Biology program allows students to work toward a degree in one of eight academic departments, while receiving collaborative opportunities and research experience across many disciplines. For more information, visit http://biofrontiers.colorado.edu.