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Sept. 6, 2018

MSU nets $3M NSF grant for STEM graduate education

The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program recently awarded Michigan State University $3 million to develop and implement graduate education traineeship models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. 

"Innovative approaches are vital to transforming STEM graduate education," said Jim Lewis, acting assistant director for NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate. "By supporting approaches that utilize evidence-based learning practices, immersing students in interdisciplinary research and providing students with opportunities to develop career-aligned skillsets, NRT projects are helping change the landscape of graduate education and better prepare future STEM scientists for diverse careers."

The grant, awarded to Shin-Han Shiu, a professor in the Department of Plant Biology at MSU, went to be used to train doctoral students who can employ advanced computational and data science approaches to address grand challenges in plant biology. MSU’s award was part of NSF’s $51 million announcement, which was distributed to 19 other universities. 

Plants are indispensable for life on earth, providing food, energy and oxygen, as well as the basis for many manmade products. A better understanding of plant science will lead to more secure plant resources, which is even more important given the rapidly increasing global population. 

Genomics research has significantly advanced our understanding about how plants function, with the application of genomics yielding datasets that could revolutionize plant science and lead to safe, reliable and sustainable production of food and biofuels. To achieve these outcomes, there is a critical need for scientists with both an understanding of plant biology and computational skills. 

The project anticipates training approximately 70 doctoral students, including 38 funded trainees from plant biology and computational data science programs. 

Trainees will engage in research and coursework that emphasize tackling grand challenge questions in plant biology by leveraging computational approaches. Training will go beyond the traditional genomics and bioinformatics approaches in plant biology to include the advanced training in computation and modeling required to handle increasingly heterogeneous, multi-scale data from the molecular to ecosystem levels. 

This type of training will allow students to tackle complex questions, such as investigating genotype-phenotype relationships across the plant tree of life or machine learning for high-dimensional plant data. In addition, the program features professional development opportunities, outreach activities and industry/governmental internships that serve to broaden trainees' career options while also improving their ability to communicate with a wide range of audiences. 

Upon completion of the training program, trainees will have a core understanding of plant and computational sciences, excel in interdisciplinary biological and computational research and possess effective communication, leadership, management, teaching and mentoring skills. 

The NSF Research Traineeship Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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