Nature does not align itself neatly into the pigeonholes of biology, chemistry, math, physics or engineering. Rather, the natural world crisscrosses disciplinary boundaries with complex abandon. And as our body of knowledge of this complexity increases, so does the requirement for a higher threshold of scientific competency and greater interdisciplinary skill among researchers and educators.
Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) awards to 21 doctorategranting institutions, totaling $54.5 million over five years, specifically to stimulate and cultivate more well-rounded scientists and engineers with greater interdisciplinary competence.
"NSF has long recognized the demand for a high level of crossdisciplinary knowledge and expertise and is cultivating a 'new breed' of scientist and engineer through the IGERT program," said NSF’s Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources, Luther S. Williams.
This is the second year for these NSF training grants. Their intent is to produce scientists and engineers who are well-prepared for a broad spectrum of emerging career opportunities in industry, government and academe.
IGERT allows students an in-depth, multidisciplinary education through coursework and research experience. A high priority is placed on students' communication and teamwork skills, international awareness, experience with modern instrumentation and responsible conduct of research.
Rita Colwell, NSF director, says that the IGERT program is generating a culture change and new perspectives, for both students and faculty, on the role of researchers and their career opportunities.
"The interdisciplinary programs, and student internships in industry, government and abroad, provide new opportunities for students, faculty and institutions," Colwell told IGERT grantees at a recent meeting at NSF. "By building on the strengths of different departments and institutions, we are making graduate education more useful to students and more responsive to national needs," she said.
"IGERT is the first program to integrate education and research at the graduate level," Williams said. In 1998, the National Science Board recommended changes to the federal government-university partnership in graduate education, including tightening the integration of research and education, in part, to broaden the career options of graduates to extend beyond traditional academic positions. The National Academy of Science’s Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), also recommended repairing the "misalignment" between how graduate students are trained and what employers seek. COSEPUP's 1995 report, Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers, also recommended that communication and teamwork skills, multidisciplinary and applied research experience, and adaptability, be essential elements in training.
Graduate students supported under IGERT will be exposed to multidisciplinary graduate programsdeveloped by the awardee institutionsin emerging areas of science and engineering, areas that percolate through traditional boundaries and unite faculty from several departments or institutions. Supported projects are based upon a multidisciplinary research theme and are organized around a diverse group of investigators. The projects will also offer experiences relevant to both academic and nonacademic careers by linking graduate research with research in industry, national laboratories and other non-academic settings.
All NSF directorates are participating in support of the IGERT program, as well as NSF's Office of Polar Programs and the EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) program office.