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Digital Plant Science training grant to implement new model for cross-disciplinary education

-Magdalen Lindeberg

Meeting the growing challenges of food security and environmental stewardship will require plant scientists capable of working across disciplines and broadly trained in skills for collaborative project development.  The recently announced NSF Research Traineeship for Digital Plant Science (NRT DPS), led by SIPS faculty member Mike Scanlon and four co-PIs, addresses these needs and brings an exciting new dimension to the training of Cornell plant scientists. The NRT DPS will provide awardees with training encompassing elements of plant biology, engineering, and computer science, experience naviating the spectrum from investigation to translation, and communication and team skills suited for diverse career paths.

Traineeships will provide 2 years of stipend support and continued professional training to 18 students (6 per year) selected from among 8 grad fields. Award recipients will progress through an interactive core curriculum starting with four intensive modules taken in their first semester. In their second semester, they will begin research training with team rotation projects, designed to enable collaborative, interdisciplinary student interactions. Following completion of rotations, trainees will select labs for their thesis projects, with dissertation research likewise conducted as part of an interdisciplinary team. Training in scientific communication, project management, and leadership will be integrated into the curriculum, including the opportunity for 1-3 month internships with industry partners. Courses and seminars developed for the NRT DPS will be open to all students, faculty and staff in affiliated academic units at Cornell, as well as to BTI and USDA-ARS.

Co-investigators and other core participants include Abe Strook (Chem & Biol Eng), Hakim Weatherspoon (CS), Ying Sun (SIPS), and Mingming Wu (BEE), Carla Gomes (CS), Susan McCouch (SIPS), Adrienne Roeder (SIPS), Ed Buckler (USDA), and Willie Pearson (Georgia Tech). Twelve additional Cornell faculty have agreed to participate in curriculum development for the program.

Increasing the diversity of trainees is a major goal of the NRT DPS. Faculty participants will leverage existing connections to minority serving institutions and an external advising committee composed of Willie Pearson, Cornell faculty, and representatives from three partnering minority serving institutions will provide feedback and assessment. Mentorship is integrated into the program through frequent engagement between faculty and trainees and active oversight by designated mentoring teams to ensure that critical training milestones are met. graphic showing timeline for DPS traineesThe NSF-NRT program has awarded a total of $49 million to 17 institutions across the United States to develop and implement graduate education traineeship models in STEM fields.  All of the NRT projects involve research that cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries and that intentionally provides inclusive training for diverse graduate student cohorts.

Read more:

NRT-HDR – September 2019 – August 2024 ($2,998,051): Team training to develop new hardware and software applications for digital plant science across multiple scales

NSF press release: NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program testing new approaches to STEM graduate education

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