MSU nets $3M NSF grant for STEM graduate education

  • Sep 11, 2018
  • STEM fields, Plant science, graduate students, NSF, grant, research
  • Homepage Hero, Faculty & Staff, Research, Students, CMSE, College of Natural Science, Plant Biology

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

Image of 21 faculty trainers for the grant program
A team of MSU faculty members will train approximately 70 doctoral students over the next five years, better preparing them to answer grand challenge questions in plant biology. Photo courtesy of Shin-Han Shiu.

The five-year grant (2018-2023), awarded to a team of 21 faculty trainers in six MSU departments in the Colleges of Natural Science, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Engineering, will 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 among 17 universities nationally. 

“Application of genomics and other high-throughput approaches has yielded data sets with the potential to revolutionize plant sciences, and to ensure safe, reliable, and sustainable production of food and biofuels for a rapidly increasing global population, “said Shin-Han Shiu, a professor in NatSci’s Department of Plant Biology and principal investigator for the grant. “To achieve this, there is a critical need for next-generation scientists with both an understanding of plant biology and computational skills to handle complex, multi-scale data from the molecular to ecosystem levels.”

The project, "Integrated Training PrograM in Plant And CompuTational Sciences" (IMPACTS), anticipates training approximately 70 doctoral students, including 38 funded trainees from plant biology and computational data science programs. The project’s 21 faculty trainers, who have existing collaborations and expertise across the computational and plant science disciplines, will serve as project mentors.

“This dual-advisor model of mentoring will provide a unique research environment that allows trainees to answer grand challenge questions in plant science that entail harnessing the data revolution,” Shiu said.

The 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. 

“The outcome of this training grant will be professionals prepared to address complex plant science problems using advanced computational and data science approaches and enter the workforce in a wide range of settings,” Shiu said. “The program will also affect training and theoretical advances in computational and data science as the large, high-dimensional, and noisy biological data sets have unique challenges and will spur development of novel approaches and algorithms.”

Shiu also noted that the pedagogical approaches developed as part of this initiative will broadly inform training practices for interdisciplinary education and infuse computational/data science in biological disciplines beyond plant biology. Additionally, the program aims to broaden participation of first-generation, female, and underrepresented groups in computational plant sciences through partnerships with an array of MSU programs.

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


Banner image: A better understanding of plant science will lead to more secure plant resources. Future advances will be greatly enhanced by providing next-generation scientists with both plant biology and computational skills to handle complex, multi-scale data from the molecular to ecosystem levels. Image courtesy of MSU.