Category: interdisciplinary

Changes in the Life Sciences

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Integrated_Life_Sciences_2dai.jpgNot the sciences themselves, but a new UGA graduate education approach. The Integrated Life Sciences:

giving entering graduate students in the life sciences one of the nation's broadest range of research opportunities through its redesigned and expanded Integrated Life Sciences program.

More than 50 students recently started their studies in the relaunched program, which allows them to gain hands-on experience in three labs before selecting a major professor and research focus. The students can choose those labs from among a slate of more than 200 faculty members and 14 participating doctoral programs in four different colleges.

Nancy Manley, director of the program and a professor of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, explained that the remodeled ILS program expands upon the concept of umbrella programs, in which multiple departments partner in graduate recruitment. Students in the ILS program can rotate through labs in fields as disparate as entomology, biochemistry, infectious diseases and plant biology, for example, or explore interdisciplinary topics such as cancer, climate change, evolutionary biology or neurosciences.

Distinguished Research Professor Allen Moore of genetics gets even more explicit about the issue:

"The problem with graduate education in the U.S. is that we are stuck with a format that was invented in the 1950s when we had botany and zoology. That is not what modern scientists do," Moore said. "What we really do is use techniques from all over the biological sciences and use model organisms anywhere from plants to insects to microbes. We're not stuck in those departments any more."

This is a good sign of response and evolution on the part of faculty leaders who design our graduate programs. As leading-edge researchers, they know where the science is moving and hence the kind of broad expertise they want to hire. Beginning a formal process of training our graduate students for success in the field today is a great acknowledgement of an institutional willingness to change. More opportunities for the most promising graduate students is a priority.

Here's a video of Dr. Manley and some of our students talking about the ILS program.

Image: Jin Dai, a first-year student in the Integrated Life Sciences program, speaks to Jonathan Eggenschwiler, assistant professor in genetics, during a meet-and-greet, courtesy UGA photo services.

Graduate Student Research Conference

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grad students with posters

Franklin students share scientific research at symposium        

By Jessica Luton

jluton@uga.edu

Scientific research, and plenty of it, was on display this week at an interdisciplinary conference on UGA’s Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences. The 5th Annual Scientific Research Day, as it is known, is put together each year by the Graduate Students and Postdocs in Science (GSPS), a campus organization that came together a few years ago to help graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in science gain professional development.

The Franklin College of Arts and Sciences was well represented by students from the departments of chemistry, geology, genetics, microbiology and marine sciences, to name a few, but there were many students representing departments all over campus. 

The symposium featured poster sessions and oral presentations by students, as well as a captivating keynote address by Harvard Medical School neurobiologist David Clapham, entitled “Spermatozoa, Cilia and the Struggle of Existence.”

An annual interdisciplinary graduate research conference in the sciences is what you might expect to find on a campus like ours. Yet still I was thoroughly impressed by the enthusiasm on disply – for conducting research, making new discoveries and solving real world problems. Participation in a conference of this sort really helps students blur the boundaries between disciplines, learn from each other and think about things in new and different ways. 

One presentation given by Ashley Askew, a postdoctoral student at the Warnell School of Forrestry with a Ph.D. from Franklin’s department of statistics, was exemplary of the value of interdisciplinary conferences and knowledge exchange. 

Her project focused on a regional comparison of recreational activities through the year 2060, with climate change as a quantifiable factor in her projections, but her methodology, which she explained in great detail, could be used with any sort of research that assesses demand and forecasts trends, she said. 

Clapham’s keynote address at the end of the symposium expanded on the benefits of an interdisciplinary learning and dresearch environment. Trained as an electrical engineer at Georgia Tech, he obtained an M.D. and Ph.D. from Emory University and has continued his marriage of interdisciplinary study throughout his career. 

He completed his residency in internal medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and his post-doctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Goettingen, Germany. After several years on the faculty at the Mayo Clinic, he moved to the Children’s Hospital in Boston, where he directs cardiovascular research, and is a professor of nNeurobiology at Harvard Medical School.

Clapham’s research focuses on the role of calcium as a messenger within the cell and between cells, and identifying and characterizing ion channels in the body. His previous research has focused on calcium and ion channel, in regards to developing drugs to alleviate cardiac arrhythmias, but his talk at the symposium focused on fertility, the role of calcium and a gene known as CATSPER that plays an integral part in human reproduction and could lead to a new way to offer birth control without the use of hormones. The research is fascinating and you can read more about his lab here and here

I came away from the event with one overarching point: sharing knowledge and being unafraid to enter into new realms of learning only increases your ability to be a better researcher, no matter what your discipline. 

In the exchange of knowledge, attendees have the opportunity to learn from one another, advance research and offer fresh takes on topics in new and novel ways.   And that’s certainly something to be applauded. Kudos to GSPS for a great symposium.  Be sure to check out the abstracts of this year’s participants at the GSPS website and view the winners of this year’s symposium over at the Red and Black.  

Stone awarded People's Choice Award

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Stone_Brian outsideGraduate students often participate in conferences, in formal presentations and conversations about their work with other participants during poster sessions and other events. Most frequently, academic conferences are organized by discipline but the UGA Graduate Student Association tried something different in April with their Interdisciplinary Research Conference and it seems to have been an overwhelming success. Among the unusual outcomes was the presentation of People's Choice Award at the conference, which went to psychology graduate student Brian Stone:

Stone's research focuses on the way the brain uses information from the senses to keep track of where the body is in space. This sensory information lets the brain know what is part of the body and what is an outside object.

By manipulating people's senses in the lab, psychologists have found that the brain can be tricked.

In his presentation, Stone highlighted the connection between sensory psychology and fields like robotics and engineering. Short-term applications include designing better prosthetics.

"(We can use) sensory tricks to incorporate an external object, like a prosthetic, into the body for someone like an amputee," Stone said.

The chance to discuss these broader implications of his research was what drew Stone to present at the Interdisciplinary Research Conference.

The idea of a conference like this is great and the Grad Student Association is to be commended. They know the importance of getting feedback from outside their disciplines and interacting with colleagues from other areas, which is why they organized such a conference. Even picking a favorite presentation is less of a competition and more of an acknowledgement of insightful work. Great job, and congratulations to Stone for being the People's Choice.

Futurefarmer Franceschini to visit UGA

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The Lamar Dodd School of Art, The Willson Center and ICE bring interdisciplinary artist Amy Franceschini to campus on March 6.

Franceschini will deliver the lecture[ 4 p.m., 101 MLC] "Art is a Verb," which focuses on her recent work with sustainable energy, urban food production and dialogues between artists and scientists. She is the founder of Futurefarmers, a critically acclaimed group of artists and designers who have worked together since 1995. Their innovative studio produces art projects, design for print and interactive websites, workshops and research that explores social, cultural and environmental systems. Futurefarmers hosts artists from around the world in residency programs that offer a platform for collaboration and research.