Binghamton University-HHMI Program: Interdisciplinary research for undergraduate majors in science and engineering

Program Goals | How to Participate | Current Project Titles

Program goals

Biologists increasingly work with mathematicians, computer scientists, physical scientists and engineers as they investigate complex, interacting systems.  Physical scientists and engineers look to living organisms for possible solutions to the problems they seek to solve. This has created a need, and new career opportunities, for scientists and engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists who can work across disciplines on problems relating to the life sciences. 

The goal of this HHMI-funded program is to attract and prepare undergraduate students, especially those groups underrepresented in their disciplines, for future careers in the biomedical and life sciences by involving them in interdisciplinary research across STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. To prepare Binghamton University students, this program provides a year-long interdisciplinary research experience focused on problems and questions relating to the life sciences. 

Undergraduate students will work in teams that represent two or more disciplines – one relating to the life sciences and another relating to the physical sciences, mathematics, computer science or engineering. 

Students will learn to:

  1. conduct research relating to the life sciences with a strong quantitative component
  2. communicate and work with peers and mentors in their own field of study
  3. communicate and work with peers and mentors in other fields of study in science and engineering

The program also aims to increase the representation of undergraduate students belonging to groups underrepresented in their disciplines are they are especially encouraged to apply. 

Graduate students who participate as research mentors for the undergraduate students in the program will learn how to be effective mentors, especially in an interdisciplinary research setting. This will prepare them to be leaders of interdisciplinary research teams throughout their careers.  

The Project

Undergraduate research

Undergraduate majors in disciplines based in the life sciences and undergraduate majors in the physical sciences, mathematics, computer science, systems science and engineering will work together on projects relating to the life sciences. Students will work in teams with faculty mentors on an interdisciplinary collaborative project. Undergraduates will be supported for nine weeks of full-time research in the summer, to be followed by two semesters of continuing interdisciplinary research. As the students progress in the program, they will be asked to submit reflective essays to chart their own development as researchers, their growing independence and changes in working relationships with mentors and the rest of their team. To help with their growth, the program will provide training about the process of interdisciplinary research and ethical decision making for the responsible conduct of research. In addition, there will be many occasions for students to present their work to diverse audiences that include professionals from their own and collaborating disciplines – research group meetings, a poster event at the end of the summer session, a scientific conference, and possibly contribution to the preparation of a manuscript. Students are highly encouraged to progress to the point of completing an honor’s thesis or senior project. 

Faculty support, graduate mentor and student training

To maximize the likelihood of success of undergraduate students in their first efforts at interdisciplinary research, we will provide venues for faculty to forge collaborations, design projects suitable for undergraduates and tailor expectations to the academic preparation of the students. We will hold discussions on the nature, benefits and risks of interdisciplinary research, the need to train the next generation in working across disciplines and practices that others have found to work well. Graduate student mentors and undergraduate students will attend separate workshops on interdisciplinary work, responsible conduct in research and the research mentoring process. 

Formulating best practices

In academic institutions, most research training at the undergraduate level is done within the students' own field of study. Interdisciplinary research at the undergraduate level is not common. Therefore, our program will conduct a systems science-based analysis with the goal of ascertaining best practices that:

  1. lead to successful research outcomes and career training for undergraduate students
  2. help faculty maximize research outcomes and student training as they incorporate undergraduate students into their interdisciplinary research programs
  3. provide effective training for graduate students who work as research mentors to the undergraduate research students
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How To Participate

Faculty members with ideas for a project or are interested in meeting potential collaborating faculty, please fill out a BUHHMI project application/inquiry form (.doc, 42kb). Send the form to Elizabeth Button ebutton@binghamton.edu.

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Current Project Titles

Please visit our Current Projects page for project titles and descriptions.

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Last Updated: 10/7/13