The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) is the Foundation's new traineeship program designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training.  NRT also seeks to catalyze and advance cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, and prepare STEM graduate students more effectively for multiple research and research-related career paths.

Introduction to INTERFACE

The vision of “NRT: Training Next-Generation Scientists with Experimental, Theoretical, and Computational Competencies for Complex Interfaces” (INTERFACE) at the University of Southern Mississippi is to train the next generation of materials researchers through interdisciplinary data-driven research, education, and professional development designed to equip graduates with the theoretical, computational, and experimental skills needed to address the grand challenges of the 21st century. In the traditional graduate education model, students are trained to gain expertise in either theoretical/computational methodologies, or in experimental methodologies, with in general little connectivity between the groups. Our vision is to immerse students in a new model of graduate training that combines theory with experiment, employs a common vocabulary, and develops expertise in both computational and experimental techniques.  Our goal is to provide students with the skills needed in industrial, academic, and national labs to drive American competitiveness and enable advanced materials innovation.  INTERFACE is directly aligned with the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) for global competitiveness of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, which invokes “a vision of how the development of advanced materials can be accelerated through advances in computational techniques”, and recognizes the need for training and education of the workforce in “a new, more integrated approach to materials development”.1

It is reported that national employment of doctorates in science and engineering is split roughly equally between academia and industry,2 but for those with doctorates in chemistry-related fields more than half are employed in industry.3 More than 90% of graduates of USM’s POLY and CHEM departments work in industry. Multiple reports have highlighted the skills that industrial employers need in newly hired PhD employees,4-7 8,9,10  where the primary requirement is technical depth in the focus area that is generally achieved through the traditional graduate education model. Other skills, including effective communication with a variety of audiences, ability to work in teams, creative problems posing and solving, innovative approaches, persistence, grit, and adaptability, are often deficient. These non-cognitive skills and their importance are often overlooked and not specifically addressed in traditional graduate programs. 

We will address these critical needs and the goals of the MGI through an immersive inter-disciplinary program lead by our diverse and collaborative team of PIs and senior personnel. Graduate students and faculty members will work together to pose and solve critical materials tasks at complex interfaces. Our goal is to apply computational techniques to accelerate advances in materials research and prepare rising scientists for the changing STEM landscape.  We hypothesize that by working in interdisciplinary teams with specific targets, research methods, findings, and results will be accelerated and students will graduate with the PhD in 5 years or less.  We are building on successful education and training practices from previous training programs (GK12, GAANN, IGERT) to cultivate  not only scientific prowess, but also the non-cognitive skills of verbal and written communication, workplace professional development behaviors, and focus on training a culturally diverse, well rounded cohort of NRT fellows and rising scientists. 

  1. Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/materials_genome_initiative-final.pdf
  2. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-8
  3. C&E News Salary Survey 2013. http://cen.acs.org/content/dam/cen/91/38/2013-Salary-Survey.pdf
  4. Skotheim, T. A.; Reynolds, J. R., Handbook of Conducting Polymers, Conjugated Polymers Processing and Applications. Third Edition ed.; CRC Press LLC2007.
  5. Zheng, Y.; Xue, J., Organic Photovoltaic Cells Based on Molecular Donor-Acceptor Heterojunctions. Polym. Rev. 2010, 50, 420-453.
  6. Langdon, D.; McKittrick, G.; Beede, D.; Khan, B.; Doms, M., STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future;.  ESA Issue Brief #03-11; U.S. Department of Commerce2011.
  7. The STEM Workforce Challenge: the Role of the Public Workforce System in a National Solution for a Competitive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce.  U.S. Department of Labor2007.
  8. Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences, ACS Report. http://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/about/governance/acs-commission-on-graduate-education-summary-report.pdf
  9. The Path Forward:  The Future of Graduate Education in The United States. http://www.fgereport.org/
  10. Challenges in Chemistry Graduate Education NAP Report. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13407