About the Soft Materials for Life Sciences National Research Traineeship (SMLS-NRT)



This traineeship engages faculty and students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in a graduate education model that trains students in T-shaped skills. The vertical bar on the T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one's own. The program will provide training breadth across multiple professional and other technical skill areas while developing quality depth in the trainee’s area of specialization. Life scientists, physical scientists and engineers will be brought together to generate dynamic team leadership skills and to catalyze innovation. The program is designed to serve both masters and doctoral students in the science and engineering workforce. 74 students will be trained, many of them directing their career aims beyond research or academia to work in industry, government, and teaching-intensive professional jobs. Connections to industry, facilitated by the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst, will benefit the trainees and strengthen the broader life sciences ecosystem. This training is essential for preparing highly skilled STEM students for the modern economy of the 21st century. New knowledge and paradigms will generated for the broader graduate education community. The program has a strong evaluation and feedback component to ensure that its methods and effectiveness are measureable and impactful.

The program will engage students in the disciplines of polymer science and engineering, immunology, food science, and several engineering fields in a multi-year training program aimed to develop new models for graduate training. Specific focus is given to T-shaped skill development. The research theme of applying polymeric materials to technical challenges in the life sciences such as drug delivery methods and personalized health monitoring devices, enables an excellent ground for meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration. The project outcome will be a demonstrated, well-evaluated model for transformative graduate training that is effective in developing T-shaped professionals. The program features an intensive "Year Two Experience" that combines an interdisciplinary course in technical topics related to the research theme, professional development workshops and training activities, and interdisciplinary lab training modules. Completing all requirements will earn the student a graduate certificate in Soft Materials for Life Sciences. This model is designed to facilitate a superior graduate training experience for both M.S. and Ph.D. students, while not adversely impacting time-to-degree. The research theme, from which collaborative research projects will spring, features two primary concentrations: Engineering Immunological Soft Materials (enabling immunologists to collaborate with polymer specialists) and Materials for Sensor Monitoring (supporting collaborations between engineers and polymer scientists). A science-of-science study conducted throughout the NRT project will explore the dynamics and efficacy of interdisciplinary collaboration by students in this program. The program has a strong evaluation and feedback component to ensure that its methods and effectiveness are measureable and impactful.

About the SMLS logo artist: Mary Martinéz is a watercolor painter with a passion for painting people. Her day job is helping organizations recognize the value that individual differences bring to achievement of their goals, and creating this painting was an exciting way to combine her love of art and commitment to diversity and inclusion. She can be reached at artsymary@gmail.com.