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Presentation at the Celebrating Excellence awards reception.

“Celebrating Excellence” Helps Create Interdisciplinary Collaboration

On October 26, the Graduate College welcomed fellowship recipients and postdoctoral scholars to its Celebrating Excellence awards reception. Featuring speakers Drs. Tamara Underiner, Brian Smith, and Jennifer Cason of the Graduate College, the event was an opportunity for fellowship recipients to be recognized for their scholarship and learn and discuss additional ways of securing funding in new and non-traditional manners. Among the attendees were recipients of the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship and Achievement Rewards for College Sciences (ARCS), as well as the Graduate College’s signature Interdisciplinary Enrichment Fellowship, Graduate College Fellowship and Completion Fellowship.

Customarily, the emphasis of graduate education has been discipline-specific, with assistantships and grants awarded accordingly. With an increasing focus on interdisciplinary exploration and development of flexible research toolsets adaptable to multiple career trajectories, there has been a corresponding shift in funding allocation.

“Traditional means of funding have evolved,” said Dr. Cason, Director of Graduate Student Support Resources. “We are now seeing an increasing number of interdisciplinary RFPs (requests for proposals) put out by NSF and other national funding agencies.” For instance, the Achievement Rewards for College Sciences (ARCS) fellowship program recognizes the importance of advancing science through interdisciplinary scholarly collaboration as reflected in the work of ARCS scholar Christopher Gisriel. Gisriel, is a PhD biochemistry graduate student who is working to better understand the structure and function of a protein called a reaction center by collaborating with scholars from biology, biochemistry, and biophysics.

Developing interdisciplinary approaches and exploring the intersections of what used to be disciplinary boundaries—in other words, recognizing ways to mobilize knowledge in broader applications not confined to specific disciplines—is a key for graduate students looking for funding opportunities.

In addition to gaining insight into the process of securing funding, whether it be through a career, grant or fellowship, award recipients had the opportunity to network with one another for future interdisciplinary collaborations in their own research.

The importance of interdisciplinary networking was really the larger takeaway of the event. Opportunities like this event are exciting because they allow graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to break out of their disciplinary silos and showcase the broader applicability of their research.

“We had so many clearly talented people in the room together,” stressed Dr. Underiner, associate dean for academic affairs at the Graduate College. “They [the scholars] had the chance to make connections in unexpected ways across disciplines.”

By bringing together scholars from diverse disciplines the Graduate College can promote dynamic new research avenues. “Who knows what kind of synergistic brilliance will happen once they start collaborating,” observed Underiner.

Approximately fifty graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty, and graduate staff and administrators attended the event at the Tempe campus’ Memorial Union Building. Graduate College funding opportunities can be found on the Graduate College website. Stories of graduate students impacting social change can be found at: https://graduate.asu.edu/newsletter/impact