Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs at Virginia Tech
The Graduate School supports 14 Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs to promote and sustain interdisciplinary graduate education and research at Virginia Tech. Additional interdisciplinary graduate programs have been developed by colleges, schools, departments and units across the university. Each program addresses a major fundamental problem or complex societal issue requiring an interdisciplinary team of scholars. More than 300 graduate students are affiliated with the university’s interdisciplinary programs. We provide information below, but you also can learn more about them, and their requirements, in the Graduate Catalog and on the program's websites. Links to both are included in the descriptions below.
Bio-build answers the pressing societal need for professionals with the interdisciplinary expertise necessary to create buildings and communities that are in fact bioinspired. Graduates will have an immediate impact in university and industrial settings, and they will change the relationship between the built environment and our planet. This requires a radical shift in how we understand buildings by bringing together faculty from departments in College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS), College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE), College of Engineering (COE), and College of Science (COS) and collaborating with interdisciplinary university centers such as the CMI, to develop a program that explores building systems and biological systems synergistically to discover innovative connections between these two fields.
The Biological Transport IGEP (formerly called MultiSTEPS) aims to prepare future leaders of industrial and academic research to think, collaborate, and solve problems at the intersection of the engineering and biological sciences. The program is based on a systematic process of increasingly interdisciplinary coursework, student interaction, community development, and cross-disciplinary research experience and will include strong ethics and professional development components. Key components of this program include an interactive seminar series; cross disciplinary education, including both new and existing courses; exposure to research on an international level; and a collaborative grant proposal competition. The goal of BIOTRANS is to establish a sustainable framework of interdisciplinary education and research that trains future leaders of academic and industrial research to think, collaborate, and contribute at the intersection of the biological and engineering sciences.
Imagine a child with a skin injury who walks into a drugstore to purchase a Band-aid containing cells that will heal the injury. Imagine a patient with a damaged liver not having to wait years for a transplant but having the organ regenerated from his own liver cells. Imagine being able to test the side effects of drugs on artificial tissue cultures in lieu of expensive animal testing and complex clinical trials.
Such is the promise of the field of tissue engineering. Despite tremendous developments, the field requires high-throughput assays and instruments to reduce the cost, time, and complexity; novel biomaterials that support multiple cell types in defined spatial configurations; biochemical assays to monitor the interaction of cells with biomaterials and their environment; and predictive computational models for engineering functional tissues.
We train students at the confluence of tissue engineering, molecular and cell biology, and computational science. Our vision is that trainees will emerge as the leaders of the trans-disciplinary field of “Computational Tissue Engineering.”
In the 21st century, we are increasingly vulnerable to disasters due to reliance on interconnected technologies and concentrations of people and power. Risk is the overarching theme that underlies our quest for resilience. One of the key reasons our risk continues to grow is the way we live. Concentrations of people, power, technology, education, and knowledge lower resilience.
Dependency is another risk factor: every time we add a link, it generates a node that can fail. How do we define risk? How do we communicate risk? How do different people perceive risk? How do we mitigate risk? The solution is to adopt trans-disciplinary thinking and action, including common experience, language, perspective, and objectives.
To learn more, visit our webpage. Also visit our catalog page.
The research paradigm exemplified by the Human Genome Project requires a new academic training paradigm, one that creates team-oriented researchers who may be specialists in one area but who are literate in several other disciplines. For example, researchers with expertise in the mathematical, statistical, or computer sciences also require sufficient knowledge in biology to understand the questions in order to develop appropriate analytical methods and computer tools. Similarly, life scientists need sufficient grounding in mathematics, statistics and computer science to be educated users of these quantitative methods and tools, and to conceptualize new tools.
Human Centered Design (HCD) is an emerging design philosophy charged with understanding the processes and methodologies in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end-users are integrated at every stage of the design process. HCD can be characterized as a multi-stage process of problem definition and solution that not only requires designers to analyze and foresee how users are likely to use a product, but also to test the validity of their assumptions with regards to user behavior in real world tests with actual users.
HCD creates novel learning and discovery opportunities that are needed to train the future professoriate, workforce, and professional / civic leaders. HCD, however, can only be taught in a true interdisciplinary educational environment in which coursework and research embrace diversity, inclusiveness, educational breadth, and interdependence, while promoting a person-oriented, rather than a product-oriented, attitude towards education.
The HCD/IGEP degree is build around competencies in four core areas: Creative Problem Solving,Computational Practices, Interdisciplinary Research, and Humane Understanding.
To learn more, visit our website. Also visit our catalog page.
The Infectious Disease (ID) IGEP will train a new generation of interdisciplinary infectious disease scholars. The ID IGEP aims to advance knowledge of the biology of pathogens, vectors, and hosts, the science of prevention and treatment, as well as the environmental, social, and behavioral aspects of public health. The program will train PhD students that select to work in a home laboratory from the over 100 faculty members in six colleges and 31 departments affiliated with the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens (CeZAP). Students participating in the ID IGEP will learn to:
- Tackle societal challenges related to infectious disease by integrating multiple diverse viewpoints
- Master technical skills necessary to solve complex ID research questions in a transdisciplinary manner
- Excel in coursework, while learning to apply strategies to predict and circumvent the risk of disease emergence affecting humans, animals and plants
- Communicate their research effectively to others outside of their field of study
- Participate as a member of a cross-campus ID community through activities such as poster sessions, research seminars and symposia that foster professional development
- Partner with agencies, industry and the public to address ID issues beyond Virginia Tech
The overarching goal of the IGC IGEP Program is to provide doctoral students with a unique interdisciplinary perspective and skill set that will enable them to tackle complex problems at the interfaces of global change. Specifically, the program will:
- Create a learning community of scholars with a deep and holistic understanding of how the major global threats can interact to influence the environment and society.
- Foster an environment where students learn the “languages” of scholars in different fields, breaking down traditional disciplinary borders to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration.
- Inspire young scientists to consider how their research, both the questions they pursue and the scientific approaches they utilize, may influence public policy and society.
- Create an environment where young natural scientists, social scientists, health scientists and engineers interact closely and learn how to effectively communicate their scientific findings with one another and to decision-making.
The Macromolecular Science and Engineering graduate degree (MACR) is an interdisciplinary program at Virginia Tech beginning Fall semester, 2001. This is a university-based degree program spanning multiple departments and colleges to emphasize fundamental and emerging technological areas in the field of macromolecular science and engineering. The interdisciplinary curriculum is comprised of a core requirement and modular approach to coursework. A key feature of this modular approach is the flexible integration of cutting-edge research with graduate training.
The Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) program is an interdisciplinary program with faculty from six departments across Virginia Tech as well as from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. Incoming students may choose research projects from four research areas: Cell Signaling and Cancer, Inflammation and Immunity, Microbiology and Virology, as well as Neurobiology.
The vision of the MCB program is to develop and cultivate an inclusive environment that advances scientific curiosity, learning, and creativity; that values ethical conduct; that encourages community outreach and involvement; and that emboldens independent thinking and collaborations alike.
Regenerative medicine (RM) is a new medical approach that seeks to restore both structure and function of tissues lost to injury, disease or congenital defects. This field incorporates use of stem cells, proteins that stimulate healing, and engineered biomaterials to help cure diseases from diabetes to osteoarthritis. Regenerative strategies are modeled on mechanisms drawn from embryonic development and naturally-occurring examples of regeneration. This field represents a paradigm shift in biology, medicine and biomedical engineering. Ethical and societal impacts need to be considered as this rapidly expanding technology is developed.
To learn more, see our website. Also visit our catalog page.
We seek to build on extant strengths to become the only interdisciplinary remote sensing program in the nation that incorporates all aspects of remote sensing, including engineering, theory, data analysis, applications, and policy. Remote sensing provides technical and methodological approaches to holistically study human activities that have an impact on the Earth’s sometimes poorly understood physical processes. Remote sensing can be defined as the acquisition of information about an object without making physical contact with it.
Science and Technology Studies (STS) is a growing field that draws on the full range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities to examine the ways that science and technology shape, and are shaped by, our society, politics, and culture.
The primary research goal of the SuN IGEP is to facilitate the incorporation of sustainable design concepts in the nanotechnology field. The sustainability of a particular technology is often an afterthought in the design process; however, because nanotechnology is still in its infancy there is significant potential to proactively direct the field towards sustainable design. Achievement of this ambitious goal will require substantial longterm effort and a range of expertise that incorporates not only scientists and engineers, but also economists and social scientists.
Our research-intensive, multidisciplinary Ph.D. program in the biomedical and health sciences emphasizes the concept of “translational science” across multiple levels of inquiry. We bring together students from the life, behavioral, physical, engineering, and computational sciences to consider today’s major health challenges.
Obesity is one of the most complex public health problems facing the nation and world today. More than a third of Americans and over one billion people worldwide are obese. Significant progress has been made in basic science discoveries related to the regulation of energy balance and in identifying efficacious lifestyle and pharmacologic approaches to manage obesity under tightly controlled conditions in primarily academic healthcare settings. However, there is little information available regarding the clinical relevance of many basic science discoveries or in the translation of promising clinical interventions to evidenced‐based practice.
Human health and prosperity depend on nutrition and energy derived from plants, but the world’s rising population and dwindling resources place ever-increasing pressure on our agricultural systems (highlighted in a recent focus issue of Science on Food Security, 12 Feb 2010). New experimental tools have revolutionized our ability to understand how plants grow and respond to environmental challenges (e.g., pathogen invasion, highlighted in a recent focus issue of Science on Plant-Microbe Interactions, 8 May 2009). However, we now face the challenge of translating this basic understanding into practical benefits.
This interdisciplinary faculty group is united by a central focus of “Water for Health”, spanning from “pipes to people”. Clean water is a common topic discussed in many classrooms and research laboratories around this campus. Yet, the complexity of societal issues related to water shortages, purity, and quality, which influence water consumption and its role in human health, highlights the need for increased interdisciplinary dialogue and problem-solving capabilities. This Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP) unites graduate students and faculty in addressing technical and societal challenges of transforming low-quality water resources into clean water for healthy living.