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October 5, 2006

New graduate training program brings together talents at UW, WSU

A new National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary graduate training program will bring together faculty and students in two academic areas — anthropology and biology — at two institutions, the UW and Washington State University.

The five-year Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) award was one of just a dozen funded proposals from a field of about 400 submissions, said Eric A. Smith, UW professor of anthropology and the new program’s director. It’s one of four IGERT programs at the UW, he said, which ties for the most awarded any institution.

The award establishes the IGERT Program in Evolutionary Modeling, (which in turn is called IPEM for short), a doctoral training program that emphasizes theory and modeling techniques that can be used to analyze both biological and cultural evolution, and train students in cutting-edge methods for such analyses. The program is designed to foster innovation in graduate training, and particularly to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The awards, Smith said, “are grants not for research per say, but grants to people who propose a new and innovative way to educate Ph.D. students, in whatever field or mix of fields.”

The program blends talents from both three units in all: The Department of Anthropology at the UW and the Department of Anthropology and School of Biological Sciences at WSU. Smith in the UW Anthropology Department is joined by fellow UW faculty members Ben Fitzhugh, Darryl Holman and Donna Leonetti in anthropology, Carl Bergstrom in biology and Joe Felsenstein in genome sciences. Tim Kohler, an archaeologist at WSU, is the program’s principal investigator.

Student fellows in the program — the ones on the receiving end of the new training — will be supported with funds for two years, with the possibility of an additional year to be determined by the NSF. This year, as the program ramps up, two fellows each were chosen from the UW and WSU. In coming years, up to nine or 10 fellows will be supported at once. The students from each institution will spend at least one term studying or doing research at the other university.

They may also study or do research at one of several other collaborating institutions: The Santa Fe Institute, the Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at University College London, Le Centre Universitaire de Recherche et de Documentation en Histoire et Archéologie in the Central African Republic, and the University of Costa Rica School of Biology.

The two students chosen from the UW this year are Megan Carney, a graduate student in biocultural anthropology, and Erik Gjesfjeld, in anthropology. Both are studying in the general area of applying Darwinian processes to cultural and biological systems. Gjesfjeld said this is done “to see whether the same processes work, and whether they can provide the same results.”

Gjesfjeld said, “At least for me and probably for all Fellows, this will be a central topic in our dissertations.” The four fellows of the new program recently held their first teleconference, he said. “Come winter and spring quarter, there will be two from WSU over here, and then next fall, Megan and I will go to WSU.”

For more information about the UW/WSU IGERT Program in Evolutionary Modeling, visit online at http://depts.washington.edu/ipem/index.shtml.