ture, biomedical scientists must be well versed in scientific topics beyond the range of traditional biology. Beginning exposure to these topics early is one key to educating biomedical researchers who deal easily with interdisciplinary research projects. Some graduate students are currently studying in this way, but many are not. Interdisciplinary education is even less common at the undergraduate level. For graduate students in biology, funding is most frequently provided by NIH, NSF, or HHMI. However, few fellowships are targeted for interdisciplinary graduate study. NSF developed the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program to meet the challenges of preparing Ph.D. scientists and engineers with the “multidisciplinary backgrounds and the technical, professional, and personal skills needed for the career demands of the future” (National Science Foundation, 2000). The Whitaker Foundation offers Graduate Fellowships in Biomedical Engineering and has also provided funding to stimulate the creation of new departments or programs in biomedical engineering throughout the country. The Burroughs Wellcome Foundation offers Bridging Support for Physical/Computational Scientists Entering Biology and, in the past, supported a program for universities called Institutional Awards at the Scientific Interface that funded the development of interdisciplinary training programs for graduate and postdoctoral students.


The ways in which students are taught and learn biology are as important as the content of the material covered. The large lecture courses that are still the usual format for lower-division science classes often fail to keep the attention of some students. Recent research in education has validated several important insights into optimal conditions for student learning, as summarized, for example, in the NRC Report How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (NRC, 1999a). The report was written by a committee that included cognitive scientists, psychologists, and experts in research on education. The key findings of How People Learn were that:

  1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for the purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.

  2. To develop confidence in an area of inquiry, students must (a) have a deep

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