There was an emphasis on soft skills that I think was very beneficial. It also helped to expand our horizons beyond our own department by having the lab visits to different departments, which I think was an incredibly unique experience.
In 2016, the Advisory Board and Program Directors initiated a redesign of the training grant program to stay at the forefront of current developments in the field of biotechnology. Our new program theme - From Genomes and Biological Systems via Discovery and Synthesis to Products and Processes is divided into four thematic areas that serve as a conceptual framework for our cross-disciplinary curriculum. We have organized this program around areas critical for the future of biotechnology. These threads will guide the selection of course topics, workshops and seminars, retreats, and the development of our summer workshop. Our program has two core instructional components taken by trainees during their first year on the training grant. Our core course, Systems Analysis of Biological Processes, and a new summer workshop.
This group will give our trainees instructions in genome engineering, computational analysis, and visualization of biological interaction networks.
Trainees will receive instruction from these trainers in omics approaches and the application of cutting-edge probes and tools.
Trainers in this group are interested in the discovery and design of new protein and metabolic pathways with the goal of generating new cellular or protein functions for biotechnological applications. They use synthetic biology and computational design methods to create emergent functions. They combine molecular engineering strategies with computational design, thereby exposing trainees to quantitative and rational molecular design.
This group of faculty is experienced at implementing scientific discoveries and developments into applied technologies and products. They will expose trainees to aspects of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Originally developed by our training grant faculty in 2006 as a new Systems Analysis of Biological Processes course to teach quantitative concepts to our trainees, this course is now offered university-wide course with enrollment by students from different colleges. Trainees usually take this course in their second spring semester. This course is team-taught by seven faculty members.
This course is unique at the University of Minnesota, as lectures are accompanied by hands-on tutorial sessions and analysis of actual experimental data from faculty research using the computational and mathematical concepts taught in this class. Students perform data analysis throughout the semester as part of homework assignments and projects. For example, students learn to assemble microbial genomes and perform RNA-seq data analysis and then identify metabolic engineering targets to increase the production of an antibiotic or fine chemical.
The summer workshop is a new initiative launched in 2016. Students will participate in this workshop during the summer after they have completed the core course as a foundation for this workshop. They will design and engineer recombinant production platforms for chemicals (e.g. pharmaceutical, platform, or fine chemical) or biologics. Trainees with engineering and life sciences background will work together on a project. They will be required to combine their knowledge and approaches and to effectively communicate and exchange concepts and methods with each other. This workshop will be organized as initial sets of instructional sessions and a final project presentation session several weeks apart during which the teams will be working on their projects. Project teams will be mentored by faculty. Projects are chosen so that trainees apply methods learned in our core course. Trainees will use approaches from our thematic program focus areas.
Our muti-disciplinary seminars focus on opening trainees up to different laboratories and research. Seminars are held in different faculty laboratories, or through visits to local industry partners. This hands-on experience allows trainees to gain a broad understanding of reaserch developments outside of the traditional classroom.
All trainees are encouraged to attend national and international conferences and workshops in North America to broaden their perspectives. Trainees may receive a small annual travel stipend to attend conferences.
Trainees are also encouraged to attend campus workshops, short courses, and symposia, particularly in the area of commercialization. Trainees are also invited to present posters at a variety of workshops, short courses, and symposia organized on campus. Past workshop topics inlcude synthetic, chemical, and stem cell biology.