Montana State University
TitleMolecular Biosciences Program: Strategic Graduate Student Enrichment Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentMolecular Biosciences Program/The Graduate School
RequestorStephanie Cunningham Phone406-994-6652
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts Cell Biology and Neuroscience; Chemical and Biological Engineering; Chemistry and Biochemistry, Computer Science; Earth Sciences, Ecology, Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Mathematics, Microbiology, Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, and Veterinary Molecular Biology and three research centers: Center for Biofilm Engineering, Center for BioInspired Materials and the Thermal Biology Institute
Proposed Dates Start: July 1, 2013 End: June 30, 2016
Investment is required to sustain and grow the Molecular Biosciences Program (MBSP) to build upon the investment for the development of efficient and productive research programs at MSU. Increasing the number of stipends offered per year, in addition, to the much needed student support would allow the MBSP to attract a higher number of exceptional Ph.D. candidates. The higher caliber students are more successful and increase our retention and graduation rates in STEM Ph.D. numbers. MBSP would, also, strive to continue to increase our minority graduate student numbers.
Montana State University’s Strategic Plan sets overarching goals for the university and relies on the MSU community to contribute to its success. Describe briefly how your proposal addresses a primary objective from the Strategic Plan. If applicable, a second objective may be included.
MSU prepares students to graduate equipped for careers and further education.
• MSU students frequently earn graduate scholarships and fellowships from federal granting agencies and a variety of other funding organizations that help student pursue graduate education at MSU and other prestigious institutions.
• At the graduate level, MSU students have received a variety of prestigious honors and awards, including Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Fellowships, Student Emmy Awards, Fulbright Fellowships and Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Awards.

Our current Molecular Biosciences program fellows have been awarded graduate fellowships, postdoctoral positions, published in peer-reviewed journals and been active members of the MSU research community.

In MSU’s strategic plan the metric L.2.2. states that by 2019, the number of graduate degrees awarded will increase from 548 to 625 per year. The number of doctoral degrees awarded will increase from 56 to 80 per year. The MBSP has and will help MSU achieve that goal. In order to increase the graduation rate by fifteen percent we will need to make sure we attract successful, well-prepared students who will be able to complete doctoral degrees. Also, MSU is a research-intensive institution with a high need for quality doctoral students to support research active laboratories across campus in multiple departments. The continued efforts of our program along with additional student support and interdisciplinary research incentives will allow us to continue and grow as a successful research university. A strong, active, and supportive graduate student program will be essential for MSU to meet goals set forth in its current strategic plan.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries 165000  165000  165000         
Benefits 10395  10395  10395         
Materials & Supplies              
Contracted Services              
Other Operations 25072  41372  58372         
TOTAL 200467  216767  233767     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.
8 Fellow Stipends $22,000 per student for year one and $11,000 for half a year of support
FY13 5 fellows x 22,000  = 176,000 for year one
5 fellows x 11,000 = 55 ,000 for half year of support in FY !4
FY14 5 fellows x 22,000  = 176,000 for year one
5 fellows x 11,000 = 55 ,000 for half year of support in FY15
FY15 5 fellows x 22,000  = 176,000 for year one
5 fellows x 11,000 = 55 ,000 for half year of support in FY 16
  The MBSP funds students for 1 1/2 years of their doctoral program.  In order to continue funding at the current structure,  support would need to be placed in an account for the next years half year of support. $22,000 for the five fellows and  additional $55,000 to support them July to December in the next fiscal year. The program will recruit eight fellows total per year with 5 being funded from investment funds and an additional 3 funded through the exsiting institutional support.
Other Operations
Fellow Fees & Insurance
FY13 5 fellows x $3400 = $17,000
FY14 10 fellows x $3400  = $34,000
FY15 15 fellows x $3400 = $51,000
  The MBSP needs to guarentee a competitive admission package for top students.  Providing a guarentee of fees and insurance regardless of PI funding would be a real asset to the program.
Student Summer Stipends
FY13  $1843 x 4 students x 1 month = $7372.00
FY14  $1843 x 4 students x 1 month = $7372.00
FY15  $1843 x 4 students x 1 month = $7372.00
  The MBSP would like to foster interdisciplinary research and courses to continue past initatives such as an IGERT Grant.  The scientific grant writing course and python sequencing course are important courses in graduate students' success.  The student summer stipends would allow the program to compensate faculty willing to help teach these courses in student 'buy out' costs.  The program would fund one month of one of their graduate students summer stipend to incentivize their efforts.
Describe the Proposal

A recruiting and graduate fellowship program, the Molecular Biosciences Program (MBSP), was established in 2005 with NSF EPSCoR and The Graduate School support to increase graduate student recruiting efforts and numbers, specifically in the basic and applied life sciences.  The MBS program enhances the recruiting and marketing efforts of departments and research centers at MSU with the goal of attracting qualified graduate students.  Through this effort, recruiting and retention initiatives bring MSU Basic and Applied Life Sciences research programs under one administrative umbrella, thus reducing duplication of effort while scaling up recruiting efforts of individual departments.


The MBS program presents research from faculty in involved departments in topical areas, in order to make it easier for the prospective student to find a faculty member conducting the research they are interested. The program involves the following departments and research centers:


Research Areas:                                                      Departments and Research Centers:

Biofilm Science and Engineering                                     Chemistry and Biochemistry

Bioinformatics, Genomics, and Proteomics                        Cell Biology & Neuroscience

BioInspired Materials                                                   Ecology

Biomedical Science                                                     Microbiology

Biophysics                                                                Plant Sciences

Cell, Developmental, and Molecular Biology                      LRES

Chemical Biology                                                       IMID

Ecology and Environmental Science                                Computer Science

Environmental Microbiology                                           CBIN

Immunology and Infectious Disease                                CBE

Life in Extreme Environments                                        TBI

Neuroscience                                                            Chemical & Biological Engineering

Plant Sciences                                                           Earth Sciences                                  

Virology                                                                   Mathematics



In addition to recruiting efforts, the Molecular Biosciences program offers up to ten (10) fellowships for students entering graduate school at MSU in one of the MBS research areas. As an interdisciplinary program that focuses on research areas rather than specific graduate programs, this rotation and fellowship program allows students entering MSU under the MBS program to complete three six-week lab rotations before committing to a department or laboratory.  The rotations provide for improved placements and enriched science via interdepartmental collaborations.  The rotations attract quality students that do not want to be limited in their decisions for graduate research as well as improve the matching of student to mentor to research topic. The flexibility of the program allows MSU to attract a student who may not have considered our university for their next step in their educational path.


The MBSP fellows are more diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender.  In addition to the directly supported fellows, additional students (approximately 5 students/year) have been admitted directly to departments that originally applied to the MBSP.  These students come to MSU mainly as a result of the coordinated recruiting that the MBSP leads.


The program’s first incoming class of doctoral students was Fall 2007.  Four fellows have graduated and pursued postdoctoral or teaching positions. The program expects continued success with an additional six students to defend before next fall semester.


Continued investment is required to sustain and grow the MBSP in order to build upon the investment for the development of efficient and productive research programs as research at MSU continues to grow to the next level.  Reasons for this support include:

  1. Growth of the program is needed to support research-active faculty across 11 participating departments and research centers to create, maintain, and grow pool of quality graduate students.
  2. Across many departments with limited resources, MSU will not compete for top graduate students against other research intensive schools without something analogous to the MBSP
  3. Support for the MBSP is needed to continue track-record of fortified graduate student support in order to be competitive for federal training grants
  4. In a particularly competitive grant climate, the MBSP provides for leveraging of graduate student support along with federal grants
  5. Coordinated recruiting efforts for multiple departments better showcases research active faculty across campus in a cost-effective fashion


Ultimately, the goal is to provide efficient use of MSU resources to maintain and grow MSU’s research competitiveness across multiple departments and programs.   Given the size of MSU and the nature of limited resources, MSU cannot continue to be a competitive, multidisciplinary research university without a strong graduate program that provides unhindered access to the excellent research faculty that are across multiple departments. 


The MBSP has contributed and/or recruited for four NSF training grant submissions and one private grant.  The MBSP was funded by four sources allowing the program to take in up to ten students per year.  The program, due to the evaporation of one of those sources (EPSCoR) and dwindling laboratory capacity (due to shrinking federal grant support), has had to take fewer students. INBRE has indicated funding for the program will not continue past FY13.  Both INBRE and EPSCoR have specified the funding cuts were because they would like to see institutional commitment to the program grow.


The program director and advisory board are actively working on additional funding models to offer more sources for growth of the program but the program needs continued institutional support remain competitive and establish a proven track record.


Student support remains the largest obstacle to growth.  MBSP would like to admit from 8 to 10 doctoral students each year with additional student support.  Peer graduate programs offer prospective students an attractive student support package that include graduate research  assistantships, fees, insurance and tuition support.  In order to be competitive for these students, the MBSP must increase support.  The need for top graduate students is justified given the nationally- and internationally-recognized, research-active faculty of MSU.   A competitive program will attract top quality students for our research active faculty.   A student stipend and guaranteed fee and insurance are expected from exceptional prospective graduate students.  Without the ability to offer a competitive student support package, top students will choose an institution with more resource offerings.


The MBSP fellows naturally blur departmental lines and create a true multidisciplinary approach to their research.  The program’s scientific grant writing course brings in faculty from across many departments to co-teach the course to the program fellows as well as other graduate STEM students.  MBSP would allow these types of courses to continue with an incentivize system for those faculty interested in developing and co-teaching an interdisciplinary course to draw from a pool of student stipend support.  The program would provide a ‘buy-out’ for one of their graduate students summer stipend to compensate their grant support.  With such incentives, the MBSP could also help to maintain developed courses from training grants (e.g., DGED 610).

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Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

The MBSP has already provided the MSU community with global research exposure.  With a concerted recruitment effort, MBSP has increased visibility of the research being conducted at MSU therefore attracting a new audience of prospective students to MSU. Given the size of MSU and the nature of limited resources, MSU cannot continue to be a competitive, multidisciplinary research university without a strong graduate program that provides unhindered access to the excellent research faculty that are across multiple departments. 


Minority and female numbers in the STEM fields has increased dramatically during MBSP’s tenure.  Diversity brings an important aspect to MSU’s graduate community as well as creates track-record for training grant proposals. 

Implementation Plan

The MBSP is currently recruiting for the Fall 2013 incoming fellow class and has 27 active fellows in the program. INBRE will not be continuing their support FY14



March 2013: Current funding will allow us to take up to three fellows for Fall 2013, if we were to receive funding the number could be increased to eight fellows.

July 2013 & August 2013: Provide summer student stipend support for faculty interdisciplinary development. 

August/September 2013: Eight new MBSP fellows begin their doctoral program with stipend, fees and insurance support.


May 2014 & June 14: Provide summer student stipend support for faculty interdisciplinary development. 

August/September 2014: Eight new MBSP fellows begin their doctoral program with stipend, fees and insurance support.


May 2015 & June 15: Provide summer student stipend support for faculty interdisciplinary development. 

August/September 2015: Eight new MBSP fellows begin their doctoral program with stipend, fees and insurance support.

Assessment Plan

The MBSP is continually being assessed. An established evaluation protocol includes baseline numbers of STEM doctoral students prior to the program. Each year, the program tracks the retention and graduation rates of the fellows.  Recruited students are given a post recruitment survey. Numbers of students who come through the program’s recruitment who matriculate in to other departments is tracked.  Feedback sessions held with each incoming class of fellows.  Monthly fellows meetings allow a forum for peer mentoring to occur as well as a forum to present current research problems.  Graduation interviews and non-completion exit interviews are conducted.


The program will continue to track recruitment efforts and effects. NSF and NIH have very clear benchmarks they request from all graduate programs during federal grant submission.  The program will collect data to aid in the reporting effort of these grant submissions.  Application numbers of women, minorities and students with disabilities will be tracked closely as well as the final numbers of offers and acceptances into the program and other departments.  The program has a clear goal of increasing the number of minorities in our STEM graduate fields.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

Without committed university support, we must make some hard choices about the future of this program.  MBSP has a proven record of success in graduate recruitment and retention.  The program intends to continue its efforts and meet the benchmarks established.  If the program is not successful in its endeavors the advisory board and funding sources (Provost and Vice President for Research) would need to determine if it should be phased out due to ineffectiveness.  The program would cease any recruitment efforts and make sure it fulfilled the obligations to its current fellows.


Department Head: Carl Fox (
Dean/Director: Ron Larsen (
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (