Skip to main content


Coastal Insitute IGERT Project in Rhode Island Catalyzes Change in Graduate Education


The University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute IGERT Project (CIIP) has identified five “Best Practices” for training Ph.D. students to be effective in multidisciplinary research in coastal ecosystem management. The best practices were identified during a six-year training project sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program. The CIIP team has begun integrating many of these best practices into URI graduate (and undergraduate) education programs. The best practices were distilled from annual assessment reports with the CIIP trainees and synthesis by an external evaluator. The five best practices and their outcomes in the CIIP are:

Best Practice #1:
Create course and special project opportunities that require students to engage in issues and applications they might not otherwise choose because they are outside their comfort zones. Encourage and nurture students to become comfortable with “not knowing” and developing tools to learn outside their discipline. The outcome resulting from this activity in the CIIP was: Trainees developed an awareness of the complexity and value of other disciplines. They developed a strong respect for other points of view.

Best Practice #2:
Provide graduate students formal training in communication (interpersonal, small group, large group, across disciplines, cultures), ethics, logic and conflict resolution. The outcome resulting from this activity in the CIIP was: Students developed enhanced abilities and confidence in: interpersonal, small group, and large group communication; conflict resolution; communication across cultures, values, and disciplines.

Best Practice #3:
Provide opportunities for students to work outside of the academy through internships and white paper writing assignments, and with regular support from peers and faculty. The outcome resulting from this activity in the CIIP was: Students obtained project experience in venues outside of the University setting. This broadened their network of colleagues and expanded their skills in professional interaction.

Best Practice #4:
Provide mechanisms to foster community, through student cohort identity, common courses, common spaces, social events, and student-led courses. The outcome resulting from this activity in the CIIP was: Students became part of a multidisciplinary peer community that included faculty, students, and non-academic partners. In this community they benefited from peer learning and mentoring, and developed a sense of trust and camaraderie with their peers. They were challenged by working in a flat organizational structure without hierarchy.

Best Practice #5:
Provide opportunities to practice multi/interdisciplinary research work. In particular, outreach programs should include graduate students and they should contribute to the in design and delivery of workshops, conferences, and training. The outcome resulting from this activity in the CIIP was: CIIP trainees discovered the challenges of doing multi/interdisciplinary problem-solving by working in the conferences and workshops sponsored by CIIP, development of scholarly research papers, and preparation of op-ed contributions for popular press.

The major obstacle the CIIP team now faces is permanently integrating these best practices into the graduate training model at URI. To educate the graduate community on campus, the CIIP team hosted a day-long workshop (May 3, 2011) describing the CIIP pedagogy, the outcomes achieved, and the best practices that produced in these outcomes. Some of the CIIP faculty described how they are integrating these best practices into graduate education activities on campus. In addition, a 17 minute film was created in the Spring of 2011 to document program achievement as told by the trainees and faculty reflections on the CIIP experience. The video can be found at; it has been a popular instrument in advancing the core principles and best practices of CIIP. The legacy of the CIIP is certain to continue long into the future in many graduate training activities at the University of Rhode Island.

Address Goals

The best practices in graduate education that have been articulated by the Coastal Institute IGERT project have resulted in creating a generation of research scientists that have deep discipline-based scholarship and can work effectively outside their disciplines on complex issues in coastal ecosystem management. Success in training this new generation of scientists is the primary goal of the IGERT program and the basis for NSF goals for learning and discovery.