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New IGERT grant will fund research in social sciences

For the first time ever, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant for a Ph.D. program in the social sciences. The Center for the Study of Complex Systems (CSCS), working in conjunction with the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), received the almost $3 million grant.

The grant was awarded to fund a program that will train social scientists interested in institutional performance and design, increasing their understanding of how diverse agents behave and adapt when their interactions are structured by various institutional constraints.

"Michigan has an amazingly rich tradition in terms of empirical, policy-based social science," says Scott Page, CSCS associate director and IGERT principal investigator. "This grant will give graduate students interested in political and economic institutions a place to apply the mathematical theories of complex systems, but at the same time remain grounded in public policy, economics and political science."

The program, called Institutions-Diversity-Emergence-Adaptation-Structures (IDEAS), will accept students enrolled in affiliated departments and provide them with a core curriculum in complex systems, paid research assistantships, opportunities for semesters of study at SFI, internships with corporations, physical and virtual links to SFI faculty and seminars, participation in U-M-SFI short courses, and a variety of other team-oriented research activities.

Faculty associated with the program include Julia Adams (Sociology), Robert Axelrod (Political Science and Public Policy), Michael Cohen (School of Information), John Holland (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Psychology), Ken Kollman (Political Science), Mark Newman (Physics), Page (Economics, Political Science), and CSCS Director Carl Simon (Economics and Mathematics).

"Early complex systems research consisted of novel models and metaphors like path dependence, emergence and the edge of chaos. In the last two decades, however, the field has moved from metaphor to mathematics, and it now has a solid foundation in mathematical theory," Page says. "This grant is evidence of the fact that complex systems has found its academic footing. It will allow us to assemble a first-class cohort of creative graduate students who can apply these new theories to practical problems having to do with economic and political systems."

CSCS is a broad, interdisciplinary program designed to encourage and facilitate research and education in the general area of nonlinear, dynamical and adaptive systems, with faculty representing nearly every college at U-M.

NSF funds about 100 IGERT programs to help train people who can address complex problems, such as those affecting the environment or advances in information technology, which require expertise from many areas. The goal is to educate U.S. Ph.D. students with interdisciplinary backgrounds, deep knowledge in their chosen disciplines, and a combination of technical, professional and personal skills that will enable them to become leaders and agents for change in their careers.

U-M is home to other IGERT programs, including Socio-Technical Infrastructure for Electronic Transactions, Biosphere-Atmosphere Research and Training, and Molecularly Designed Electronic, Photonic, and Nanostructured Materials. James Teeri, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology, has a grant to help IGERT programs across the country improve their recruiting of women and minority students.

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