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Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is pioneering a new push in PhD education that will tear down old barriers and drive research into areas that need a multi-disciplinary approach.
In keeping with global trends and needs, students at the new Interdisciplinary Graduate School at NTU will concentrate on two or more disciplines, instead of one.

The Graduate School accepted its first batch of 25 PhD students in January 2012. Dedicated to multi-disciplinary research and postgraduate training, the Interdisciplinary Graduate School, the first of its kind in Asia, was opened on 25 June 2012.

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NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson said, “The establishment of the Interdisciplinary Graduate School is an exciting development for both NTU and Singapore. Today, fresh thinking is urgently needed to mitigate many global challenges, not least in environmental sustainability, the creation of viable alternative energy solutions, future healthcare, new media and many other wide-ranging and complex issues.”

The Interdisciplinary Graduate School is expected to integrate innovative and interdisciplinary thinking across the university, and strengthen NTU's role as a vital player in catalysing the development of breakthrough ideas and technologies out of the university and into the world.

The new Graduate School will focus on three key research areas – sustainability, healthcare and new media – tapping on the faculty and talents in the university’s research centres of excellence, research institutes, colleges and schools. The innovations and breakthroughs from the three areas are expected to flow into two other key areas for the university, innovation and to be a knowledge hub of the East and West. NTU has identified these five key areas as its Peaks of Excellence that the university intends to make a global mark by 2015.

To commemorate its opening, the Interdisciplinary Graduate School held a seminar led by renowned environmental science and technology expert, Professor Alexander Zehnder, a visiting professor and member of NTU’s Board of Trustees. Professor Zehnder, who spoke on the topic "Challenges and Opportunities of Interdisciplinary Research", is also the Scientific Director of the Alberta Water Research Institute in Canada, and founder and president of Triple Z, a consulting company in water and telecommunications.

Highlighting the significance of the new Interdisciplinary Graduate School, Professor Bertil Andersson said, "The Graduate School will enable us to spearhead leading-edge research and solutions to address global challenges, while advancing the creation of new knowledge at the forefront of engineering, science and innovation."

"At the same time, the Graduate School will enhance Singapore's ability to nurture new research and engage with leaders on critical global issues. In time to come, we can expect to see the acceleration of made-in-Singapore research with immense potential for positive real-world impact. NTU provides a fertile and ideal interdisciplinary home for this new Graduate School, as it has some of the world's finest research centres and colleges in engineering, science, business, humanities, the arts and social sciences," Professor Andersson added.

Interdisciplinary PhD research combining scientific excellence and innovation
The Interdisciplinary Graduate School will seek to leverage thinking from across academic disciplines in its approach to PhD research.

For a start, the Graduate School has already admitted 25 PhD students in January 2012 to do interdisciplinary research in collaboration with NTU’s research centres and institutes. The Graduate School will recruit another 75 PhD students in the next academic year 2012/2013.

The PhD students at the Interdisciplinary Graduate School will be required to complete two out of their six graduate courses in a second discipline, as compared to a regular PhD student that does all six courses in the core discipline. In addition to taking courses beyond one core discipline, the Graduate School’s PhD students can choose to complete one year of academic research in top universities overseas.

To spur them on, PhD students at the Graduate School will also be able to apply for a new premium scholarship. About 30 students will benefit from this scholarship each academic year.

The Interdisciplinary Graduate School is headed by Acting Dean, Professor Yue Chee Yoon from NTU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Prof Yue, who has been with NTU for more than 20 years, is no stranger to interdisciplinary research, having been involved in various projects related to the development of advanced materials, nanomaterials and nanomanufacturing.
Professor Yue said, "In addition to collaborating with engineering researchers who are at the core of NTU, the PhD students at the Graduate School will get to work with physicists, biologists, doctors, psychologists, and other experts across the university campus. An important part of the Graduate School’s mission will be to facilitate the application of its research to critical challenges, particularly in environmental sustainability, future healthcare and new media. Eventually, the Graduate School will also engage with leading players from government, business and industry."

Pioneer students tackle global challenges
Among the first batch of students at the Interdisciplinary Graduate School is Mr Low Jiun Hui, 25, who is pursuing his PhD with the Singapore Membrane Technology Centre in NTU's Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute. Mr Low is devising a way to clean the membranes used in the production of NEWater and desalinated water by using environmentally friendly chemicals like tannins. Tannins are naturally occurring acids derived from plants that may potentially prevent and inhibit bacteria from attaching and accumulating in these membranes.

Commenting on his research, Mr Low, who will graduate with an honours degree in Chemistry and Biological Chemistry from NTU July 2012 said, "I always wanted to do something different from chemistry, and the Graduate School’s multidisciplinary approach greatly appealed to me. I hope to learn more and contribute to this area of environmental and sustainable development, which is increasingly becoming a dominant issue in the world today. I also look forward to working with some of the world's top scientists based at the Graduate School and bouncing ideas off each other".

  • International Impact
    In today’s increasingly complex world, problems are often multifaceted. To effectively address these challenges, it calls upon reflective and multidimensional insights into various disciplines. Spurring innovative ideas and paramount discoveries, IGS aims to transform the world today while shaping tomorrow.
  • Interrelated Focus
    IGS champions research that is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary in nature. Well aligned with NTU’s Peaks of Excellence in Sustainable Earth, New Media and Future Healthcare, IGS features research that spans from humanities to science and technology. Much unlike conventional discipline-based programmes, IGS provides a broad yet tightly interrelated learning experience.
  • Interesting Research
    At IGS, opportunities for meaningful research abound. Beyond a choice of the centres and institutes under Sustainable Earth, New Media and Future Healthcare, an intensive seminar culture with ample interaction opportunities characterises the research journey at IGS. Fuelling the research passion of our students, IGS adopts the same best practices as that of leading overseas institutions.
  • International Reputation
    Supported by a team of experienced professors lauded as top international researchers in their respective fields, the IGS environment is one of dynamism and intellectual stimulation. The opportunity to work alongside some of the brightest in the industry makes IGS the preferred ground for interdisciplinary research.
  • Interdisciplinary Mobility
    Empowered to cross the boundaries between disciplines, IGS candidates can look forward to more possibilities for breakthroughs as they undertake cross-disciplinary research and graduate studies from different schools and colleges in NTU. Solid academic progression aside, interdisciplinary research opens doors to wider career opportunities in various strategic and emerging fields that are vital in our global world.