New master's fellowship to train food microbiologists in big-dataset analyses

Today’s graduate students in food science will face big data challenges in the field of microbiology, including the critical analysis of thousands of genomes from foodborne bacteria or viruses to understand the sources of outbreaks. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new fellowship for underrepresented graduate students offered by the Department of Food Science in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences will prepare four master’s degree candidates interested in food microbiology to analyze large-scale datasets.

Funded by a $164,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the program will include both traditional training and courses and activities aimed at developing expertise and leadership in big-data analyses.

Advances in DNA sequencing and data analysis have transformed the field of food microbiology and food safety, explained Ed Dudley, professor of food science, who is coordinating the fellowship. He noted that the increasing need for a workforce with competencies in microbiology and data science has revealed a shortage of leaders who have both a solid microbiology background and the ability to work with large datasets.

“Challenges today’s students will face in the field include the critical analysis of thousands of genomes from foodborne bacteria or viruses to understand the source of an outbreak, and evaluation of datasets that provide insights into how the large number of microorganisms in human intestinal tracts impact health and well-being,” Dudley said.

Because microbiologists need to be able to communicate the impacts of such work, fellows in this new program will gain leadership skills through organizing seminars in collaboration with experts in the professional workforce and through training their peers in large-scale data analyses, added Dudley, who is director of Penn State’s E. coli Reference Center.

Recruited fellows in the program will pursue master’s degrees in food science and will be advised or co-advised by faculty specializing in food microbiology and sequencing data analyses. Training will follow a “Data-Development-Decisions” — 3D — framework Dudley and colleagues designed for this program.

Other faculty involved in the fellowship include Jasna Kovac, Lester Earl and Veronica Casida Career Development Professor of Food Safety; Darrell Cockburn, assistant professor of food science; and Josephine Wee, assistant professor of food science.

Last Updated April 15, 2021