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UF/IFAS soil and water sciences faculty to address shortage of data scientists

A grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will address a shortage of data scientists in the fields of soil and water sciences. The goal is to develop future leaders in soil health research and extension. Members of the UF/IFAS soil and water sciences department (SWS) are recruiting graduate students from underrepresented communities who will go through a data-focused degree program.

Man in white lab coat

Dr. Yang Lin

Dr. Yang Lin, assistant professor of soil health in SWS, is leading the grant project. He said the shortage of data scientists in soil and water sciences is concerning.

“Data science plays a central role in translating the increasingly diverse, complex, and large soil datasets into actionable management practices,” Lin said. “Tapping into that big data will sustain and improve soil health and help agriculture.”

The $243,500 grant will allow SWS to recruit a cohort of four master’s students and one doctoral student through the National Needs Graduate Fellowship (NNF) Program. Fellows will be recruited from historically underrepresented groups with focus on Black, Latinx, and indigenous American communities. The NNF grant will cover Fellows’ stipend, and UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) will support Fellows with tuition waivers. “We are excited to begin this project that will bring data analytics together with soil and water sciences,” Lin said. “Equally important are the underrepresented students who will take part in the program and have a clear path towards a job in data sciences, soil sciences, and water sciences upon graduation.”

Lin will be working with a team of colleagues from across UF. They are Drs. Allan Bacon, Gabriel Maltais-Landry, AJ Reisinger, and Sarah Strauss from SWS, Dr. Matt Gitzendanner from the Department of Biology, and Dr. Geraldine Klarenberg from the School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences.

Existing curriculum and new courses, such as Soil Health and Data, will prepare them for careers in soil health research and extension. There will also be summer “Data Bootcamps” for the students.

“They will conduct team-based research in data and soil sciences,” Lin explained. “Also, our extension service program will allow them to develop a variety of educational tools, including extension publications, for stakeholders.”

The five Fellows are expected to begin the data science training program in Fall 2022.