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National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Program

Grants to USA IHEs to Enhance STEM
Master's and Doctoral Programs

Agency Type:


Funding Source:

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National Science Foundation (NSF)

LOI Date:


Deadline Date:

02/06/18 5:00 PM Submitter's Local Time


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Grants to USA college and universities for innovative approaches to enhance graduate degree programs in the STEM disciplines. LOIs are due December 6. Proposals may be submitted on behalf of faculty members by institutions that offer research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

Synopsis of Program:

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, and potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The NRT program seeks proposals that explore ways for graduate students in research-based master’s and doctoral degree programs to develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to pursue a range of STEM careers.

The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas, through the use of a comprehensive traineeship model that is innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs. For FY2018, proposals are requested in any interdisciplinary research theme of national priority, with special emphasis on two high priority areas: (1) Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) and (2) Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS). HDR is expected to continue as a priority research area for FY2019 and FY2020 competitions, along with a new priority area to be announced in 2018.

The NRT program addresses workforce development, emphasizing broad participation, and institutional capacity building needs in graduate education. Strategic collaborations with the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, national laboratories, field stations, teaching and learning centers, informal science centers, and academic partners are encouraged. NRT especially welcomes proposals that will pair well with the efforts of NSF INCLUDES to develop STEM talent from all sectors and groups in society. Collaborations are encouraged between NRT proposals and existing NSF INCLUDES projects, provided the collaboration strengthens both projects.


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate education is poised to undergo a major transformation. There are multiple drivers for change including: (i) recent major national reports on the state of STEM graduate education [1] , (ii) the accelerating pace of science and engineering discoveries and technological innovations, (iii) national STEM workforce trends, (iv) the growing globalization of science and engineering, and (v) the potential to align graduate education practices and models with an increasing understanding of how people learn. In addition, there is increasing recognition that addressing the grand challenges in science and engineering requires interdisciplinary and convergent approaches, as well as broader professional training that is atypical for most graduate programs. These realities and the increasing calls for new approaches to STEM graduate education represent an extraordinary opportunity. Accordingly, this NRT solicitation encourages proposals to test, develop, and implement innovative and effective STEM graduate education models, promote interdisciplinary and broad professional training of graduate students, and foster fundamental research advances in support of national priorities.

Focus and Goals:

The NRT Program is dedicated to supporting highly effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas through the use of comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

Goals of the program are to:
-Catalyze and advance cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in high priority areas,
-Increase the capacity of U.S. graduate programs to produce diverse cohorts of interdisciplinary STEM professionals with technical and transferable professional skills for a range of research and research-related careers within and outside academia, and
-Develop innovative approaches and knowledge that will promote transformative improvements in graduate education.

Creation of sustainable programmatic capacity at institutions is an expected outcome. Proposals should describe mechanisms to institutionalize effective training elements after award closure.

NRT Traineeship and Trainees:

An NRT traineeship is dedicated to the comprehensive development of graduate students as versatile STEM professionals for a range of research and research-related careers within and outside academia. Proposals, accordingly, should focus on and demonstrate strong commitment to technical and professional training of STEM graduate students that emphasizes research training and extends well beyond it. In addition to research training, NRT projects are expected to develop trainees’ technical skills broadly, including facility and/or familiarity with the techniques, languages, and cultures of fields integral to the interdisciplinary research theme; foster the development of transferable professional skills; and provide trainees with mentoring and vocational counseling from professionals who have the backgrounds, experience, and skills to advise trainees on how to prepare for a variety of STEM career pathways.

NRT is intended to benefit a population of STEM graduate students larger than those who receive an NRT stipend. An NRT trainee is thus defined as a STEM graduate student, irrespective of funding source, who is accepted into an institution’s NRT program and completes the required NRT elements (e.g., courses, workshops, projects, and other training activities specific to the NRT experience) set by the program. To further maximize the number of students benefiting from NRT activities, proposers are expected to make available (within the capacity and budget limitations of the award) NRT program elements to other STEM graduate students who are not NRT trainees.

NRT trainees must be master’s and/or doctoral STEM students in a research-based degree program that requires a thesis or dissertation. If an institution’s NRT program includes both master’s and doctoral students, the proposal should identify any differences in NRT program requirements, as well as mechanisms to foster the development of a collective NRT graduate student community. NRT stipends and support for customary costs of education (tuition and required fees) are limited to U.S. citizens, nationals and permanent residents. However, international students can participate as non-stipend-supported NRT trainees or as non-trainees.

Key Features of NRT Projects:

NRT projects utilize comprehensive approaches to graduate training and are expected to address several key features central to the NRT Program.

1. Development of innovative and potentially transformative approaches to STEM graduate education, informed by evidence.

2. Extension of NRT program elements to non-NRT-funded trainees and to non-trainees to benefit a larger population of STEM graduate students across an institution.

3. Dissemination of outcomes and gained insights from NRT training approaches.

4. Facilitation and advancement of novel, potentially transformative interdisciplinary research in areas of high priority to the nation.

5. Comprehensive training of STEM graduate students, including the development of technical and professional skills for both research and research-related careers within and outside academia.

6. Incorporation of evidence-based strategies to broaden participation of students from diverse backgrounds.

7. Implementation of robust formative assessment that is central to the traineeship and routinely informs and improves practice.

Priority Research Areas:

The NRT Program requests proposals in any interdisciplinary research theme of national priority, while highlighting specific interdisciplinary priority research areas that change periodically. For FY2018, the two high priority research areas are: (1) Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) and (2) Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS). HDR is expected to continue as a priority research area for the FY2019 and FY2020 competitions, along with a new priority area to be announced in 2018.

An interdisciplinary research theme in an area other than HDR or INFEWS should align with NSF or other national STEM research priority areas and have high potential for development of novel, innovative practices in graduate education. Proposers should describe the importance of the NRT project’s thematic focus to the nation and the particular need to train students for a variety of careers in that thematic area, whether within or outside academia.

Regardless of the research area, proposals must clearly describe an overarching interdisciplinary research focus and outline how the research theme will foster high-return, interdisciplinary synergies. Proposals should also describe how the training and research elements will be integrated and justify the need for bold and innovative approaches to train graduate students in the thematic area. In keeping with the broader goals of the NRT program, proposals should demonstrate significant impact on the design and testing of new curricula and career-focused training approaches specific to the priority research area. Proposals should also discuss the project's potential to have impact beyond the institution, including the possible broad adoption of approaches, curricula, and instructional material within the relevant disciplines.

1. Harnessing the Data Revolution for 21st Century Science and Engineering (HDR)

Harnessing the Data Revolution at the National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of the 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments.

The increasing volume, variety, and velocity of data are giving rise to a profound transformation of research in all fields of science and engineering. New types of questions are being asked, and new challenges addressed; indeed, the very nature of scientific inquiry is changing. These changes will require the development of a 21st-century data-capable workforce. There is a need for education and training opportunities to create teams of data scientists and disciplinary researchers that can not only work together, but also think together. Next-generation data scientists must work in partnerships with scientists in other areas and be equipped with a language and framework that makes these partnerships fruitful. A properly educated/trained data scientist must be aware of the general as well as the specific nature of issues in data analysis and also be attentive to the socio-technical concerns that may arise.

Of particular interest for this research priority theme are interdisciplinary efforts that include, but are not limited to:

-Fundamental research in mathematics, statistics and computational science that will enable data-driven discovery and decision-making though visualization, modeling and analysis of complex data;
-Fundamental research on data topics such as data discovery and integration, predictive analytics, data mining, machine learning; data semantics, open data-centric architectures and systems, reproducibility, privacy and protection, and the human- data interface;
-The engagement of the research domains supported across NSF in using the advances in data science and cyberinfrastructure to further their research;
-The embodiment of these innovations in a robust, comprehensive, open, science-driven, cyberinfrastructure (CI) ecosystem capable of accelerating a broad spectrum of data-intensive research, including that in large-scale and Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) facilities;
-The development and evaluation of innovative learning opportunities and educational pathways, grounded in an education research-based understanding of the knowledge and skill-demands needed by a 21st century data-capable workforce.

2. Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS)

Humanity is reliant upon the physical resources and natural systems of the Earth for the provision of food, energy, and water. It is becoming imperative that we determine how society can best integrate across the natural and built environments to provide for a growing demand for food, water, and energy while maintaining appropriate ecosystem services. Factors contributing to stresses in the food, energy, and water systems include increasing regional, social, and political pressures as a result of land-use change, climate variability, and heterogeneous resource distribution. These interconnections and interdependencies associated with the food, energy and water (FEW) nexus create research grand challenges in understanding how the complex, coupled processes of society and the environment function now, and in the future. There is a critical need for research that enables new means of adapting to future challenges. The FEW systems must be defined broadly, incorporating physical processes, natural processes, biological processes, social/behavioral processes, and cyber elements. Investigations of these complex systems may produce discoveries that cannot emerge from research on food or energy or water systems alone. It is the synergy among these components, in the context of sustainability, that will open innovative science and engineering pathways to produce new knowledge and novel technologies to solve the challenges of scarcity and variability.

Of particular interest for this research priority theme are interdisciplinary efforts that include, but are not limited to:

-Research that builds the fundamental knowledge base on the FEW systems;
-Research that creates innovative solutions to minimize waste and resource consumption, and/or encourage reuse within the systems;
-Developing new ways to integrate heterogeneous data on complex FEW systems. Analyzing, modeling, forecasting, and managing natural and built systems critical to FEW;
-Training a workforce to understand that these multifaceted interactions are impacted by physical, chemical, biological, social, cultural, behavioral, and economic processes as well as decisions made by individuals, organizations, and institutions; opportunities for trainees to partner with industry, government, community and non-profit stakeholders that work within the FEW nexus;
-Curriculum that prepares trainees to communicate across INFEWS related disciplines as well as communicating with stakeholders, policy makers and the general public about INFEWS science and issues.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 175983

Estimated Total Program Funding:


Number of Grants:

Estimated Number of Awards: 10 to 12

Estimated Size of Grant:

NRT Awards are expected to have a total budget up to $3,000,000.

Term of Contract:

NRT Awards are expected to be up to five (5) years in duration.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Proposals may only be submitted by the following: Universities and colleges accredited in, and having a campus located in, the U.S. acting on behalf of their faculty members and that award a research-based master’s degree and/or a doctoral degree in a STEM discipline supported by the National Science Foundation.

Who May Serve as PI: The PI must be on the faculty of the submitting institution.

An eligible organization may participate in two proposals per competition. Participation includes serving as a lead organization, non-lead organization, or subawardee on any proposal. Organizations participating solely as evaluators on projects are excluded from this limitation. Proposals that exceed the institutional eligibility limit (beyond the first two submissions based on timestamp) will be returned without review regardless of the institution’s role (lead organization, non-lead collaborative, or subawardee) in the returned proposal.

An individual may serve as Lead Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-PI on only one proposal submitted to the NRT program per annual competition. Proposals that exceed the PI/Co-PI eligibility limit (beyond the first submission based on timestamp), will be returned without review regardless of the individual's role (PI or co-PI) in the returned proposal.

Pre-Application Information:

A compliant Letter of Intent (LOI) submitted by the lead institution only is required for proposal submission.

Full proposals may be submitted via FastLane or

Letter of Intent Due Date(s) (required) (due by 5:00 PM submitter's local time):
-November 27, 2017 - December 6, 2017
-November 26, 2018 - December 6, 2018
-November 25, 2019 - December 6, 2019

Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5:00 PM submitter's local time):
-February 6, 2018
-February 6, 2019
-February 6, 2020

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Laura B. Regassa
(703) 292-2343

Tara L. Smith
(703) 292-7239

Stephen Mulkey
(703) 292-8954

CFDA Number:

47.041 -- Engineering Grants / 47.049 -- Mathematical and Physical Sciences / 47.050 -- Geosciences / 47.070 -- Computer and Information Science and Engineering / 47.074 -- Biological Sciences / 47.075 -- Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences / 47.076 -- Education and Human Resources / 47.079 -- Office of International Science and Engineering / 47.083 -- Office of Integrative Activities

Funding or Pin Number:

NSF 18-507

URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming