NRT Program

Click to download the 2020-2021 CASBBI NRT Program Flyer

Now accepting applications from prospective graduate students. To learn more click here.

CASBBI’s NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is training the next generation of leaders to take on some of the most challenging problems faced by society today.

CASBBI NRT trainees are tackling the opioid use epidemic, mental and behavioral health disorders and enabling individuals with disabilities to participate fully in needed and desired life roles and activities.

These complex problems cannot be addressed by one individual or even one discipline. The next generation of leaders charged with addressing these challenges must work together across traditional academic disciplinary boundaries to integrate engineering, data science and social science knowledge, while meaningfully engaging with stakeholder communities in a mutually beneficial manner.

The CASBBI NRT program is designed to cross-train graduate students from engineering, data science, and social science disciplines to:

  1. Define a problem from multiple perspectives based on disciplinary knowledge, lived experiences, and community knowledge
  2. Utilize design thinking principles to break down open-ended problems
  3. Develop creative solutions by adapting and applying theories and methodologies from different disciplines
  4. Communicate effectively with stakeholders and broad audiences
  5. Work productively on diverse multidisciplinary teams
CASBBI trainees and faculty at the CASBBI Annual Retreat. Photo by Katie Maney/Institute for Biohealth Innovation/George Mason University

The NRT program involves an individualized interdisciplinary curriculum, scaffolded by laboratory rotations and hands-on workshops, a year-long community-engaged design project, and training in entrepreneurship, communication skills and team science. Individualized curriculums are tailored to trainees to comply with the requirements of their home graduate degree programs. A limited number of NSF-sponsored one-year fellowships are available for eligible trainees. Learn more about fellowship opportunities here.

A core element of the CASBBI NRT experience is participation in a year-long community-engaged design project. Multidisciplinary teams of NRT trainees are immersed in community settings, challenging the traditional hierarchies between researchers and participants by engaging community stakeholders as full participants in the research process. The NRT trainees work with community stakeholders to identify challenges and needs within a community, formulate a research question, and engage in participatory design to develop and test ecologically valid solutions. Trainees complete this project as part of a two-course sequence: Community-Engaged Interdisciplinary Design I and II (PROV801/802). Click here to learn more about partnering with the NRT program.

As part of the program, trainees have an opportunity to utilize their training in data analytics, wearable sensors and imaging to:

  • design new technology-assisted methods for personalized service delivery,
  • develop new machine learning algorithms to support the next generation of brain computer interfaces and improved prosthetic control systems;
  • advance research on virtual reality-based multi-sensory training.

Meet our first cohort of NRT trainees here and learn more about their community-engaged design projects here. The next trainee cohort starts in Summer 2021!

For more information about the program, contact Program Director Siddhartha Sikdar at ssikdar@gmu.edu or see our Frequently Asked Questions. You are also welcome to join us at a CASBBI NRT event. Click here for a calendar of events.

Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

How to Apply


Applying to join the NRT program is a three-step process:

1) If you are not currently a Mason graduate student, apply to one of the graduate programs. Participating programs include but are not limited to:

2) Submit an application for the traineeship.

  • Current Mason Graduate Students: Check back this fall to apply for the Summer 2022 NRT cohort.
  • Prospective Mason Graduate Students: Apply Here→

3) Select applicants will be invited for a 30-minute video call with the NRT team.

Frequently Asked Questions


Application-related questions

Do I need to submit a letter of recommendation with my traineeship application?
No, you do not need to submit a letter of recommendation with your application. On the application we request the contact information for one professional reference. For select applicants, we will solicit a letter of recommendation separately.

Are the laboratories and/or mentors that I select on the application binding?
No, the laboratories and/or mentors that you select on the traineeship application are not binding.

Program-related questions

Who is eligible to participate in the training program?
NRT trainees are George Mason University graduate students. Trainees may apply as prospective Mason graduate students or during their early graduate career. The training program lasts the length of a trainee’s graduate career. U.S. citizens, nationals, permanent residents, and international students may fully participate in the program. Competitive one year National Science Foundation (NSF) NRT fellowships are available for eligible students.

Is there funding available for trainees?
Trainees who are U.S. citizens, nationals, and permanent residents are eligible for a one year NSF-funded fellowship. NSF-funded trainees must be a Mason master’ or doctoral-level student enrolled in a research-based STEM degree program that requires a thesis or dissertation. The fellowship includes a $34,000 stipend and covers tuition, fees, and health insurance. The application for funding is the same as the application to join the training program.

Trainees who are not eligible for the NSF-funded fellowships are typically funded by research and/or teaching assistantships through faculty mentors or home graduate programs. We encourage trainees to contact CASBBI faculty to learn more about funding opportunities they may have available.

What will I get out of the traineeship program?
Trainees will benefit from an individualized interdisciplinary curriculum, scaffolded by laboratory rotations and hands-on workshops; a year-long community-engaged design project; and training in entrepreneurship, communication skills and team science. By the end of your graduate program, we anticipate that you will have Convergence Learning skills in i) Knowledge integration, ii) Procedural learning; iii) Transfer of learning; iv) Communication; and v) Team science.

  1. Knowledge integration: Applies knowledge based on a disciplinary foundation and integrates knowledge from different disciplines; can define a problem using multiple perspectives based on disciplinary knowledge, lived experience and community knowledge.
  2. Procedural learning: Knows how, when, and why to apply different methodological approaches to problems and questions.
  3. Transfer of learning: Independently adapts and applies skills, abilities, theories, or methodologies gained in one situation to new situations to explore complex issues in original ways.
  4. Communication: Demonstrates teamwork, critical and reflective thinking, and intercultural knowledge and competence to communicate effectively with community stakeholders
  5. Team science attitude: Values the diversity of the multiple disciplines, perspectives, and experiences that support convergence and team science.

What is the laboratory rotation?
As part of the interdisciplinary training experience, trainees have the opportunity to complete a rotation in a laboratory outside of their home discipline. Projects will be developed with input from the trainee, their primary mentor (home department) and co-mentor (rotation laboratory). Rotation projects may inform a trainee’s Master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. Trainees may rotate in a CASBBI-affiliated laboratory or another laboratory, with permission.

I am a prospective Mason graduate student and am interested in applying to the NRT program. How do I apply?
Please contact Program Director Siddhartha Sikdar at ssikdar@gmu.edu and your prospective degree program department mentor to indicate your interest in the NRT program. You can apply using the link above, but must be enrolled as a Mason graduate student to join the NRT program. Please note that admission to the NRT is separate from admission to your degree program.

I am a community partner interested in connecting with the training program. How do I become involved?
Please contact Program Director Siddhartha Sikdar at ssikdar@gmu.edu to become involved. Here are some ways you can be involved:

  • Participate in informational interviews with the NRT students to help them understand the complex dimensions of the problems faced by the communities you serve
  • Connect students to others in your network who might be willing to share their perspectives on community needs and potential solutions
  • Brainstorm with the students to help them identify workable solutions or approaches
  • Do you have another idea for how to partner with the NRT to solve problems that are important to you? We’d love to hear from you!

Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.