Northeastern and Partner Universities Awarded Prestigious NSF Research Traineeship to Study Impacts of Technology Platforms

MIE Distinguished Professor Ozlem Ergun was awarded a $3M NSF grant to develop a “national research traineeship” (NRT) program called “Platforms for Exchange and Allocation of Resources (PEAR),” which will study the impact of digital platforms on society.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Tanner Stening. Main photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Northeastern is poised to contribute a significant body of research toward a greater understanding of the sweeping effects digital platforms such as Uber, Airbnb and Venmo are having on society, while also training an underrepresented generation of students to solve problems across disciplines.

A $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help Northeastern accomplish the task. The money is part of the NSF’s highly prestigious “national research traineeship” (NRT) program, which provides support to students in “research-based master’s and doctoral degree programs” who are working in “high priority interdisciplinary or convergent research areas.”

The funds will support 28 Ph.D. “traineeships” at Northeastern over the course of five years with the goal of helping students develop the “skills, knowledge and competencies” relevant to their respective careers, while also producing targeted research addressing real-world problems.

headshot of Ozlem Ergun

Northeastern professor Ozlem Ergun, COE distinguished professor and associate chair for graduate affairs, mechanical and industrial engineering. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Another facet of the grant is its focus on supporting underrepresented researchers and institutions. As such, the award will also enable Northeastern to partner with Hampton University, an HBCU, and the University of Houston, a Hispanic-Serving Institution, to support student trainees across all three universities, and develop an engineering graduate degree program at the latter.

Landing an NRT award—considered by academics to be the gold standard for training grants—is a first for Northeastern.

“They’re highly competitive and very hard to get,” says Ozlem Ergun, COE Distinguished Professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern, who is overseeing Northeastern’s proposal for the research funding. “This is the third time we’ve tried.”

Ergun says that program administrators hope that the associated training offered at the University of Houston and Hampton University would produce prospective students capable of pursuing postdoctoral work at any of the three universities.

“The NRT program addresses workforce development, emphasizing broad participation and institutional capacity building needs in graduate education,” the foundation’s website states. “The program encourages proposals that involve strategic collaborations with the private sector, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, national laboratories, field stations, teaching and learning centers, informal science centers, and academic partners.”

Ergun and her collaborators note that by 2025, more than $60 trillion per year—or roughly 30% of global revenue—will be mediated by digital platforms. “They’ve disrupted multiple industries, upended labor economics and practices, and fundamentally transformed resource management, asset allocation and market design,” they write.

“There’s a lot of unease in the social sciences—and from a public policy and regulatory perspective—because there are actually a lot of negative impacts” associated with these platforms, Ergun says.

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Ozlem Ergun

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering