Undergraduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can learn more about the research process through the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, or SURF, with the help of seasoned mentors from JPL and Caltech.
In order to complete the program, students work with potential mentors to define, develop, and write a proposal for a research project. Students conduct their research over the course of a 10-week summer internship after a faculty committee reviews the proposal and makes awards recommendations. Students complete the program with an oral presentation and technical paper submission at a symposium that is modeled after a formal technical meeting. The JPL Education Office will also provide students with the chance to take part in a variety of enrichment activities, such as lectures, tours, and career counseling.
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A “crown jewel” of Caltech is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. Since 1979, SURF students have had the chance to conduct research while being guided by knowledgeable mentors who are at the cutting edge of their fields. SURF is modeled on the grant-seeking process:
- Students define and develop a project in collaboration with a potential mentor.
- Applicants write research proposals as part of the application process
- Faculty review the proposals and recommend awards
- During the summer, students complete the task over a 10-week period.
- Students participate in SURF Seminar Days, symposia that are modeled after formal technical conferences, at the end of the program, where they present an oral presentation and a technical paper.
Fellows will be given an award of $6,840 for the ten-week period in 2022.
SURF Fellows are encouraged to take part in the following events to enhance their research experience:
- Weekly seminars by Caltech faculty & JPL scientists and engineers
- A course on advancing one’s career in research, getting into graduate school, and other subjects of interest to aspiring researchers
- Effective writing workshops
- Social and cultural activities
- Weekly small student-faculty dinners
- Special field trips
Students who receive SURFs sign a commitment to meet the following criteria:
- to give the SURF project their full attention (fellows are not permitted to attend classes or hold other jobs). ).
- To participate in the project for the full ten-week period
- To submit two interim reports approved by the mentor
- to submit a project abstract that has been authorized by the mentor
- To submit a written technical report approved by the mentor
- To give a final oral presentation
- To abide by Caltechs Honor Code
Minimum Qualifications and/or Eligibility Requirements:
To be eligible for SURF you must:
- being a continuing undergraduate student and qualified to register for the fall semester
- Have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5/4.0
- complete your college or university’s second semester or third quarter**
- Not be under any academic or disciplinary sanction.
* Students must be enrolled in an undergraduate program that awards degrees. Students in high school who are concurrently enrolled in college courses are ineligible. ** University of Iceland students or those from one of the following Cambridge colleges (St Johns, St. Only students from the schools (St. Catherines, Corpus Christi, or Pembroke) that have exchange agreements with SURF may submit applications. Please contact your school to find out more information.
Additional Requirements for Visiting (non-Caltech) International Students
Participants in SURF on the Caltech campus may be international students, but only U S. citizens and U. S. permanent residents are eligible for SURFs at JPL. International students will receive instructions on how to apply for an F-1 or J-1 student visa abroad before taking part in SURF if they receive a SURF award. international students currently enrolled in a U.S. university or college S. prior to participating in SURF, obtain special off-campus employment authorization. J-1 students must submit an application for academic training; F-1 students must submit an application for either curricular practical training (CPT) or optional practical training (OPT). Please consult an International Student Advisor at your current U. S. as soon as you apply for SURF to your institution so that you are aware of the specifications and deadlines for authorizing off-campus work. Before starting your SURF placement, your home institution must approve CPT, OPT, or academic training. OPT approval may take in excess of three months!.
Prior to submitting an application, students are required to find and get in touch with a research mentor. Your application must have the support of a mentor, who will also help you define and develop a research project and write a research proposal.
This early interaction is a very important part of the application process. Visiting (non-Caltech) students usually have to accomplish this discussion via e-mail, phone, or Zoom. If a student is in the area, we encourage them to visit the campus and meet the mentor. Please refer to the Finding a Mentor page and Tips for Meeting with a Potential Mentor for additional information.
Direct submission of all application materials to the SFP Online system is required. SURF applications are due on February 22. After the application is submitted, we will speak with the applicant’s mentor for a private assessment. The application contains:
- An online application
- a student’s research proposal that is uploaded to the application
- An unofficial transcript for visiting (non-Caltech) applicants
- Two confidential letters of recommendation are required from Caltech students, with at least one coming from a faculty member. The second for first-year students could come from an employer, coach, RA, or TA. Non-Caltech visiting students are required to submit three confidential letters from faculty, at least two of which must be in the field of study.
The research project Your enthusiasm for the project and for working with the mentor is the most crucial factor in choosing a project. Although the majority of students look for projects in their areas of interest, SURF offers the chance to investigate other areas. A project should have significant intellectual and creative content because SURF is not “just a summer job.” The potential for publication in the refereed literature serves as the standard for a project’s suitability.
The Proposal The proposal should be as technical and specific as you can make it as it will be read by people in the field. It must outline what you plan to do, and why it will be useful. The outline consists of theoretical background and experimental techniques, how the work fits into the flow of the research in the field, and a work plan for the project. Proposals will be reviewed and evaluated by the mentor and by a member of the faculty in the project field. If you are a 2nd or 3rd time SURFer, your proposal should show a higher level of depth that would be expected of an experienced researcher. For further guidelines on writing an excellent proposal, access the Proposal/Project Plans.
Recommendations Recommendations are completed online with the application form. The student must provide contact details for their recommenders in the online application. The recommender will then receive a personal email asking them to enter their recommendation into the system online. One of your recommendations ought to be written by a different mentor if you have previously collaborated on a research project with them. Recommendations are also due on February 22, so provide the names and contact information of your recommenders early. Your potential Caltech mentor won’t write a letter of recommendation and will instead complete a separate evaluation.
Transcript When applying, visiting (non-Caltech) students must provide an unofficial transcript. If an award is given, you will be required to have an official transcript mailed from your college or university’s records office in a sealed envelope.
Applications are judged on the following criteria:
- Research proposal is a clear description of the proposed project. It demonstrates the applicant’s comprehension of the project’s nature and purpose, its relationship to other work in the field, and it contains a work plan for achieving project objectives.
- The suggested project enables the student to exercise intellectual ownership and has the potential to be published in a reputable journal. Proposed project can be reasonably done in a 10-week period.
- Student is prepared for the project (coursework, experience, etc).
- Mentor and faculty have submitted supportive recommendations and evaluations.
- Returning SURF students are anticipated to submit applications that are stronger and more reflective of their prior learning.
Awards will be announced on April 1. Students will be notified via email of the results of their applications, along with the necessary instructions and forms.
Click here to apply!
Caltech S.U.R.F. — Summer 2018
How do you get selected for Caltech surf?
Students at Caltech must finish their third term there or at another institution in a program that has been approved by a dean to be eligible. Before starting your SURF project, you must be eligible for fall term registration and no later than July 1. Not be under any academic or disciplinary sanction.
What is surf Caltech?
A “crown jewel” of Caltech is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. SURF students have had the chance to conduct research for more than 40 years under the supervision of knowledgeable mentors who are at the cutting edge of their fields.