Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships 2017, USA


February 22, 2017


Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program introduces students to research under the guidance of seasoned research mentors at Caltech and JPL. Students experience the process of research as a creative intellectual activity.

SURF is modeled on the grant-seeking process:

  • Students collaborate with potential mentors to define and develop a project
  • Applicants write research proposals for their projects
  • Faculty review the proposals and recommend awards
  • Students carry out the work over a 10-week period during the summer
  • At the conclusion of the program, students submit a technical paper and give an oral presentation at one of several SURF Seminar Days, symposia modeled on a professional technical meeting.

Fellows receive a $6,000 award for the ten-week period. Award payments are distributed in equal installments in late June and late July. 

To enrich the research experience, SURF Fellows are invited to attend the following:

  • Weekly seminars by Caltech faculty & JPL scientists and engineers
  • An academic and professional development series on developing a research career, graduate school admissions, and other topics of interest to future researchers
  • Various social and cultural activities
  • Weekly small student-faculty dinners
  • Special field trips

To be eligible for SURF you must:

  • Be a continuing undergraduate student
  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0
  • Complete the third term at Caltech, or at another school under a program approved by a Dean
  • Be eligible for fall term registration before beginning your SURF project and no later than July 10
  • Not be under any academic or disciplinary sanction

Eligibility Requirements for Visiting (Non-Caltech) Students

To be eligible for SURF, you must:

  • Be a continuing undergraduate student and eligible for fall term registration*
  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5/4.0
  • Complete the second semester or third quarter at your college or university
  • Not be under any academic or disciplinary sanction

* Students need to be matriculated in a degree-granting undergraduate program. High school students who are co-enrolled in college courses are not eligible.

** Students from the University of Iceland or from one of the following Cambridge colleges (St. John’s, St. Catherine’s, Corpus Christi, or Pembroke) may only apply to SURF through the established exchange programs with these schools. Please contact your school to find out more information.

Additional Requirements for Visiting (non-Caltech) International Students

International students are eligible to participate in SURF on the Caltech campus; however, only U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents are eligible for SURFs at JPL. If SURF award is made, international students will be given instructions on how to apply for an F-1 or J-1 student visa abroad prior to participation in SURF.  International students currently attending a college or university in the U.S. must secure special off-campus employment authorization prior to participation in SURF. F-1 students must apply for either Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT); J-1 students must apply for Academic Training.  Please consult an International Student Advisor at your current U.S. institution as soon as you apply for SURF to understand your school’s requirements and deadlines for authorizing off-campus work authorization.  CPT, OPT, or Academic Training must be approved by your home institution prior to beginning your SURF placement.  OPT approval may take in excess of three months!

Practical Training for F-1 Students in the U.S.

CPT can be granted through a student’s current academic institution and does not require an application to Immigration. Each college or university in the U.S. has established specific guidelines and procedures for authorizing Curricular Practical Training. Students should consult their current international advisor as soon as the SURF application process begins.

OPT requires the student to submit an employment authorization application directly to Immigration. The application process requires a new I-20, endorsed by the student’s current international advisor, for OPT. When the application is approved, Immigration will send the student an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Students may NOT begin SURF until the EAD is received. Because Immigration can take more than three months to process an OPT application, students are encouraged to consult their current international advisor as soon as the SURF application process begins.

Academic Training for J-1 Students in the U.S.

Academic Training is granted through a student’s home institution and does not require an application to Immigration. Each college or university in the U.S. has established specific guidelines and procedures for authorizing Academic Training. To find out the specific qualifications for this type of employment authorization, students should consult their current international advisor as soon as the SURF application process begins.

If, after consulting with the current international advisor, a SURF applicant has questions about securing employment authorization, he or she may contact International Student Programs (ISP) at Caltech for additional guidance and information.


Upon receiving a SURF, students sign an agreement to fulfill the following requirements:

  • To devote full effort to conducting the SURF project (Fellows cannot take courses or hold another job.)
  • To participate in the project for the full ten-week period
  • To submit two progress reports approved by their mentors
  • To submit an abstract of their project
  • To submit a written technical report approved by the mentor
  • To give an oral presentation on one of the scheduled seminar day symposia
  • To abide by Caltech's Honor Code

Below are Announcements of Opportunity posted by Caltech faculty and JPL technical staff for the SURF program.
Students pursuing opportunities at JPL must be U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.
Each AO indicates whether or not it is open to non-Caltech students. If an AO is NOT open to non-Caltech students, please DO NOT contact the mentor.
Announcements of Opportunity are posted as they are received. Please check back regularly for new AO submissions! Remember: This is just one way that you can go about identifying a suitable project and/or mentor.

Please read this entire page before beginning the application process!
Students must identify and contact a mentor in advance of submitting an application. A mentor must agree to support your application, help you to develop and define a research project, and assist you in the writing of the 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 Skype. If a student is in the area, we encourage him/her to visit the campus and meet the mentor.
All application documents must be submitted directly to the SFP Online system. SURF applications are due on February 22.

The application contains:

  • An online application
  • A proposal written by the student and uploaded to the application
  • Confidential letters of recommendation
    • Caltech students must submit two confidential letters (at least one from a faculty member). The second may be from an RA, TA, coach, or employer.
    • Visiting (non-Caltech) students must submit three confidential letters from faculty (at least two in the relevant discipline)
  • An unofficial transcript for visiting (non-Caltech) applicants

We will contact the applicant's mentor for a confidential evaluation after the application is submitted.

The Research Project
The most important factor in selecting a project is your enthusiasm for the project itself and for working with the mentor. Although most students seek projects in their options, SURF provides an opportunity to explore other fields. SURF is not "just a summer job"; a project should have significant intellectual and creative content. The benchmark for a suitable project is the potential for publication in the refereed literature.

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 are completed online with the application form. The online application will request recommender contact information from the student. The recommender will then be emailed directly and asked to submit his or her recommendation into the online system. If you have done a previous research project with a different mentor, that mentor should write one of your recommendations. Recommendations are also due on February 22nd  so submit your recommender information well in advance.  Your prospective Caltech mentor will complete a separate evaluation and should not write a letter of recommendation.

Visiting (non-Caltech) students need to submit an unofficial transcript at time of application. If an award is offered, you will be asked to have an official transcript mailed in a sealed envelope from the records office at your college or university.

Applications are judged on the following criteria:

  • Research proposal is a clear description of the proposed project. It demonstrates the applicant's understanding of the nature and purpose of the project, how it relates to other work in the field, and it includes a work plan for accomplishing project goals.
  • Proposed project allows student to take intellectual ownership and has potential for publication in refereed 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 exprected to have stronger applications reflective of their prior experience.

Awards are announced on April 3. Students will receive e-mail notification of the outcome of their applications and instructions and forms required to accept the award.

For more information click "Further information" below. 

This opportunity has expired. It was originally published here:

Eligible Countries
Host Country
Study Levels
Publish Date
December 22, 2016