What are SURF research fellowships?

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) are academic research opportunities hosted by Sewanee faculty specifically for Sewanee students on campus in the summer. The term “research fellowship” applies to all research or creative activity in the sciences, arts, humanities, and social sciences to clearly distinguish between academic research-oriented experiences mentored by Sewanee faculty and more general career-related experiences, or internships. The Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (OURS) works with the Career Center to offer unique opportunities each summer. Listings of all SURF positions may be found on Handshake. Applications are due on March 1. 

SURF students are expected to participate in various professional development and research-related workshops. Well-being activities and social events are also offered to the students. Both the student and the faculty member will be asked to complete an assessment form at the end of the experience. It is important that faculty ensure that the research experience occurs during the time that student housing is available. Students are provided with a stipend, but they are required to pay for their own room and board. More information about summer housing may be found here.

I would like to work with a professor on an academic project this summer. How can I apply to do that?

Approach a professor that you are interested in working with and ask to talk about their work (they all love to talk about this). As part of the conversation, ask if they might consider hosting a research fellow during the summer. If so, work out the details with them, including tasks, responsibilities, number of weeks, and dates. The position must be applied for on Handshake by March 1. If funding is needed, apply for university funding by April 1. 

What if my research fellowship is unpaid by a grant or outside source?

Apply for university funding by April 1. The application requires:

  1. Research funding proposal (2-3 pages)
  2. Resume or CV
  3. A letter of confirmation

What is a letter of confirmation?

Ask your faculty sponsor for a letter, official email or online confirmation form, confirming that you have been offered a SURF. This is required to apply for university funding. It should include:

  1. The faculty sponsor’s name, department, address, phone number and email.
  2. The number of weeks and hours per week.
  3. A brief description of the research fellow’s responsibilities. 

What do I include in a research funding proposal?

To write a 2-3 page funding proposal, request input from your faculty sponsor as to your responsibilities and anticipated outcomes of the research. Please note that this proposal will be read by a general audience and as such should not be overly technical. It should outline the significance of the project, the timeline of the work needed to be completed, your qualifications for carrying out the project and the expected outcomes both tangible (e.g. a paper) and intangible (e.g. your educational development or career preparation).

When will I know if I will get funding?

You will be notified whether or not you received funding within 2 weeks of the deadline. Students who have been selected by a faculty member and who have not received either a SURF experience or an internship previously should assume that they will receive funding. If you do receive funding, you are responsible for submitting a final report.

What are the rules and qualifications that apply for the funding?

Generally, funding is intended to support full engagement in the research or scholarly work for a period of 6-8 weeks. Research fellows who work on a project full time (32-40 hrs/wk) are paid a stipend of $400 per week. Typically, this expectation means that the research assistant should not have other jobs. That said, the arrangements are somewhat flexible and can be negotiated with the faculty sponsor. The qualifications are first and foremost determined by the professor who is sponsoring the work. Other factors considered include the quality of the proposal and the general qualifications of the student application.

What research fellowship projects tend to be funded? Do you have any tips for writing a competitive proposal?

Recognizing that judging projects from a wide range of disciplines is intrinsically difficult, the various review committees look at the student’s prior academic record (readiness to carry out scholarly work), the aims of the project, the appropriateness of the project timeline and the likely outcomes of the work. This last category includes both the tangible products (i.e. presentations, papers, works of art, etc.) and the intangible products (e.g. student intellectual growth or career preparation).

A strong proposal will convince the reviewing committee that the work is important, that the plan of work is feasible and will accomplish the goals set forth, and that the student is fully qualified to carry out the work. If you need further guidance about the eligibility of a project for funding or how best to frame the proposal, please contact the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship to discuss your ideas.

Can I apply for funding after I graduate in May? 

It is not currently forbidden for a graduating senior to apply for such funding; however, such students will receive a lower priority for funding than continuing students in a competitive funding process. 

Questions about the appropriateness of the request might be discussed with the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship or the individual charged with administering a given fund.

Can I take a summer school course at Sewanee in addition to having a research fellowship?

Research assistants are strongly discouraged from taking a course for the reasons noted above. However, if the faculty member is supportive of such an arrangement, it might be possible to allow for a student to do this. In such cases, the student will likely only be eligible for stipend support for the weeks that they are not enrolled in summer school.