FAQ

Q: I don’t know a faculty member with expertise in my project area. Can I get someone I know to “sign off”?

A: It’s possible that a faculty member you know well may be able to give you good theoretical or methodological guidance, without being a subject specialist. But if the faculty member seems reluctant, you should probably look elsewhere. Come talk to a SURF Program Advisor and brainstorm about mentor possibilities. You really want someone who knows your field closely and who will help you produce the best possible research, not someone who will just sign a paper for you.

Q: I will be abroad this spring, but would like to return and do research this summer. Can I apply from abroad?

A: Yes, but it is a good idea to line up a faculty sponsor and start discussing your proposal with her/him before you leave Berkeley. The proposal is the most important part of your SURF application, and you will need to show that you have developed it in close consultation with a UCB faculty member. It can be hard to do this via e-mail, unless you already know the professor quite well.

If your abroad program keeps you out of the country during our orientation dates, we can make accommodations to give you the orientation information via Skype or other means, as long as you have eight or more full-time weeks during the summer to devote to research.

Q. I can’t decide between many possible topics. How can I choose?

In general, when choosing between topics, the main questions you want to ask are: 
-Which one gives you better possibilities for guidance (which gives you more mentor options)? 
-Which are you more excited about?
-Which gives you data that is more readily available to you (you already have contacts you can use)? 
-Which one allows you to explore things you might want to do in the future?
-For which are you most qualified (you have skills and knowledge that give you a good foundation)?

If you have a general topic in mind but are unclear on how to narrow it, see hints on narrowing your topic here.

Q: How is my standing as a “graduating senior”, “junior” or “sophomore” evaluated?

A: The SURF program considers the ‘rising’ year of students’ progress to degree. Sophomores will have completed at least two semesters at Cal by the time they enter the SURF program. Juniors, including incoming transfer students, will have completed four semesters of coursework. Students who intend to graduate in the Fall or Spring after participating in the SURF program are considered Seniors. 

Sophomores applying for SURF should ideally be entering their 3rd or 4th semester at Berkeley.

A “graduating senior” is someone graduating the May before the summer fellowship period. 

Q: For SURF L&S does my SURF project have to be my senior thesis project? 

A: Your SURF L&S project should result in a major research paper or capstone project of your own design for a thesis course or senior seminar. (The options vary somewhat from one department to the next.) In every case, the final paper should be evaluated for a letter grade. If no such course exists in your major (this is the case in some College of Chemistry and some College of Engineering majors), consult the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Q: Can I use SURF to support an internship or volunteer position?

A: Normally, no, but community-engaged scholarship can take many forms. SURF is a stipend intended to support sustained research that is faculty-supervised and contributes to students’ academic enrichment. Most volunteer organizations have defined tasks for the volunteer that do not allow time for conducting independent research. However, the SURF program will consider proposals that demonstrate an integral connection between the internship/volunteer work and the larger research project to which it will contribute. Although a student occasionally proposes to study the organization he/she is volunteering with, it can be very difficult to design a sound self-study that is both ethical and objective.

Q: For SURF L&S and SURF Rose Hills projects: a faculty member at another UC has offered me a lab position for the summer. Can that qualify for SURF?

All SURF projects must be supervised by a Berkeley faculty member. The only exception is SURF SMART projects, which are mentored by Berkeley graduate students.

Q: I need a summer session course to graduate on time. Can I still participate in SURF?

A: You may participate in SURF only if the summer session course you wish to take is a maximum of six weeks in length, leaving you eight weeks to work full-time on your project.  However, bear in mind that this will leave you no “down time” in your summer; generally students who forgo summer courses are able to get more out of their SURF experience.

Q: Does my faculty sponsor need to be here in the summer?

A: No, but he or she does need to agree to advise you over the summer. This can be successful by phone, email, or web-video conference if you develop a good working relationship in the spring semester.

Q: I’m an international student. May I apply?

A: For SURF L&S, SURF SMART, SURF UROC, and SURF Math Team regularly enrolled Berkeley students with international visas are welcome to apply, but there may some additional tax paperwork to complete before your stipend can be paid. SURF Rose Hills is limited to US citizens of the Southern California area.

Q: I’m an AB540 student. May I apply?

Yes, for SURF L&S, SURF SMART, SURF UROC, and SURF Math Team. SURF Rose Hills is limited to US citizens.