Please read this entire page before beginning the application process!
Students must identify and contact a research 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 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.
All application documents must be submitted directly to the SFP Online system. SURF applications are due on February 22. We will contact the applicant's mentor for a confidential evaluation after the application is submitted. The application contains:
- An online application
- A research proposal written by the student and uploaded to the application
- An unofficial transcript for visiting (non-Caltech) applicants
- Confidential letters of recommendation
- Caltech students must submit two confidential letters (at least one from a faculty member). For freshmen, 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).
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 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 their 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 22 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 expected to have stronger applications reflective of their prior experience.
Awards will be announced on April 1. Students will receive e-mail notification of the outcome of their applications and instructions and forms required to accept the award.
2023 Applications will be available in November.