Q. What are my chances of getting a SURF each year?
A. In the past more than 85% of applicants have been awarded SURFs.
Q. Can I apply for more than one SURF each year?
A. Yes, but do so with caution. One of the criteria used in assessing your application is your enthusiasm for the project. If you apply to more than one project, your enthusiasm for each can be questioned. If you choose to apply to more than one SURF, please inform each of your prospective mentors that you are pursuing multiple SURF opportunities.
Q. My potential mentor says they have no money to contribute to my award. Can I still be awarded a SURF?
A. For Caltech students, yes. SURF awards are based on the merit of the application and proposal, not a mentor's ability to pay. The strongest applications will be considered for full funding. Mentors have to bear the full cost of the award for visiting (non-Caltech) students.
Q. Can I do my SURF some place besides Caltech or JPL? I'd really like to SURF closer to home.
A. Caltech students may conduct their SURF at another university or research institution. The application process is the same, but in addition to your research mentor at the off-campus location, you also need to arrange for a Caltech faculty member to serve as your associate mentor.
Q. I'm currently a senior. Can I apply?
A. Maybe. SURF is for continuing undergraduates only. If you will be an undergraduate student following your SURF, you are eligible.
Q. I'm a freshman. Do I have any chance of getting a SURF?
A. About 30-35% of each year's SURFers are frosh.
Q. You ask for letters of recommendation from people at my school. I'm a freshman and all the classes I've taken had a large number of students, so my professors don't really know me. What should I do?
A. This is an excellent opportunity to get to know your professors! Draft a short (one-page) resume of your activities, your interest in SURF, what you hope to do in your project, and make an appointment to meet with your advisor, a professor, a resident advisor in your dorm, your dean, or others. Faculty members like to see students take such initiative, and they may be willing to write a recommendation.
Q. In at least one of my classes the TA knows me and my work better than the professor does. Can I ask a TA to write one of my letters of recommendation?
A. Yes, one of your recommendations may come from a TA. You may have a graduate TA write one of the recommendations, but only if that person was the TA for a class you took (or are taking). Note: this applies only to Caltech students.
Q. I SURFed last year. The application instructions say my previous SURF mentor must write one of my recommendations, but I'm applying to work with the same mentor this year. Should my mentor submit the mentor recommendation AND a regular recommendation?
A. No, each recommender should be a different person. You should only list your mentor in the mentor section of the application, not as one of the regular recommenders. Your mentor should write only the mentor recommendation. SFP will contact the applicant's mentor for a confidential evaluation after the application is submitted.
Q. I come from an international university and we don't have what American institutions call a "transcript." What should I do?
A. American transcripts include a declaration of all the courses you are taking or have completed, and the grades or marks earned in those courses. Most schools can provide you with such a document, even though it may not be identified as a "transcript."
Q. How long should the proposal be?
A. There are no minimum or maximum length requirements for the proposal, but it should include everything the review committee—faculty in the relevant discipline—would need to know about, like what you plan to do, how you plan to approach the problem, and why you're the right person for the project. We've provided Guidelines for Proposals to help you. Ask your mentor to review your proposal for completeness. Don't wait until the last minute for the final review!
Q. Is housing available for visiting (non-Caltech) students? If so, are board contracts available?
A. Housing is available for visiting (non-Caltech) students working on campus or at JPL during the summer under one of the programs coordinated by the Student-Faculty Programs Office. Housing is limited and not guaranteed. The cost of housing is not part of the SURF award; students must pay for housing themselves. Housing applications will be sent to SFP students in early April and applications for housing are accepted until we've reached capacity.
All students living on campus will be required to purchase a declining balance card for use at Caltech eateries. Please note, there are no campus eateries open on weekends.
Q. SURF starts in mid-June, but my school gets out earlier (or later). Can I start my SURF on a different date?
A. The SURF start date is June 18, 2024. If you have compelling reasons for needing an alternate start date, you must make a request to your mentor and then a final request to the SFP Office. If SFP approves your request, you must start on one of the approved alternate start dates. All students must begin by July 15 and campus housing will not be available until June 18.
Q. Can I take a vacation in the middle of SURF?
A. You must negotiate with your mentor to take vacation during your SURF and extend your end date in order to complete your ten weeks. Your SURF period must conclude by the third Friday in September.