Type II SURF Guidelines-Undergraduate Research Office - Carnegie Mellon University

Type II Guidelines for SURF

for Proposals other than Arts and Creative Humanities

The effectiveness of your proposal will depend on your ability to explain the nature, context and scope of the project. The selection committee will also be looking for an indication that your project will be more than just a learning experience-what does it contribute to your field that we do not already know? 

Keep in mind that the committee reading your proposal will include four members, with only one of the readers having some expertise generally in your field.  You will need to make your proposal accessible to a broader audience.

Your proposal should include the following information and should include these exact headings:

 Abstract: A summary of your research question and your project design. Researchers typically write the abstract after they have finished writing the rest of the proposal. Include it as the first section on the first page of your proposal.

• Research Question and Significance: This is a key section that helps provide important background for your project. You should discuss the broader contextual framework:

  • What has been done before in the field, or in the particular lab you may be working in?
  • What gap(s) or unresolved problem(s) have you identified within that research"
  • What is your research question and why is it a timely and necessary exploration?
  • How will it fill that gap and advance in the field?

In terms of the audience you are writing for: You should frame the question that you want to explore in your research for a broader audience and discuss why this is an interesting and important question.

  • How might its applications improve people's lives or the world we live in?
  • If working on a larger project within a lab, what is your individual contribution to this endeavor?

• Project Design and Feasibility: This is an important, larger section and should include much of the substance of your proposed project. It is appropriate to use your discipline-specific language to provide detail about how the project will unfold. In this section, you are speaking to the reader with some expertise in the field. The details on the actual process will be critical.

  • How will you go about exploring your research question?
  • What will be your methods?
  • Are these methods in keeping with traditional approaches in this research area or is this new, uncharted territory that requires an experimental methodology?
  • What is your expected timetable for carrying out this research? A timetable can be especially helpful to outline how the project will unfold.  Break down the specifics of what your projects steps are going to look like.

• Background: This is a shorter section to let the committee know what courses and/or work/research experiences have prepared you to undertake this project. Please include how you know the faculty mentor. If this is a group project with fewer than 5 people, then you should include a sentence on the responsibilities for each team member; if this is a larger group project, then please highlight the main students. 

• Feedback and Evaluation: This is a shorter section. Who will provide feedback on and evaluate your project and according to what schedule and what criteria? How often will you meet with your faculty mentor? Are you also working with graduate students, if so what are their names?

• Dissemination of Knowledge: How will you share the results of your project? What form will your final report take? You should include Meeting of the Minds but if there are other venues to share your work - a departmental poster session or a discipline-specific conference, please mention these options here. If there are publications expected, please share with the readers.

Proposal Format for SURF

Your SURF proposal may be up to 3-pages in length, single-spaced.

Typeface:  We recommend at least a 12 point serifed font (such as Times or Palatino), justified left (right ragged).

First Page: At the top of the first page, please state your project title and names of all students submitting the proposal. The next item is your Abstract, and subsequent headings and body of the proposal.

Spell Check: Remember to spell check and read through your proposal carefully.  You are requesting funds and your proposal is a reflection of your commitment to the project.

Electronic Submission:

  • All SURG and SURG/CW proposals should be saved into one .pdf document and uploaded through the URO registration portal - this includes the proposal and any supporting materials.  ONLY ONE DOCUMENT will be sent to the committee for review.
  • Faculty recommendation forms may be submitted by the faculty member by email to Jen Weidenhof at jweidenh@andrew.cmu.edu
Graphs and/or Illustrations: Illustrations may be used in the body of the proposal.

Review a Draft

You are strongly encouraged to work with your faculty advisor on your proposal, attend a Proposal Writing Workshop run by the URO (dates listed on the main page), and to meet with the Undergraduate Research Office Director or Assistant Directors at least once prior to submitting a SURF proposal to review a draft. To schedule an appointment, e-mail Stephanie Wallach at sw4s@andrew.cmu.edu, Joanna Dickert at joannad@andrew.cmu.edu, or Richelle Bernazzoli at rbernazz@andrew.cmu.edu or call x8-5702.