Carnegie Mellon University

Type II Guidelines for SURF

for Proposals other than Arts and Creative Humanities

You are strongly encouraged to work with your faculty advisor on your proposal; to meet with the Undergraduate Research Office Director or Assistant Directors at least once prior to submitting a SURF proposal to review a draft; and to a Proposal Writing Workshop run by the URO (please see dates of the workshops on our homepage).


The Application

Your application is your chance to tell us about your proposed research, why it is significant, and how well you are prepared to undertake such a project.  All parts of your application must be submitted online.  

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 readers will be considering your proposal in light of these key criteria:

  1. Well-defined, actionable research question or objective
  2. Discussion of hypotheses OR other expected findings/outcomes
  3. Discussion of the significance/contribution of the research to the broader field
  4. Comprehensive explanation of methodology 
  5. Discussion of background, supervision, and dissemination of results

Proposal Format for SURF

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

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

NEW!  URO Award Coversheet:  A URO Award Coversheet must be completed for all proposals.

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.

If you will work with Human Subjects: Read A Note on Human Subjects for instructions.

Components of Application: Headings and Content

Please include the headings in the proposal exactly as they appear below.

A)  Proposal 

• 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.

B) Biography - 1 page maximum.

Please use this biography to tell us about yourself.  Feel free to be creative - introduce us to your background and your interests - even those that may take you beyond your formal education and your research interests. These can include hobbies, travels, family background, what it was like to grow up in your hometown, athletics, and/or service interests.  Or, if there is a compelling story that can explain why you chose to go in a particular direction, this can also be the basis of the biography.  It should NOT be an opportunity to tell us what courses you have taken, why you deserve this opportunity, or why you chose Carnegie Mellon.  This is a chance to reveal other sides of yourself and help the committee get to know you better. 

C) Applicant’s college transcript

Please include an official or unofficial transcript that includes your spring mid-term grades. The preceding fall GPA is one of the factors, although not the most important, that we will consider. We will also look at overall trends. If there was a difficult semester or two, we will focus on a pattern over time. 

D) Resume

If you do not have an updated resume, please see the Career Center for advice on resume writing.

E) URO History

Please let us know if you participated in past SURA or SURG projects, or received a SURF.
Name(s) of Projects

F) Letter of collaboration by mentor (submitted by mentor)

A SURF requires full-time research on campus for 8-10 weeks under the direct and regular supervision of a Carnegie Mellon faculty member/researcher. Once you have registered online, your advisor will receive an email prompt to submit a letter of collaboration via email to Jen Weidenhof.


Electronic Submission

All students applying for SURF must REGISTER a student profile.  If you have registered in the past, please update any incorrect or missing information in your profile.

Please note:  All faculty advisors must be added by the student initiating the project registration.  You MUST use their ANDREW ID to enter those individuals.  ID exchanges will not enable you to apply (i.e.,;; cmu.sei.cmu;, etc.)  Use of the online application requires WebISO authentication for each application. 

Once your student profile is entered, please add your project information in the field provided, and upload your proposal.

  • All students must complete the URO Award Coversheet.  This should be the first page of the .pdf document that is uploaded.
  • All SURF applications should be saved into one .pdf document and uploaded through the URO registration portal - this includes the URO Award Coversheet, proposal, biography, resume, transcripts, etc. and any supporting materials.  ONLY ONE DOCUMENT will be sent to the committee for review. 
  • Please submit your proposal in .pdf form and name it “LastNameFirstNameSURFSummer2020Proposal” where LastName and FirstName reflect the name of the student who it submitting the proposal.
  • Faculty letters of collaboration may be submitted by the faculty member by email to Jen Weidenhof by the published deadline.

Before the deadline:

  • Did you register your student profile and project?
  • Did you ask your faculty advisor to write a letter of collaboration?
  • Did you draft your proposal?
  • Did you complete the URO Award Coversheet?
  • Did you organize your supporting materials?
  • Did you write a resume?
  • Did you get a transcript that includes fall mid-term grades (official or unofficial)?
  • Did you draft a one-page biography as per the description above?
  • Did you attend a Proposal Writing Workshop (dates available on our main page)?
  • Did you meet with the URO Director or Assistant Directors (optional, but strongly advised)?
  • Did you apply to Institutional Review Board (IRB) if your project involves human subjects?

 Before you press SAVE:

  • Did you compile a single final .pdf of your full proposal (including your URO Award Coversheet resume, biography, history and transcript)?
  • Did your faculty advisor submit the letter of collaboration by email to Jen Weidenhof? (Your advisor will receive an email prompt to submit his/her letter after you have registered your project online.)  

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 available on our 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.