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 a representative of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholar Development at least once prior to submitting a SURF proposal to review a draft; and to a Proposal Writing Workshop run by the OURSD (please see dates of the workshops on our homepage).


The Proposal

Your proposal 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. 

Please note that ALL pages of your application materials will show as black and white during the review of our committee.

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.

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, with a targeted word count of ~200 words.

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

  • Research questions or objectives
  • Hypotheses or expected findings
  • Gaps in the existing body of work:  what has been done before that sets the stage for this work and what makes this new?  Please cite relevant people, publications, and research.
  • Why is this research important
  • Novel contribution to the field and/or to society

• Methodology: 

  • Project Design and Feasibility
  • Specific methods to be used
  • Equipment and materials to be used
  • If applicable: sampling method
  • If applicable: interview or survey design
  • If applicable: experimental setup
  • If applicable: methods of analysis
  • Justification of the methodological choices
  • Proposed timeline: Outline your expected timeline for the project

• 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. 

  • How do you know your faculty mentor? How did you find your faculty mentor?
  • If you had other support for projects in the past, either through the OURSD or through other avenues, please include this information in this section
  • If this is a SURG 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 SURG 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 or other members of a research group; 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, Carnegie Mellon's undergraduate research symposium, but if there are other venues to share your work, for example a departmental poster session or a discipline-specific conference, please mention these options here. If there are publications expected, please share with the readers.

Other Supporting Materials: Please note that any materials are optional and not required.  Please only include here materials that are directly related to the proposed project. For example, if you are doing an interview- or survey-based study, you could include your interview protocol or sample survey questions. You may also include a larger-scale diagram that does not fit within the three pages of the proposal but is essential for readers’ understanding of your project. Please limit the optional supporting materials to three pages. If supporting materials are not crucial to your proposal, this section should be omitted.

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. Good academic standing, although not the most important, is something 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) OURSD Grant History

Please let us know if you participated in past SURA or SURG projects, or received a SURF.

  • Date(s)
  • Name(s) of Projects
  • SURA, SURG and/or SURF

F) Letter of recommendation by faculty 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 submitted your application, your advisor will receive an email prompt to upload a letter of recommendation.


Application Submission



Before the deadline:

  • Did you ask your faculty advisor to write a letter of recommendation?
  • Did you draft your proposal?
  • 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 a OURSD representative (optional, but strongly advised)?
  • Did you apply to Institutional Review Board (IRB) if your project involves human subjects?


Review a Draft

You are strongly encouraged to work with your faculty advisor on your proposal, attend a Proposal Writing Workshop run by the OURSD (dates available on our main page,) and to meet with an OURSD representative at least once prior to submitting a SURF proposal to review a draft.