How to Successfully Apply for Summer Undergraduate Research Programmes

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Various universities around the world offer summer undergraduate research programmes (SURPs). These tend to be very competitive; hundreds, even thousands of students can apply for only a handful of positions. However with some proactivity and strong planning, diligent undergraduate students can get accepted onto these prestigious awards.Why apply to a SURP and how do I find them?

Various institutions around the globe offer SURPs. These tend to be fully funded studentships exclusive for undergraduate students featuring 8-12 weeks at a laboratory / clinical institute undertaking research under the supervision of one of the local research teams. Admission to these programmes is extremely competitive and it is sensible to apply to many in one year to improve chances of success. However, if successful, these programmes can skyrocket your experience in the research environment and are a fantastic boost for your CV.

SURP information is available throughout the Internet. Some webpages offer lists of SURPs such as that kindly produced by Cambridge University’s Faculty of Biology (http://www.biology.cam.ac.uk/undergrads/undergrad-fund).

Which SURPs should I apply to?

You should apply to the SURPs that are the most relevant to you. Each SURP tends to offer a number of different research projects that you can either select from or are assigned to. Most of these tend to be laboratory-focused, with a series of lectures, seminars and tutorials to enhance your experience and maximise your output from the programme.

Prior to application:

  • Check the admissions criteria. Some SURPs only accept students from particular regions or countries, and some SURPs will only accept you if your latest end of year result is beyond a certain percentage. Some SURPs are designed for students with minimal previous research experience, whilst some are open to students from various research backgrounds. Typically, the SURP is applied for and carried out in the 2nd year of an undergraduate science programme, but these are variable.
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  • Ensure you apply for a SURP that is relevant to your future career prospects – it is great to be carrying out a SURP on the mechanisms of photosynthesis in plants but perhaps not so if you are aspiring to a career in academic neurosurgery! Particularly SURPs focus on specialised aspects, such as the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) SURP, whereas some are more broadly focused on Biology, such as the Vienna Biocentre Summer Studentship.
  • Check the structure of the programme – some of these vary greatly. Some programmes allow you to undertake the programme at a date convenient for both you and the supervisor, whereas some are a fixed number of weeks.
  • Some programmes will require you to contact supervisors in advance, please find more information here. It is advisable to contact supervisors at least two months in advance of the deadline for the SURP application.
  • Bear in mind that many of the SURP applications will require referees. The requirements of referees vary from programme to programme, some require a letter to be submitted directly to the programme, some require a form to be filled out and some will contact the referees after the deadline to directly obtain information about you. This should be taken into consideration when planning to complete your application prior to the deadline.

What does the application require?

Application requirements vary from programme to programme. Typically the application will consist of the following items:

  • A cover letter, stating why you are applying for the programme, why you are suitable and what you wish to obtain from the programme. Some programmes require several cover letters with a fixed word limit.
  • Your CV. Further details on approaching your CV can be found here.
  • Your university academic transcript. This will be obtainable from your relevant university portal, and should include all your grades and exam scores to date.
  • Material from referees, see above.

Can I apply for multiple SURPs at one time?

Yes. It is highly recommended that you do, considering the extremely competitive nature of the SURPs. If you are lucky enough to get admission for more than one, you must quickly make a decision and contact your second preference to inform them you have opted for another programme. This will enable time for the admissions tutors to select the next candidate in the list.

The outcome

Do not be disheartened if you get rejected from the SURPs of your choice. Most programmes are extremely difficult to secure admission and any of the programmes will be an excellent experience and adequate preparation for any undergraduate research projects you are conducting in the coming years. If you are accepted, a welcome letter and an itinerary usually follow shortly after admission. Some of the programmes have leisure and social activities included.

Summary

  • SURP programmes are run at various institutions across the globe and are extremely competitive
  • There are various admission criteria and requirements that differ from programme to programme that must be considered prior to application
  • Successful admission requires a strong application, diligence and patience.