SURF Faculty Advising

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This page is intended to serve as a guide for faculty who are advising a student completing a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). We recommend that you read the information carefully before agreeing to serve as a SURF advisor, as by taking on this role, you are agreeing to mentor the student through their research project, from application and research preparation through the submission of completed and approved materials at the end of the summer.

Advising and the Application Process

Students apply for a SURF in the early part of the spring semester. For many students, this will be their first time applying for funding to support a research project. As an advisor, you can help your advisee select a project that is original and feasible to complete (students are expected to work 20 hours a week for 9 weeks). You can also help them select a project that matches their skillset and experience.

As an advisor, you should also take advantage of this pre-research period to discuss your student’s expectations of you and your expectations of your student. Depending on the project, this might include work schedules, research timing, communication methods, troubleshooting processes, and access to supplies, equipment, or training.

If your student is doing a project that involves human or animal subjects, your student will need to get get IRB or IACUC approval. The approval must name the student, even if the student is working on a project that is related to one for which you have already received approval from the IRB or IACUC.

As part of the application, you must submit a recommendation letter on behalf of your student.

The letter of support must include:

  • The advisor’s assessment of the potential significance of the project
  • A review of the student’s qualifications to carry out the project as well as any academic or professional weaknesses that may interfere with their ability to complete the research project
  • If the research is part of a larger project, the letter should indicate what aspect of the larger project will be set aside for the student’s own independent research
  • A statement noting whether or not the project requires or has already received IRB or IACUC approval

Formatting requirements:

  • The letter of support must be written on departmental letterhead in double-spaced 12-point font
  • The letter should be saved as a .pdf and titled “LastNameFirstNameSURFYearLetter,” where “Lastname” and “Firstname” are the student’s names and “year” is the current calendar year with four digits (20xx), for example, “WashingtonTonySURF2017Letter.”
  • The letter should be submitted as an attachment to our@unc.edu. All recommendation content must be in the .pdf; content included in the body of the email will not be seen or considered by the review committee.

Faculty advisors are strongly encouraged to review the SURF Rubric used by the selection committee.

Advising students during the research project

SURF recipients are encouraged to talk to their advisors early about expectations on both sides. Make sure you discuss the logistics of the research project as well as the research itself. Set expectations for how & how often you and the student will interact, which parts of the project the student will be expected to complete independently and what you want to oversee directly, and when the student should approach you with help or problems. It is good to discuss preferred contact methods and frequency as well.

Remember that, while students who receive SURF funding are talented and driven, the SURF project is often their first experience with sustained research. They will be unfamiliar with many of the processes and setbacks that experienced researchers take for granted.

Every SURF project is different, but most projects work best if both the advisor and the advisee have clear plans for timelines, checkpoints within the project, and communication frequency.

End-of-Research fellowship requirements

SURF recipients are required to turn in post-research materials near the end of the summer. These include a project summary and a powerpoint. The advisor is required to review these items and send an email message to our@unc.edu with the current year and name of your program and “approval” (i.e. 20xx SURF approval) in the subject line. You must include the following text in the body of the message: “I have reviewed __________’s (student’s name) Project Summary and PowerPoint and I approve of the content. The PowerPoint summary is suitable for display for general audiences on the OUR website.”

Please remember that this powerpoint and summary are intended for general audiences and are meant to talk about the outputs of the research experience. We recommend that you read the descriptions of the summary and powerpoint before approving them. Content that would be suitable for presentation at a conference in your discipline will be far too subject-specific for this purpose. These materials should be easily understood by an incoming first-year student with no experience in the field; avoid jargon, subject-specific vocabulary, and acronyms (unless defined in the powerpoint).

Many students have difficulty with this process, but the materials will not be approved and students will not receive their final checks until the final materials are approved by both the faculty advisor and the OUR staff. We encourage you to see this as part of students’ education in the research process, as the ability to explain their research to general audiences is an important part of many grant applications and proposal processes.