Program Description | Eligibility
Statement | Application Information | FAQ | Interview
Guidelines | Proposal Guidelines | Announcements
Please read all sections of this page before
you begin the application process!
Non-Caltech students may apply for SURFs; however, the program has limited
funding for such students. There may be special requirements for international
students. Students applying for a SURF at JPL must be U.S. citizens or U.S.
The Application Process
Students must identify and contact a mentor and collaborate with the mentor
to develop and define the research project. This early interaction is a very
important part of the application process. Non-Caltech students usually have
to accomplish this discussion via e-mail, phone, or fax. If a student is
in the area, we encourage him/her to visit the campus and meet the mentor.
The Online SURF Application
All documents will be submitted directly to the SFP online system. The application
- An online application
- A proposal written by the student and uploaded to the application
- Three confidential letters of recommendation from faculty
(at least two in the relevant discipline)
- The applicant's unofficial transcript
SFP will contact the applicant's mentor for a confidential evaluation after the application is submitted.
How To Identify a Mentor
It is the responsibility of the student to identify a suitable research mentor.
The mentor must be a member of the Caltech faculty or JPL technical staff.
There are several ways to identify a potential mentor:
- Review the Announcement of Opportunities website to see projects
being “advertised” by mentors.
- Use your academic network. Talk to your advisor to see if
they have ideas and contacts for you.
- Review the SURF Abstract Book (available online here)
to get ideas about possible research areas and mentors.
- Talk to professors in your field and ask for referrals to
prospective mentors. A non-Caltech student may ask a faculty member at his/her
institution to contact a colleague at Caltech or JPL on his/her behalf.
- Call the SFP office to discuss possible mentors.
A vital part of the SURF application process is the interaction between student
and mentor prior to submission of the proposal. This is the best time to
find information about the project, the laboratory, and your role in the
group. During the discussion, you should develop your expectations of what
it will be like to work in this group as well as the nature of your research
project. Interview guidelines may be accessed
The Research Project
SURF is not "just a summer job"; a project should have significant
intellectual and creative content and the student should demonstrate that he/she
has taken intellectual ownership of the project. The most important factor
in selecting a project is your enthusiasm for the project itself and for collaboration
with the mentor.
The proposal should be as technical and specific as you can make it as it will
be read by people in the field. It must outline what you plan to do, and
why it will be useful. The outline consists of theoretical and experimental
techniques, how the work fits into the flow of the research in the field,
and a work plan for the project. Proposals will be reviewed and evaluated
by the mentor and by a member of the faculty or JPL technical staff in the
project field. For further guidelines on writing an excellent proposal, access
the Proposal Guidelines.
Recommendations are completed online with the
application form. The online application will request recommender contact information
from the student. The recommender will then be emailed directly and asked to
submit his or her recommendation into the online system. Students are required
to submit three letters of recommendation. At least two must be from faculty
in the relevant fields at the student’s college
or university. The third may be from a former employer or faculty member
outside the field. Your mentor will complete a separate evaluation
and should not write a letter of recommendation.
At the time of application only an unofficial transcript needs to be uploaded
into the online form. After a student is awarded a SURF, they will be asked
to have an official transcript mailed in a sealed envelope from the records
office at their college or university.
Applications are judged on the following criteria:
- Research proposal is a clear description of the proposed project.
It demonstrates the applicant's understanding of the nature and purpose of
the project, how it relates to other work in the field, and it includes a
work plan for accomplishing project goals.
- Proposed project allows student to take intellectual ownership
and has potential for publication in refereed journal. Proposed project can
be reasonably done in a 10-week period.
- Student is prepared for the project (coursework, experience,
- Mentor and faculty have submitted supportive recommendations
Awards will be announced on April 1. Students will receive e-mail notification
of the outcome of their applications.
Click here for special instructions for international
Click here to apply