Students often agree that one of the best experiences at Caltech is the opportunity to conduct hands-on research with some of the top faculty in the world. 75% of our students participate in undergraduate research.
There are lots of ways for Caltech undergrads to conduct research—informally asking faculty if they can participate in research groups, for example, or doing a research project for class credit. But probably the most popular way is to SURF—that is, participate in Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships Program. Established in 1978, SURF is open to undergraduates at Caltech as well as other colleges. More than 5,500 students have SURFed since the program began.
Students who want to SURF begin by drafting research proposals in order to receive fellowship grants. (About 93 percent of these proposals are ultimately funded—much better odds than in the outside world.) SURFers work on their projects with a professor, grad student, or postdoc for about 10 weeks, sometimes longer, and receive a $6,000 award.This past summer 354 students participated in SURF and Caltech gave a total of $2.1 million dollars in SURF Awards.
At the end of the summer, they write up their findings in the format of a scholarly article and give a talk at SURF Seminar Day. Structured like a professional scientific meeting, Seminar Day draws a large audience of parents, students, and other members of the Caltech community. View a picture gallery of 2009 SURF projects.
SURFers have the opportunity to reprise their Seminar Day presentations at the Doris J. Perpall Speaking Competition. The contest, which awards cash prizes to the three best speakers, was established to encourage students to hone their scientific communication skills. Three rounds of competition are judged by a panel of faculty, JPL staff, alumni, and grad students.