Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship (BSURF)

two students working in a socially-distanced lab setting during summer 2021. They are smiling behind their masks, holding test tubes.

The Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship is an 8-week summer research program for rising sophomores (currently enrolled Duke students). Students are placed in one of Duke's biological and biomedical science laboratories, attend faculty seminars, and participate in professional development workshops. BSURF Fellows present their work in a campus-wide research showcase at the end of the summer. Many Fellows will continue to work in their BSURF labs in subsequent years, culminating in Graduation with Distinction.  

The Fellowship includes a $4,000 stipend plus housing on Duke Campus. Travel and parking assistance is also available for students on need-based financial aid. Note that stipends are reportable income by IRS rules. See:

student and mentor speaking at a poster presentation session

BSURF dates: June 5 - July 28, 2023

Applications for Summer 2023 will open on December 1, 2022. The application requires short essays addressing the following questions:

  • What is your intended major? Why did you choose it?
  • What are your career goals? Do you anticipate pursuing an advanced degree after graduating?
  • For your choice of two areas in the life sciences, what interests you about those fields?
  • Why are you interested in doing research this summer?
  • What previous research or laboratory experiences have you had?
Read the BSURF Blogs!

An official transcript- the applicant should submit a request via DukeHub to send an official electronic transcript to the program director, Dr. Ron Grunwald, Need help doing this? See this guide from the Registrar.


Will the program be in person again for 2023?
Yes, at this time we expect that the program will include on-campus housing and in-person lab experiences. We expect that some campus safety protocols will continue be in place.

Can non-Duke undergraduates apply?
No, Duke’s BSURF Program is for returning Duke students only.

Are non-citizens eligible for this program?
Yes. All first year students are eligible to apply and participate, regardless of citizenship status.

I have never done any research – will this hurt my chances?
Not in the least. BSURF seeks to support talented students with limited experience.

If I have done research, and I am accepted into the program, may I continue my research in the same laboratory where I am currently employed or volunteering? 
This is usually possible, but not guaranteed. We will take a student’s request into consideration when making placements for the summer.

The application says that an eligibility requirement is that I have taken or be enrolled in a biological or chemical science course. I am a prospective biomedical engineering major, and I have not taken biology or chemistry course here nor am I currently enrolled in one. I do have AP credit in biology and chemistry. Am I still eligible?
We recognize that first year students, especially Pratt students, are constrained in course choices. We will take this into consideration.

If I am accepted to and participate in this program, may I enroll in a summer course or work another job?
No. The Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship requires a full-time commitment during the period of the fellowship. Because of the timing of the program, enrollment in a Duke Summer Session course is not possible. 

If I am accepted to and participate in this program, can I also get Bass funding or addtional funding from my lab?
No. The Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship requires a full-time commitment during the period of the fellowship. However, you may receive funding from other sources to work in your lab either before or after the BSURF fellowship period. 

How many people apply for this program and how hard is it to get in?
In each of the past several years, approximately 100 students have applied for approximately 20 spaces. This is a competitive program.

When will I be notified? Is there a waitlist?
Students are notified of decisions before the beginning of spring break. There will be a short, unranked waitlist.

Do you wait to accept students after receiving all applications, or is there a rolling admissions process?
The Committee reviews all completed applications before notifying students of decisions. There are no rolling admissions.

May I check whether my application materials have or have not been received? 
The on-line application will be acknowledged as soon as it is submitted; the URS Office will notify students if a letter of recommendation or transcript has not been received. Please do not contact the office and request an update on your materials.

How important is academic performance in the selection process? 
Grades are reviewed during the selection process, but are not the major criteria. Applicants have completed only one semester of course, so grades receive less weight than written answers to the application questions and recommendations.

How long should the answers be to the application questions? 
One long or two short paragraphs should suffice for the personal question. You should also write one or two meaningful paragraphs about the two areas of science that most interest you.

When are reference letters due?
Reference letters are due by the application deadline.

I took a very large general lecture course with a professor this past semester, but my lab section was smaller and the graduate TA knows me better. What would be preferable for the recommendation? 
We prefer to receive the recommendation from an individual who can comment on the applicant’s work habits, performance, and potential as a scientist. In some case, the TA is the most appropriate recommender, but this is not always the case. If so, please make sure that your TA is a graduate student rather than an undergraduate teaching assistant.

May I ask for a letter of recommendation from a Duke professor under whom I have participated in research, even if I have never taken a class with that person? The reason I am unsure is because some of the statements about the recommendation specifically refer to class activities.
Yes. We prefer recommendations that can comment on an applicant’s work habits, performance, and potential as a scientist. In some cases, a research mentor is better able to comment on those attributes than a course instructor.

In the spring I will be taking a 100-level science course, but the applications are due in mid-February, so I will not have been in this class for very long. My current seminar teacher, however, does know me very well, but she is not a scientist. Will it be ok for her to be my faculty reference?
Although we prefer recommendations from science or math instructors, we recognize that it is not always possible for first year students to obtain such letters. Asking a seminar professor or writing instructor is a fine alternative.

I was just wondering whether or not the faculty reference could be from a former high school teacher -- or does it have to be from a Duke faculty member?
The recommendation must be from a Duke instructor or faculty member.

You can preview the entire B-SURF Program application below. You may want to prepare your answers in a word document, and then copy and paste into the actual application. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Application Status: CLOSED

George Romero, 2021: "For me, the intersection of my BSURF experience and working in a lab that studies learned vocalization and communication has set me down a lifelong commitment to exploring all facets of communication: the scientific and practical aspects of effective communication."

Anuj Som, 2021: "The culmination of question-asking and answering: this was science. I realized the purpose of researchers was not to bombastically pierce into the unknown but to elevate the current understanding piece by piece to leave no gaps in our knowledge."

Ben Johns, 2021: "All in all, I feel like I have finally entered this “aquarium” of research and my wonder has only grown since I stepped into its waters. And while I am still eons away from being a full researcher and there is still a lot for me to learn, I am fired up about being a researcher and am ready to bulldoze through the trials of this path to achieve this dream of mine."

Emily Prudot Gonzalez, 2021: "Working in the lab made me realize how much of science is a collaborative effort. There are mentors, peers, and journals to turn to. And because there’s bound to be an area you’re not the most confident in, it’s expected you will receive help and sometimes even give help yourself. One thing I always hear is that everyone is still always learning, even having been in the field for 20+ years. It’s just made me have so much to look forward to in terms of what more I will be exposed to in the coming years."

Joe Laforet, Jr., 2021: "Throughout this program I was constantly engaged with my work. It was up to me to design the software pipeline for my project. I was given a task by my mentor, and it was on me to implement the features he wanted. One of the challenges that I’ve struggled with most being a self-taught programmer was finding confidence in my coding abilities....This program was exactly the push that I needed to give me the confidence in myself that I can accomplish problems put in front of me."