Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)

The Undergraduate Research Support Office is pleased to announce an expanded summer research program for rising-Sophomore Duke students, expanding on the success of the previous B-SURF program. SURF is an eight-week paid summer program offering rising sophomores opportunities for mentored research in a broader range of disciplines.  There will be two arms of the program:  1. Biological and Brain Sciences and 2. Social Sciences and Humanities. In these programs, students engage with faculty mentors and program directors to conduct disciplinary-specific methodologies and learn effective research communication skills with both professional and lay audiences. Students will receive a stipend and housing on Duke’s campus as part of the fellowship.


Biological and Brain Sciences:

In this arm of the SURF program, students conduct research alongside the members of a research lab in an area of biological or brain science during the summer as a training opportunity. Students will be asked to indicate their topic areas of interest in the application and once accepted, program directors will work with the students to match them to a lab group that fits their interest. These lab groups are in departments in the College of Arts & Sciences or in basic science labs in the School of Medicine and focus on broad areas in biology or brain sciences. 

In addition, students in this program will participate in professional development workshops as a cohort several times a week. Topics will range from learning how to find and read scientific papers, responsible conduct of research, building effective mentoring relationships, communicating about research, and building self-efficacy.  Students will also get to attend faculty seminars and tour various research spaces. SURF Fellows participating in biological or brain scientific research will present their work in a campus-wide research showcase at the end of the summer. Many Fellows will continue to work in their research group in subsequent years, culminating in Graduation with Distinction.


Social Sciences and Humanities:

The Social Sciences and Humanities arm of the SURF program in the Summer 2024 is a pilot program designed to expose rising sophomores to research in the humanities and social sciences. Descriptions for available projects are found here and students will rank their interests in the application.  Applicants will be notified of acceptance and their mentor match at the same time.  Students will engage one-on-one during the first four weeks to learn a specific method, theory and/or approach from a faculty mentor. In the final four weeks, students will apply what they have learned to design some element of a personal project, with the approval of the faculty mentor. This program will allow students to develop their knowledge and understanding of research in areas of personal interest, in the hopes of inspiring them to continue in research throughout their time at Duke.

Participating students will also engage in professional development and reflective exercises to help them cultivate their understanding of research. Through a series of cohort discussions, weekly responses, tours of research spaces, and faculty talks, students will explore various aspects of inquiry-based learning, such as: mentoring, designing a research question, public communication, ethical practices and social responsibility, and more. Through these activities students will develop a sense of their own research identity and interdisciplinary and interprofessional competencies so they might navigate a variety of research spaces. The program will conclude with a final event in which students will share their progress with faculty and community partners and identify future paths of pursuit.


Summer Programming

Students will work full-time on their research projects throughout the summer. Some of the SURF professional development programming will be conducted in larger groups, while some may be divided into the BB or SS/Hum arms of the program. Each week, the Directors will host a tea time for all participants to share their successes and challenges. While some may think research is all work and no play, there will be community bonding activities as well.


Stipend and Housing

The Fellowship includes a $4,000 stipend plus housing on Duke's Campus. Participants will be housed together at double occupancy.  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


Applications for Summer 2024 will open on December 15, 2023.

Will the program be in-person for 2024?
Yes, this program takes place in person on Duke’s campus with housing provided. There will be in person workshops and events that will be required for participants. 

Can non-Duke undergraduates apply?
No, Duke’s SURF Program is for rising Sophomores who will be enrolled at Duke in the fall semester.

Are non-citizens eligible for this program?
Yes. All first- year students are eligible to apply and participate, regardless of citizenship status. But keep reading into the next question, because the tax burden for international students can be significant.

What kind of tax impact does the award have? Could it affect my financial aid?
DSRF award funds are taxable and reported to the IRS. Your tax liability will depend on your total income and many other things, but all applicants should consider it when budgeting.

For international students, the tax burden is likely to be especially large—from 10% to 40% depending on your country of origin. Read here for more information and support.

If you are concerned about how your funding at Duke will work in relationship this award or other summer programs/opportunities, contact your financial aid counselor for further information and advice.

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

If I have done research, and I am accepted into the program, may I continue my research with the same faculty mentor? 
This is usually possible, but not guaranteed. We will take a student’s request into consideration when making placements for the summer.

If I participate in this program, may I enroll in a summer course or work another job?
No, Summer 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 participate in this program, may I also receive Bass funding or additional financial support from my lab?
No. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship requires a full-time commitment during the period of the fellowship. However, you may receive funding from other sources to do research either before or after the SURF 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 and 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 after the deadline. There are no rolling admissions.

May I check whether my application materials have or have not been received? 
No. The URS Office will notify students if a reference letter 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 criterion. 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? 
Responses should be no more than 200 words each.  

When are reference letters due?
Reference letters are due by the application deadline and must be solicited from someone (i.e., faculty at any level, researchers, and staff) affiliated with Duke University.  NOTE: reference letters from undergraduates will not be accepted.

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 your work habits, performance, and potential as a researcher. In some cases, 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.

My seminar instructor knows me very well, but she is not a researcher. Will it be ok for her to be my faculty reference?
Yes, of course. We understand that students engage faculty in all kids of formats and trust our Duke faculty to speak appropriately to our students abilities and motivations.

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.