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School of MCB Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships

SURF Student

The School of MCB is grateful to be able to award a number of Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURFs) each year thanks to the generosity of our alumni, friends, and corporate sponsors. Undergraduate students conducting research under the direction of faculty in approved University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign laboratories are invited to apply for a SURF each spring.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship offers undergraduate students the opportunity to spend dedicated time in a laboratory with faculty, graduate students, and research staff over the course of 8 - 12 weeks without having to worry about how to pay for living expenses. During the summer, fellows will spend between 20 and 40 hours per week, depending on the project, conducting research. Additionally, they will participate in laboratory meetings, journal clubs, and seminars. At the end of their research experience, student participants write a brief summary of their progress to share with our faculty and sponsors. They are also required to present at the School of MCB Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall.

Continuing undergraduate students interested in applying for a SURF through the School of MCB, Departments of Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology and Microbiology, should apply using the common application form, which will open on January 4, 2021. The deadline for submission is 5:00 PM on Monday, February 15, 2021. No late submissions will be accepted. Students may be eligible for multiple fellowships, but each student may accept only one per summer. Basic eligibility requirements can be found below, but some donor sponsored fellowships may have additional requirements, including GPA, gender, ethnicity or departmental lab specificity. Applicants will be reviewed for all fellowships for which they are eligible.

MCB is dedicated to increasing the participation of underrepresented populations in research and actively encourages applications from these groups. Students currently receiving financial aid or other scholarships should be sure to check with a financial aid officer to understand how accepting a fellowship might affect other awards.

The application must be completed in its entirety and submitted prior to the deadline of 5:00 PM on February 15 for full consideration. Requirements to complete this application are listed below. All documents (excluding the P.I. nomination letter) should be saved as one single PDF before uploading. Students are responsible for ensuring that the submitted proposal conforms to all of the formatting requirements and instructions. The online submission system will NOT notify you if your application fails to conform to the formatting guidelines. As such, students are strongly encouraged to review their proposals before submitting. Applications that fail to conform to the formatting requirements and instructions will not be considered.

Please be sure to click SUBMIT to complete your application. If you simply SAVE AND FINISH LATER, we will NOT get your submission and you will NOT be eligible for any of the fellowships. You should receive an email confirmation, which includes your responses after clicking submit (check spam folders). Please save this email for your records. If you do not receive an email confirmation, then your submission did not go through and you should try again. Problems ensued after a 2nd attempt should be reported to Tina Knox at

SURF proposals will be evaluated using a rubric that incorporates the strength of the proposal, the letter of recommendation from the advisor, the student’s GPA, and the number of semesters that the applicant has been conducting research in their current laboratory. Applications that fail to follow the formatting guidelines or are incomplete, including the advisor’s letter of recommendation, after the submission deadline will not be considered. While transdisciplinary projects are encouraged, the proposed summer research project must include the study of biological problems at a molecular and cellular level.

Students selected for a fellowship will be notified on or after March 15, 2021, but no later than March 31, 2021. Recipients will be expected to work in lab a minimum of 20 hrs/week from June 14, 2021 to August 5, 2021.  Depending on the project, faculty may require additional time. Students cannot accept more than one School of MCB research fellowship per summer.

Requirements for Common Application
  1. One-page proposal (excluding any necessary references) of research to be conducted. The proposal should be typed using 11-point Arial font (or equivalent), single-spaced with 0.5-inch margins on all sides and include a title/topic of research project. It should describe the overall goals and objective of the project along with the specific research that will be undertaken by the student. This document should be an original and professional document prepared by the student with input from the principal investigator (P.I.) of the laboratory.
  2. Current CV/Resume for applicant.
  3. Unofficial undergraduate transcript available from Enterprise Student Self-Service (Registration and Records/Student Records and Transcripts/View Academic History).
  4. Nomination letter from Principal Investigator (PI) supporting the applicant's research, uploaded as a PDF at the following site, by the 5:00 PM, February 15 deadline.

Basic Eligibility Requirements for MCB Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships:

  • Must be an officially declared Biology, MCB or Biochemistry major for the semester immediately preceding the fellowship.
  • Must be continuing as an MCB or Biochemistry major in the fall semester following receipt of the fellowship. Students graduating in May are not eligible.
  • Must be conducting MCB 290 or BIOC 290 research in an approved lab during the preceding spring semester or have written approval of the faculty research advisor to participate in a summer research fellowship in their lab.
  • Student must agree to continue their research project for course credit during the following fall and, if applicable, spring semester and submit a senior thesis prior to graduation.
  • Student must be available to work in lab a minimum of 20 hrs/week from June 14, 2021 to August 5, 2021.  Depending on the project, faculty may require additional time. 
  • The recipient cannot accept more than one School of MCB research fellowship per summer.

Note, some donor sponsored fellowships may have additional requirements, including GPA, gender, ethnicity or research department. Applicants will be reviewed for all fellowships for which they are eligible, but can only accept one.

Goals/Purpose for the Fellowship

The primary goals of this fellowship are to provide students with:
  • Hands-on experience conducting cutting-edge research
  • Exposure to the research process and tools used by academic researchers
  • An appreciation for the challenges of academic research
  • The opportunity to spend dedicated time conducting research in the lab, and collecting data for a senior thesis project and graduation with distinction
  • Time to hone skills in analytical thinking and communication using scientific concepts and language
  • The opportunity to form personal and professional connections with faculty and other students
  • An experience to help determine whether graduate studies or industry research may be viable post-graduation goals

For additional information regarding Fellowships, contact Tina Knox.