BioSURF Program

The Washington University Biology Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (BioSURF) provides support for WashU undergraduate students to engage in life-sciences research under the guidance of WashU faculty mentors. BioSURF is competitive and modeled on the grant-seeking process, with WashU Biology Department and Medical School faculty reviewing applications. The OUR expects to make about 40 awards this summer.

Participants gain a sophisticated and practical knowledge of the research enterprise as they enter the research environment and network within the community of scientists. Students experience the research process as a creative intellectual activity and gain a more realistic view of the opportunities and demands of a professional research career.

Program Highlights

  • Student recipients receive an award of $5000.
  • The BioSURF program supports WashU students working with faculty from WashU campuses, including the Medical School.
  • A $5,000 award requires a 360-hour (~9-10 weeks full-time) commitment, completed within the summer period (May 13 - August 23, 2024). 
  • Students build professional relationships within the research group and the broader research community.
  • Students give an oral or poster presentation at the Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium patterned after a professional conference.

Application Timeline

(All dates subject to change)

February 15: Application Deadline

April 1: Award Notification

April 8: Award Acceptance Deadline

April 26 - May 1: Award Orientation Dates

May 13: Earliest Summer Research Start Date

Submission Guidelines

How to Apply

The BioSURF application process is modeled on the grant-seeking process. In collaboration with a WashU faculty mentor, the applicant will write a project proposal that will then be reviewed by a faculty committee. Awards are made based on recommendations of the reviewers and available funding.


  • Open to all continuing WashU undergraduate students
  • Recipients must be able to conduct research for a minimum of 360 hours (~9-10 weeks full-time) between May 13 - August 23, 2024.
  • BioSURF is only for basic biological and biomedical research; clinical studies are not eligible. Disease-related research is often eligible, but patient outcome research is generally not. If you are unsure about whether your project is eligible for support, please inquire before applying.
  • Support is available for research in laboratories on the Danforth Campus and the Medical School (and some other local institutions). However, all BioSURF mentors must hold a faculty appointment at Washington University. Bench mentors may be graduate students or post-docs, but the recommendation and ultimate supervision must come from a professor. 

Application Requirements

  • A basic eligibility check (e.g., are you a senior?) and a student information form (e.g., major, field of research)
  • Two faculty recommendations, one from your research mentor and one additional reference. Note that recommenders will submit a nomination form comprised of several short answer questions (NOT a traditional letter of recommendation).
  • A 2-4 page, double-spaced research proposal, developed in collaboration with your research mentor. Proposal components are described below.
  • A project timeline

Application Review Criteria

Fellows will be selected based on their interest in and aptitude for research in the biological/biomedical sciences. Applications will be assessed based on:

  • The importance of the research experience to the student’s development
  • Quality of the proposal, including clarity of research question and methodological approach to the address question
  • Contribution and significance of proposed research to your field
  • Commitment to the project
  • Recommenders’ assessments of nominee’s potential for learning and contribution to the research
  • Demonstrated potential in field of research (e.g., prior experience and/or course-taking indicated on academic record)

Award Recipient Expectations

  1. Students who receive a BioSURF award must actively participate in the summer community of WashU undergraduate researchers, including attending a required research ethics workshop, giving a lightning talk on their project, and submitting mid- and end-of-award reports.
  2. Awardees must present their work at the Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium in the semester following receipt of the award.
  3. Students receiving awards for a summer research project may not enroll in more than 3 course units during the time of their research and cannot engage in other full-time employment during that period.
  4. All awards are considered taxable income by federal, state, and local government. Domestic students should declare their awards when filing annual taxes; the WashU Tax Department will mail a document listing the taxable award amount in late January. For international students, the tax burden can be substantial (up to 30%), and the WashU Tax Department automatically withdraws taxes upfront.

Application Components

WashU Research Mentor Nomination

Awards are made based on the faculty research mentor nomination, which involves short answers (NOT a traditional letter of recommendation) regarding the following criteria:

  1. Importance: Describe the importance of the proposed research or creative activities to the student’s academic and professional development and progression.
  2. Feasibility: Address the feasibility of the scope and timeline of the project. What potential barriers or constraints could interfere with progression of the project, and how might the student circumvent them? What product or milestone should the student achieve by the end of the research period?
  3. Disciplinary Contribution: Discuss the potential contribution of the proposed project to the relevant field of inquiry. What new knowledge, insights, tools, community impact, etc. might this project generate?
  4. Student Potential: Describe the student's commitment and capacity to undertake the proposed project. What experiences or indicators demonstrate the student's readiness and potential to advance the work? 
  5. Mentoring: Briefly outline your role in the project and how you and/or your research group hope to support the student in reaching project objectives.

Second Faculty Recommendation

Awards are also made based on a second faculty recommendation, e.g., from a faculty advisor or course instructor with some knowledge of the student's goals, skills, and capacity to contribute to a summer research project. As above, this recommendation involves short answers (NOT a traditional letter of recommendation) to the following questions:

  1. How long have you known the student and in what capacity?
  2. What experience or indicators demonstrate the student's interest or aptitude for research?
  3. How do you believe the student would benefit from a summer research experience?

Research Proposal

You are responsible for authoring your 2-4 page double-spaced research proposal, which we strongly advise you share with your prospective mentor. It should include:

  • Goal: State your research question(s)
  • Introduction: The introduction should provide the background and give the motivation for the proposed project. Discuss your project's relationship to your mentor's ongoing work, but also situate the research question(s) within the broader disciplinary context: explain previous studies, concepts, or theories relevant to your research. Given this context, highlight the disciplinary gap the project addresses and what new knowledge or understanding it will contribute. State your hypothesis where applicable.
  • Project Description: This section should specifically describe what you will do and how you will do it. Describe your method of inquiry and outline resources you will need. Explain the overarching methodological approach and your specific responsibilities. This section should outline the rationale and individual steps required to identify, examine and analyze the data/information collected.
  • Expected Outcome: Describe data you expect to collect and possible interpretations and implications.
  • Importance for the student: Identify the academic, personal, and/or professional goals the proposed project will advance. This section should specify how the faculty-mentored project will uniquely contribute to the students’ development of specific academic, personal, and professional competencies.

The proposal may include citations in any standard notation format, and a corresponding reference list will not count towards the 2-4 page limit. Write the research proposal such that a reviewer with an advanced degree in the biological sciences, but who is not an expert in your specific field, can understand and appreciate your proposal.

NOTE: Some projects may not fit the above format for writing the proposal, BUT will still qualify for support. Examples of this type of project are: methods development, acquiring preliminary data that will allow for formulation of hypotheses, or conducting a genetic screen. If you are unsure whether your project is eligible for support, please inquire before applying.

You may ask your research mentor and/or others in the lab to review your research proposal and make editorial and scientific suggestions; however, the proposal must be written by you, the student. Please see the WashU Undergraduate Student Academic Integrity Policy for details on plagiarism and collaboration for guidance as your prepare your proposal. 

Project Timeline

Provide a weekly timeline that outlines the work you will execute to achieve project outcomes and when it will be carried out. This document should demonstrate the project's feasibility and help you track your progress over the summer. Relevant elements of this timeline include:

  • Key preparatory, training and methodological steps of the project
  • Milestones and deliverables (i.e., what you will achieve or produce, such as the ability to conduct experiments with minimal oversight, an optimized protocol for data collection, a lab meeting presentation, etc.)
  • Critical communication points with your mentor (e.g., to obtain feedback)
  • Anticipated project period dates and work hours

Get Inspiration and Input

Before receiving the BioSURF award, I viewed research as a supplementary part of my academic experience... I didn't know a single other undergraduate who wanted to pursue a PhD and as a result, I never took the time to consider it for myself. As I began my full-time position in the lab this past summer, I talked to graduate students about their career aspirations... After only a few months, I could imagine myself in their shoes.

―BioSURF RecipientSummer 2023 Cohort

Application Now Open!

Deadline: February 15