• Julia Zabinska

Taking the Heat: A Guide to A Successful SURF

Source: Jiayi Liu, Campus Photographer

While students all across campus have been frantically polishing up their resumes and pouring over their summer internship applications over the past few weeks, a group of 150 underclassmen took matters into their own hands Wednesday, February 5, 2020. These first and second year students attended the very first SURF Mentor Panel and Mixer, an event organized by Jess Martin that included a Q/A session with professors doing research this summer and a lively group of SURF alums. Encouraged by cookies, incentivized by Mammoth Trading Cards, and inspired by some exciting scientific opportunities, students explored the possibilities of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and asked their peers about their personal experiences with the program.

One of the most common questions my fellow alums and I received at the mixer was, “If you could give one piece of advice to incoming SURF students, what would it be?” Well, I have compiled not only one, but five tidbits of wisdom to any SURF newcomers to help make their experience one to remember! They are:

Take advantage of the “U” in SURF

For many undergraduate students, SURF might be their first experience of conducting scientific research or in being in a research lab setting. While this certainly seems daunting at first, students quickly become familiar with their projects and develop the skills they need that once seemed so overwhelming, such as reading through dense research journals or presenting in front of peers. Also, keep in mind that SURF professors are among some of the most patient people on this campus. They welcome any questions you may have, offer guidance readily when you need it, and genuinely enjoy working with undergraduates!

Become a regular at Andy Anderson’s evening workshops

Not only does SURF provide students with their first research experience, but it also sets them up for success by arranging workshops that help students display and share their research. These workshops, introducing students to programs like Excel, InDesign, Photoshop, Mathematica, and Python, are invaluable to anyone in the STEM field and ultimately prepare students for the challenge of creating a poster. Check these workshops out; you won’t regret it!


Your professors will most likely throw a lot of information at you in the first few days, all of which will be useful at one point or another. Do yourself (and your future lab members) a favor and keep a detailed journal with any equations, data, or concepts that may arise during these first few days. This information will not only help you with your poster at the end of the summer, but may also be important if you continue working in the same lab during the academic year (which several SURF students do)!

After-hours flexibility is key

Logistically, it can get a little hectic after you clock out at 5:00 (or later) each day. In the summer, Val closes at 7:00 pm, the gym closes at 7:00 pm, and the pool closes at 6:00 pm. In order to maximize your free time outside of your SURF obligations, try planning ahead by bringing gym clothes with you to the lab if exercise is a part of your daily routine. Prioritizing early can save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

Journal, Journal, and Journal Some More

I was incredibly fortunate to have professors who instilled a “journal club” during my SURF program in which we read an assigned scientific journal every Wednesday morning and spent an hour dissecting it. Try to get together with your SURF friends and share your journals with them in order to expand your scientific horizons. Not only will you get better at sifting through large amounts of data, but you’ll also familiarize yourself with fields you never knew existed!

This year’s SURF experience is an 8-week program lasting from June 8th to July 31st. The deadline to apply is March 2nd, and more information can be found at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/support/funding/students/amherst-student-research-funding-opportunities/summer-research-opportunities-at-amherst/surf-application.


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