/  GROWTH SURF Program



The NSF-funded GROWTH project officially ended in October 2020. The GROWTH SURF program, which was part of the educational and training activities of GROWTH is now also discontinued.

Every year, GROWTH offers unique opportunities to undergraduate students to take part in a 10 week summer research program. A number of highly qualified students currently studying at any of the partner institutions of GROWTH in the USA will be selected to spend their summer carrying out a research project with one of our international partners. A small number of US-based projects will also be available to students from our international partner institutions. Successful applicants will work with one or more mentors who will provide guidance and monitor progress during the program. The GROWTH SURF Program in integrated into the SFP Office at Caltech and closely follows the philosophy and program requirements of the SURF program.


Participants in the 2019 GROWTH SURF share their impressions upon return to the USA.

A map displaying where our students have been. Clicking on a route in the map will show you more information

Who can apply

Undergraduate students currently enrolled in studies in one of the GROWTH partner institutions are eligible to apply. Women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply. Candidates must also:

  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 (Caltech students) or 2.5/4.0 (non-Caltech students)
  • Have completed the second semester or third quarter at their college or university
  • Not be under any academic or disciplinary sanction



Selected candidates from the USA who are going abroad will receive 6350 USD stipend provided by the National Science Foundation to cover travel, accommodation and living expenses. Infortunately, NSF funds are not available to international applicants who wish to come to the USA or take up a research project at another GROWTH international location. However, we encourage these students to seek various forms of financial aid from their home institutions. Many of our international partners have obtained funds from national agencies to support GROWTH students. In addition, quite often institutions may have their own funding, which can be used for exchange programs like ours.



Browse through the list of our summer research projects. Each project has a description that includes details about the research work and goals, name of host institution and mentor(s), and whether there are any pre-requisites that students should meet before applying.

Application Process

Interested students should fill in this form. In addition, you should submit the following to before the deadline listed below.

  • One-page research statement. The statement should

       (1) include 2-3 paragraphs, describing your prior research experience, focusing on the skills that you learned and how you applied them.
       (2) include 1-2 paragraphs, describing how your research interests are a good match to the topic of the project you selected as your first choice.

  • One-page personal essay. Undergraduate students have many opportunities to conduct summer research projects within their own country. In this essay, describe why you wish to participate in a research project in another country. In particular, answer the questions: why is an international experience appealing to you personally? Why do you think it will benefit your professional development as an astronomer?

  • A recommendation letter from a faculty member or research scientist with whom you have worked closely, or from an academic adviser. Please, ask the person writing your recommendation letter to email it to us directly at

  • A copy of your transcripts. Unofficial copies of stranscripts are also accepted in certain cases. Digital copies are preffered but hard copies will also be accepted.

  • International students applying to come to the USA should send their TOEFL score or another certificate of English language proficiency.

Hard copies of transcripts should be mailed to:

Iva Kostadnova
California Institute of Technology
MC 249-17
1200 E California Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91125

An internal review committee within GROWTH will assess your application. Applications will be judged based on the following criteria:

  • The applicant's research statement demonstrates her/his enthusiasm to carry our a summer research project, an understanding of the nature and purpose of the project, as well as a good match between the research goals of the project and the research interests of the applicant
  • The applicant's essay demonstrates mature reflection on the advantages and challenges of international collaboration in science. It should also convince the committee that the applicant has the potential to navigate diverse cultural environments relatively independently.
  • Student is prepared for the project (coursework, experience, etc).
  • Mentor and faculty have submitted supportive recommendations and evaluations.

See the Program Timeline in the next section to find out when announcements of selected candidates will come out.

Selected candidates who confirm their participation in the GROWTH Summer Research Program will be put in contact with the Caltech SFP Office who will handle administrative aspects of the program.

Application Deadlines

 Year  Deadline Selection Announcements
 2016  31 Mar, 2016  30 April, 2016
 2017  22 Feb, 2017 1 April, 2017
 2018  1 Feb, 2018 15 Feb, 2018
 2019  1 Feb, 2019 15 Feb, 2019
 2020  1 Feb, 2020 15 Feb, 2020


Program Timeline

DateProgram Phase
Oct 1 - Oct 31GROWTH PIs are invited to submit short description of proposed summer research projects
First week of NovGROWTH projects are submitted to the SURF office to be included in the announcement of opportunities on their online platform
Nov - Feb 1 Application period. Applications will be collected by GROWTH
Feb 1 - Feb 15The assigned review committee reviews all applications, selects finalists and matches the successful applications with mentors/projects.
Feb 15 - Feb 20Selected students are informed and asked to confirm their participation in the GROWTH SURF program
Apr 15Relevant to GROWTH Office only: Deadline for paperwork submission to the SURF office who provide administrative support to the GROWTH SURF Program.
April 15 - May 141. Mentors and students get in touch to discuss the project plans, exact dates for internship (a period between June 15 - Sept 1)  and align expectations. Both mentors and student should read the SURF guidelines.
2. Students begin to complete paperwork to receive their stipends
3. Student are provided with the contact of a "GROWTH buddy". This is a student who has been a participant in our program in the previous years and who has ideally been to the same host institution abroad. Incoming undergrads can get in touch with their "GROWTH buddy" to learn about their experience and get advice on everything from where to go for groceries to what are the cultural norm for addressing your host mentor
May-15Deadline for submission of project plans (project plans should be uploaded to the SFP online system)
May - JuneStudent make travel & accommodation arrangements with the help of the Study Abroad offices at their home institutions as well as their mentors and administrators at host institution.
June 1 - Sept 1The GROWTH SURF Program  runs between this period. Both students and mentors use the SFP online platform to submit/approve project deliverables
Sept 1 - mid OctoberStudents return home. Students contact local mentors to make arrangements to present results from their projects at their home institution. Caltech students will present at the Caltech SURF seminar day in mid October.
Mid OctoberCaltech students who were part of the GROWTH SURF present during the SURF Seminar Day.


Requirements & Deliverables

The GROWTH Summer Research Program requirements & deliverables are aligned almost entirely with the Caltech SURF program. Once selected for the GROWTH SURF Program you should:

  • Set Expectations
    Read carefully about what is expected of you as participant in the Growth summer research program
  • Connect with your mentor and deliver a Project Plan
    Contact your mentor to arrange for a Skype conversation to discuss
    • (1) The objectives of the research project and your role in it
    • (2) The project plan which should be submitted in the SFP online system by May 15. Guidelines about writing a project plan are available on this SURF page
    • (3) Expectations about work style and ethics. For example, some mentors prefer that students are always present on campus, others are more flexible. Some mentors prefer to be contacted via email, others prefer walk-in to their offices. Feel free to ask your mentor any questions and discuss at length such issues prior to the beginning of your research project. Setting up the right expectation in both you and your mentor is critical for a meaningful and productive summer research experience.
  • Prepare and submit Progress Reports (see instructions)
  • Submit an Abstract (see instructions)
  • Submit a Final Report (see instructions)
  • Final Presentations
    • Instructions for Caltech students
    • Students from other GROWTH institutions in the USA should contact their local mentors who will arrange for them to give a final presentation at their home institution.
  • Oral/poster presentation at suitable conferences (OPTIONAL)

    All students are encouraged to find other opportunities to present their summer research projects. Below we list several conferences suggested by the Caltech SURF office where undergraduates can present. Many more exist throughout the country year round so make sure to do a quick search for such possibilities in your local area.

SCCUR: Southern California Conferences on Undergraduate Research

Posters on the Hill, Council on Undergraduate Research

National College Research Conference

Sigma Xi

National Conference for Undergraduate Research

American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference

Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting



Once selected for the GROWTH SURF Program, you will sign up into the Caltech SURF Office SFP online system which will be used to manage deliverables and other administrative aspects during the course of the program. In the meantime, you are expected to INDEPENDENTLY start making the following arrangements:

  • Contact your mentor to discuss and agree on a start/end date for your research project
  • Check if you need a visa for your stay and if so make arrangements to apply. Almost always, the Study Abroad or International Office at your home institution should be able to provide you with information and advice. In addition, many offices may offer some cultural orientation or workshop sessions on international traveling. We encourage you to take advantage of those to learn about the challenges of traveling and working internationally.
  • You will receive from us a package with forms to fill in and return back so that we can process your stipend
  • Once you have obtained your visa (if required) book your plane tickets. Ideally, your stipend should reach you early enough to allow plenty of time to book tickets. However, if possible do not wait for the stipend if the start date of your internship is approaching and book your tickets as early as possible. Don’t forget that you receive a fixed stipend to cover all your costs so you don’t want to use up most of your stipend on the plane ticket.
  • Double check if your health insurance is valid abroad and if so to what extend. Again, the Study Abroad or International Office at your home institution may be able to provide you with guidance and information
  • Discuss accommodation arrangements with your mentor immediately after you settle the start/end dates for your research project. Finding summer accommodation for students is always challenging so the earlier your accommodation is booked the better. Your mentor or an administrator at your host institution should help you with that.
  • Fill in an emergency contact form we’ll send to you
  • Discuss and make concrete arrangements with your mentor about your arrival and settling in (is it necessary to be picked up from the airport, how do you get the keys for your accommodation, etc, etc)


Contact Us

Questions about the application process should be addressed to the GROWTH Program Coordinator, Iva Kostadinova.

Once you get subscribed to the SFP online system and start receiving information from the Caltech SURF office, you should direct all questions to them at (Tel: +1 626 395 2885).


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. If I am graduating in the spring, am I eligible for the GROWTH SURF?

A. No. We can only accept continuing undergraduate students.

When exactly can I start working on my research project?

A. The exact start and end date of your summer project are decided between you and your mentor. Once you have been selected and matched to a mentor, you need to contact them to discuss the timeline of your project

If I don't have a complete application in time, can I still send in my application?

A. Partial applications will be considered, as long as they arrive before the application deadline. It's better to send us something on time than a complete application late. Late applications will not be considered except in special circumstance.

I am in international student at a GROWTH US partner university. Can I apply to the program?


Do you take rising sophomores (who will be sophomores next year) into your program?

A. Most of the summer research projects are suitable for rising juniors and seniors but we do accept rising sophomores into our program.

Can I continue to work on this project beyond the end of the program?

A. GROWTH doesn’t have funding to support continued work by our undergraduates on their summer research projects. However, in many cases there are different arrangements that can be made to allow a student to work on a research project beyond the summer period. Please, contact your local host to discuss the availability and feasibility of such opportunities.

Can I take vacation during the research program?

A. Vacation time during the summer can be taken only with the approval of your mentor

GROWTH is funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant No 1545949. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.