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The NIST Summer Undergraduate Fellowship Program Goes Virtual

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) designed the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program to inspire undergraduate students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through a unique..
by External Contributor
Feb 02, 2021

By: Brandi Toliver, NIST

February 2, 2021

AMT Tech Report Selection by Stephen LaMarca: “Since 1993, the SURF program has hosted more than 3,000 undergraduate students from across the nation at NIST’s laboratories in Boulder, Colorado; Gaithersburg, Maryland; and Charleston, South Carolina. In an effort to prioritize the health of our staff and our future student fellows, SURF is going virtual for the first time.”


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) designed the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program to inspire undergraduate students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through a unique research experience that supports our mission. Since 1993, the SURF program has hosted more than 3,000 undergraduate students from across the nation at NIST’s laboratories in Boulder, Colorado; Gaithersburg, Maryland; and Charleston, South Carolina. In an effort to prioritize the health of our staff and our future student fellows, SURF is going virtual for the first time.

As the SURF managing program director for the past seven years, the highlight of each year for me is watching participants blossom into confident researchers by the end of the program and leave with an expanded network of friends and mentors. Due to the pandemic, the SURF Program was cancelled last year. Delivering this news to students, especially those who accepted offers to participate in the 2020 program was among the most difficult tasks I’ve had to complete while managing the program. After delivering the news, I thought about the impact that summer internships had on me when I was an undergraduate and how the students who thought they would be working at NIST must have felt. Some students were missing out on their last opportunity to gain research experience before graduation while other students were missing out on the opportunity to earn funds to assist with college expenses. It was at that moment that I decided to advocate for a virtual program for summer 2021, assuming NIST remained in a remote work environment. Shifting to a virtual program has allowed us the opportunity to be more creative in preparing students for STEM careers. Though participants may not get to work with the latest laboratory equipment or play in the annual soccer tournament, we think SURF will still offer a challenging and rewarding experience.

The virtual SURF Program includes:

  • An 11-week paid research experience mentored by a NIST scientist or engineer;

  • Weekly technical seminars featuring experts from a variety of STEM disciplines;

  • A professional seminar series to prepare participants for careers in STEM;

  • Virtual tours of NIST laboratories (tentative);

  • A flexible work schedule;

  • The ability to work from anywhere in the U.S. and its territories; and

  • Numerous opportunities to socialize and meet fellows from other schools.

If this opportunity sounds interesting to you, we encourage you to attend an upcoming virtual Lunch and Learn to hear more about SURF and ask questions about the application process. We plan to share more details about the virtual program with incoming fellows after selections are completed.

Applications are now open. To be considered for a virtual opportunity, apply for SURF Boulder or SURF Gaithersburg no later than Feb. 14, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

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