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Frequently Asked Questions

Is the stipend taxable?

Unfortunately, We can't really answer that question. There are a lot of factors that complicate this issue (i.e., how the school processed the grant, whether they put you on their payroll as an employee, and which state you live in). A tax advisor familiar with the laws in your state would be the best person to answer this question. The IRS website topic "Interest, Dividends, Other Types of Income: Grants, Scholarships, Student Loans, Work Study" may provide some guidance.

Do I have to pay for housing out of my stipend?

No! You don't have to pay for the housing out of your $5,500 stipend. We will give a grant to the school to pay for the housing. The only real expense that you will have this summer is paying for food and any entertainment that you plan to enjoy. You will be staying in a suite-style hotel and it offers some free food: a continental breakfast everyday, a happy hour with "heavy" appetizers several days a week, and a BBQ once or week or so.

Where can I get the application forms?

You can download the application forms from the SURF website - http://www.nist.gov/surfgaithersburg

To get an application by mail, you may also contact:
Anita Sweigert
NIST
100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8400
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8400
Telephone: 301-975-4200
Fax: 301-975-3038
E-mail: sweigert@nist.gov

Your institution can apply for the program through the online grants.gov system

I'm having trouble with the online Grants application process. Where can I get more information or help?

For information or questions regarding applying electronically please contact Christopher Hunton at 301-975-5718, Fax (301)-840-5976 email christopher.hunton@nist.gov or Sue Li at 301-975-8817 email sue.li@nist.gov . For assistance with using grants.gov contact support@grants.gov

Who should I contact at my university to get my SURF application started?

We compiled a partial list of university contacts to give students a contact in their particular university.

If your university is listed, please contact that person ASAP to let them know that you intend to submit a student application. Note: Your university may set the deadline for applications earlier than our official Feb 15th deadline to give themselves time to gather all of the paperwork and to write up your official nomination.

If your university is not there, do not despair! You can still apply to the program. It just means that you are going to have to talk to more people to see who (at the university-level) can help you. Here are some places to try: the Office of Sponsored Programs, Undergraduate Research Opportunities office, Office of the Chancellor, Office of Research Administration, Grants and Research Administration, Office of Sponsored Research, your counselor, the university or department internship or CO-OP office, or even your favorite professor. If you manage to find the right person, ask him/her to call us to get their name on the list so the next person from your university will not have to search that hard.

If you are a university staff member and you would like to get on the list, please contact Anita Sweigert (301-975-4200 or anita.sweigert@nist.gov) to provide your information and we will update the list.

Can letters of recommendation be submitted electronically?

It depends. If you choose to use the full electronic application process on grants.gov - you may submit the letters of recommendation as part of that package. However, if you choose to submit a paper application no you may not submit your letters of recommendation electronically. It is just too confusing to receive parts of the application packet at separate times. We received over 300 applications in the spring of 2005 and we expect that number to increase in the coming years. We do not want to take a chance that we might disqualify an application because one part of the application was inadvertently misplaced. Please make sure that everything that is required is in the application packet before you send it in either through the mail or as part of an electronic submission.

How competitive is the program? How many are accepted?

Approximately 1 of every 3 students is offered an fellowship. We expect to have about 130 students each summer in the program. The actual chance of making it into the program really depends upon the number and quality of the students applying for the program and in the number of appropriate NIST projects that we have available that summer. You can increase your chances of getting into the program by writing a good "personal statement" or essay on yourself. Try to answer the questions: Why are you interested in the program? Why you think that you should get accepted? What are your technical interests? It is also helpful for you to identify which labs that you would like to work in because the people in those labs will review your applications before anyone else does.

Where can I see past SURF student projects?

We keep abstracts of the student projects on the SURF website, under the application section ( http://www.nist.gov/surfgaithersburg/app.cfm). Look for "Student Abstract Book" or if you want to see a quick list check for the "List of participants, research project titles, and NIST laboratories" link.

Is the program open to foreign students or US students in foreign universities?

No, the program is only open to United States citizens or permanent U.S. residents who attend U.S. colleges or universities.

Who is eligible to apply for the SURF program? What about an F1 Visa?

The SURF program is only open to US citizens and US Permanent Residents who are attending a US College or University. A student with an F1 Visa (a.k.a. student visa) is NOT eligible for the program.

Is deadline date the day that the application must be postmarked or when NIST needs to receive it?

We must receive your application by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on that day. Nominally, the deadline is February 15, however, if the 15th falls on Saturday, Sunday or a Federal Holiday then we will extend the deadline to the first business day that follows that date.

The Congressional budget process has been known to cause some conflicts with the February 15th deadline, therefore, we would recommend that you check the SURF website (http://www.nist.gov/surfgaithersburg) for any possible changes in the deadline date.

Does university need to contribute towards cost-sharing (or matching funds)? Will it have any impact on the student acceptance if they do or do not?

The SURF Program does not require colleges or universities to provide any funding for their students. In fact, that issue does not even get factored into the review criteria. The evaluation criteria are:

  1. Student's Academic Ability and Commitment to Program Goals including evaluation of completed course work, expressed research interest, compatibility of the expressed research interest with SURF Program research areas, research skills, grade point average in courses relevant to the SURF Program, career goals, and honors and activities.
  2. Applicant Institution's Commitment to Program Goals including evaluation of the institution's academic department(s) relevant to the discipline(s) of the student(s).

What do I include in my personal statement? Is there a limited to the amount of space that I can use?

Our best advice is to take this seriously - we don't limit you to a paragraph or even one page. The personal statement is essentially an essay about you, why you are applying to the program, and why you think that you should be offered a fellowship. Use the letter to describe yourself and what you would like to do with your future. Often this letter can give the reviewer the extra bit of information that he or she needs to a final decision. The SURF directors also use this letter to match you with a summer project so make sure you tell us if there is an area that you are really interested in or the opposite. Keep in mind that students are often placed in specific projects because they have the needed skills for that project. Students often complete the program with a new perspective on a research field entirely different from what they had originally expressed interest in. In a few cases, these students have continued in the new field in graduate school. You may not know the exact area that you want to work in but you probably know what kind of classes you like and what you don't - use the letter to tell the reviewers. We have nine different laboratories here at NIST and often a person with one degree (or future degree) can work in more than one lab - another reason to keep your options open.

When will I know if I've been accepted?

We try to review the students and issue acceptance notices by the end of March or early April. The SURF Directors strive to notify each school and student of their final status – whether or not the student has been offered a place in the program.

What should be on my resume?

Keep in mind that a student resume should not just include the jobs that you have/had. The resume should also include information like expected graduation date, relevant classes and skills (especially computer skills), hobbies, awards, and publications, if any.

What is the housing cost? What is the stipend?

The SURF program is designed around a 11-week fellowship. There are a limited number of 9-week fellowships available to accommodate school schedules. Students who complete the full 11 week program will receive a $5,500 stipend. Students that can not make the full 11-week program will be paid at $500 per week.

The SURF program in Gaithersburg, MD uses corporate housing and suite-hotels to accommodate the student housing needs. The cost for housing is based on the rates that these commercial establishments offer to our program participants and the actual costs are determined in early springtime. For the application process, we recommend that you put $4,000 to cover both housing and travel for planning purposes. The actual cost will be included in the final grant paperwork if and when the student(s) are chosen from your school. Local students may choose to live at home. If you have any special needs for housing, please let us know.

Do I really need to have health insurance to get into the SURF program?

No. It is a recommendation that you have health insurance. As you probably know, not having health insurance can be risky. If you get sick or have an accident while in the Washington DC area you will be responsible for paying for your own medical bills. If you do have health insurance (i.e., covered under your parents' plan, through school or even on your own plan), be sure to bring a copy of the card with you just in case something happens and you need to see a doctor while you are here.

What type of clothes should I bring with me?

The dress around the NIST campus is "business casual" - for example: chinos, Dockers, khaki pants, or nice jeans. No clothes with holes please!

You should pack at least one nice outfit (suit, dress, sports coat, skirt, or shirt and tie). The nice outfit will come in handy for the end-of the-summer talk (for an audience of NIST scientists, guests, and fellow students) or for days when you have a special VIP visiting your lab.

It is important to pack at least one pair of closed-toed shoes for the times that you will be working in a laboratory or machine shop. Sandals, open-toed shoes, and high-heels are not allowed in most laboratories.

Even with the casual atmosphere around NIST, it is not a college campus and we would like to encourage you to take a critical eye at your clothes. For example, suggestive clothing items and clothes that expose your midriff are not appropriate.

Some of our laboratories require safety glasses, therefore, if you wear prescription glasses and it is likely that you will need to wear safey glasses ask your optometrist to write a script for your prescription. With that prescription, we can order you a pair of safety glasses.

Since the university officially applies for the SURF grant, does this mean that the money, if our student is accepted, comes to the school and not to the student? 

Yes, the university fills out the proposal and receives the funding. For each student receiving a fellowship, the student's university receives a grant that will cover the student's stipend, travel costs, and housing, if needed. The university is then responsible for direct payment of housing costs, and disbursement of the stipend and travel allowances to each student.

How much detail do you need on the university for the grant proposal?

Truthfully, we only need as much as is needed to verify that your university has a creditable program and that it can properly administer the grant. I'm sure that the physics department already has a description of the program that you use to entice students to enter your undergraduate program. A copy of that description would be sufficient. In addition to the university description, we need a statement that you (or the university) would like to officially nominate the following students.... 

Can I bring a pet with me?

Sorry, pets are not allowed in the shared housing units.

May I bring my Skeet gun with me?

Firearms are not allowed in the shared housing units or on the NIST campus.