LIGO Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF)


Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships

June 16 - August 21, 2020
Caltech  ·  LIGO Hanford  ·  LIGO Livingston

Information for Applicants


All continuing undergraduate students (i.e. who will be students next year) may apply. Women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply.

Different projects require different skills and background, and we typically have some projects that are suitable for students who have just completed the freshman year.

Selected applicants will be matched with potential mentors and projects in mid- to late- February. You will have an opportunity to discuss the project with the mentor(s), and you will then be asked to prepare a project proposal or respond to challenge questions. Final selection of summer research fellows will take place in late February or early March.

Eligibility requirements for Caltech students:

To be eligible for SURF, you must:

  • Be a continuing undergraduate student
  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0
  • Complete the third term at Caltech, or at another school under a program approved by a Dean
  • Be eligible for fall term registration before beginning your SURF project and no later than July 1
  • Not be under any disciplinary sanction
Eligibility requirements for non-Caltech students:

To be eligible for SURF, you must:

  • Be a continuing undergraduate student
  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5/4.0
  • Complete a full year of undergraduate education at your college or university, including at least one full year course in undergraduate physics
  • Not be under any disciplinary sanction
Students at institutions in India

Review the information for opportunities for GW research in India.
Apply for summer internships with LIGO Laboratory.

Students from India typically must arrive and leave 2-3 weeks earlier than our normal program dates, and we try to accommodate that.

Deadlines and important dates

The 2020 Caltech LIGO Summer Program will run from June 16 through August 21, 2020. It is also possible to work longer than the standard 10 weeks of the program (for more pay), if this is arranged in advance.

LIGO SURF-specific important dates
  • Program dates: June 16 - August 21, 2020
  • Accepting applications from November 5, 2019 - January 10, 2020
  • Students will be notified of admission by March 2, 2020
  • First date a student will be asked to give a response to an offer from a Physics REU site: March 6, 2020

The Physics REU sites directors will utilize a common deadline of March 6, 2020, for students to accept or decline first round offers at domestic (non-international) sites, but students will not be required to decide before March 6. Sites may send offers to students at any time before this, but students will not be required to decide before March 2. Because of necessary organizational lead time, international REU sites may require earlier acceptance dates.

The last day of the program (August 21, 2020) will be a busy one. Plan to stay at least through that date.

Frequently Asked Questions

If I am graduating in the spring, am I eligible for the Caltech LIGO summer program?
No. We can only accept continuing undergraduate students.
Can I start working before the start date?
Probably not at Caltech; maybe at the LIGO sites. Caltech is on a quarter system, and the dorms are fully occupied the end of the academic year. Thus we usually cannot house summer students before the program start date.
Can I work longer than 10 weeks?
Possibly; this needs to be worked out with your mentor after you've been accepted, and depends on your project. If you work longer than 10 weeks, you will be paid accordingly.
If I don't have both recommendations letters in time, can I still send in my application?
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.
Do you take rising sophomores (who will be sophomores next year) into your program?
We usually take one or two rising sophomores each year. Most projects benefit from having a more extensive physics background, however, so we tend to give preference to rising juniors and seniors.
Do you take international students?
Yes. Some of our funding is restricted to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but some is not. We typically take several international students each year.