5 Takeaways from the SURF Info Session

room of students listening to student panel and professor

Students hear from undergrad researchers and faculty about summer funding opportunities

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Information Session. Now I’ve been conducting research for close to 20 years now, but revisiting the beginnings of the journey into research through the eyes of UNC undergrads was such a great experience! This is one of those programs I would’ve loved to have when I was first entering the realm of research. That being said, there was so much information provided that I could see it being a bit overwhelming for anyone to process or try to explain. As such, here are what I consider the main takeaways from my first SURF Info Session.

1. Research is about creating new knowledge
At its core, research is about asking new questions and getting answers to them so you can contribute to the larger body of knowledge. That means finding a topic that you think is interesting, learning more about it, and identifying questions or gaps in knowledge that no one else has thought about yet. For this, I think the fresh perspective of undergraduates is great – it is often new eyes on an old problem that creates some of the most innovative research.

2. There are LOTS of details to consider
It starts with a question, but that’s just the start. In addition to coming up with Specific Aims of the research (i.e. what you intend to create, invent, or discover), you have to think about the Significance (or what makes your research, invention, or creation important), any Preliminary Work or background information about what you or others might have previously done on the topic, the Methods or steps you will take to complete you project, and what Products will come of the research, whether it be a performance, a publication, an invention, or a website. Taken one item at a time, each step feels much more manageable, but it does take a bit of preparation. Which bring me to the next takeaway…

3. Planning is essential
Considering the details that going into developing a research proposal, it takes some time and planning to get everything together. Plus, finding the right faculty advisor to fit your research interests can take a little while. Having the freedom to conduct your own research is a great feeling, but it also means you have to put together the parts that make a successful project in a way that no one but you can determine.

4. There are TONS of people who want to help
For a 90-minute session, there were a lot of people talking about ways they could help – from SURF Peer Writing Advisors to OUR Ambassadors to The Writing Center to staff at OUR, there seems to be someone to answer any question you might have about applying for summer undergraduate research funding. There are plenty of OUR Resources for those that are just getting started with research or still developing their questions as well.

5. UNC undergrads have some great ideas
I personally had the chance to speak with a student who was interested in combining her computer science major with her pre-med interests, another student interested in health economics research, and yet another who was interested in looking at how international policies affected the lives of people in Lebanon. That doesn’t even touch all the previous SURF projects that UNC undergraduate researchers have completed through the years.

While research isn’t for everyone, it is open to everyone and applying for a SURF can help emerging undergraduate researchers see where their curiosity takes them.

From Miami to Chapel Hill – One SMART-T Alumna’s journey

-written by Virginia Perello B.A. Chemistry 2014

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

I am a Latina and a Cuban immigrant, raised in Chile. I moved to the United States in 2006 with my family and the dream of being the first woman in my family to become a doctor. After graduating from the two-year Honors College at Miami Dade College, I decided to continue my education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for all of the incredible research opportunities it has to offer. This decision forced me to look beyond what had become familiar, my home state of Florida, and move to North Carolina. At UNC, I grew not only academically, but also on a personal level. I found the classes to be much more challenging and demanding than in my prior school, but I believe that the experience made me a better student. Along with adjusting to UNC’s demanding atmosphere, I gained a greater sense of inquiry and desire to do more outside of the classroom.

After searching for research opportunities both online and through conversations with professors, and getting nowhere, I received an unexpected email stating I had been recommended to participate in the Science and Math Achievement Resourcefulness Track for Transfer students (SMART-T) program. I was immediately drawn to investigate what the program was about, as I had never heard of it before. The more I read about it, the more eager I was to apply. I submitted my application to Dr. Gidi Shemer, SMART Program Director, who paired me with Dr. Mike Kulis. Dr. Kulis is a Research Assistant Professor in the department of Pediatrics. This was a good match for me, because my ultimate goal was to become a pediatrician and work with Doctors Without Borders.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Dr. Kulis worked in the Food Allergy Lab, which gave me the opportunity to contribute to the research on immunotherapy for food allergies. This research assesses whether or not the antibody isotype, IgG, can be a factor of decreasing allergic reaction and prevention of anaphylactic shock. The significance of this project is that it will provide a better understanding of the role of IgG in immunotherapy for allergic subjects. Thus, it will contribute to the diagnosis and therapy for peanut allergies. The ultimate goal of this project is to assess whether or not histamine release from the basophil is inhibited as a result of IgG, which is directly proportional to peanut allergen exposure over time as a result of immunotherapy. Peanut allergy accounts for the vast majority of life threatening and fatal allergic reactions to foods and affects approximately 3 million Americans and 3.9% of the pediatric population.

Under Dr. Kulis’ mentorship, my SMART-T experience has helped me view the clinical side of medicine from a completely new perspective. Dr. Kulis taught me about important laboratory techniques such as the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) method and provided me with the tools to become a better researcher and future doctor. I was able to see the interconnection between scientific research and individual wellbeing in a healthcare based laboratory, since allergies affect a person’s physical and social welfare. I used to think researchers only worked in a lab and did not have much patient exposure, but I have learned that it is possible to work in a lab setting and still have the essential patient interaction. My summer in the SMART-T program solidified my decision to become a pediatric physician, who is involved in clinical research.

My SMART-T experience has taught me that for anyone thinking that it is too late to get involved in research or think there isn’t enough time, trust me there is a research opportunity out there for you! Summer research fellowships are the perfect programs as they do not get in the way of courses during the regular fall and spring terms and you can apply during any point of your undergraduate career. I highly recommend just taking the time to apply once you find an opportunity that suits you, as I did, because who knows how these opportunities may shape your career goals.divider

Your Undergrad Research Career Awaits

-written by Daijha J. Copeland

With the fall semester nearing its end many Carolina students realize that while this is a cause for celebration there are still measures to be taken to prepare for the spring and summer.  Along with creating the perfect schedule for the spring semester, avoiding the dreadful 3:00 p.m. Friday class, it is time to think about applying for summer fellowships and internships. Application deadlines, occurring between January and early March, can easily sneak up on you once we return from winter break.  I found myself extensively Google searching or searching through every department for fellowships that appealed to me. It was not until later in my undergraduate career that I found about funding databases that listed tons of research opportunities for undergraduates. Two such databases are listed below. Please utilize them and save yourself a lot of time in your search for an opportunity that appeals to you.

The Odum Institute  Computing Lab

The Odum Institute
Computing Lab

Carolina Internal Funding Database

Carolina Center for Public Service funding database

Maybe you are unsure of your interest in conducting and/or are qualified to conduct an individual research project. Or maybe you have already received a fellowship/internship and are looking for help in carrying out your project whether it be data collection, data analysis, or publishing results.  The Odum Institute, located on the second floor of Davis Library, is one such resource that offers numerous services to aid the undergraduate researcher, particularly in the social sciences, in aspects of the research process.  A large number of workshops and short courses ranging in various topics dealing with research methods and related software tools are open to all students and are great for those wanting to acquire these skills before diving into an independent project. Several full-time staff members are available for consulting on survey research methods, qualitative methods, and quantitative methods.  An open computing lab staffed by advanced graduate students is provided for help and support with the computers, software, finding data, basic statistical consulting, etc. for the undergraduate researcher in the heart of their project.

The Health Sciences Library

The Health Sciences Library


The Health Sciences Library provides services for the undergraduate researcher despite this notion that the library only serves degree holding individuals well into their career.  A variety of instructional sessions on research related topics are offered by the Heatlh Sciences Library that are open to anyone. Over a 130 self-help research guides and tutorials for every aspect of the research process are offered. Students can use email, chat, phone to ask questions or set up a one-on-one consultation for help with their research by using the Ask a Librarian page.  Most Librarians specialize in certain fields thus choosing the right person to contact via the Ask a Librarian page is essential. More information about each librarian and their special expertise is listed on the Meet Your Librarian page.

The Odum Institute and the Health Sciences Library offer resources for the undergraduate researcher beyond what is offered at the Davis Library or the Undergraduate Library.  Many of us forget that these buildings exist for our usage and many are even unaware that these services exist. No matter what point in your research career, there are resources accessible to make you more knowledgeable in aspects of conducting research making your project proceed smoothly. So don’t procrastinate in any regard to your undergraduate research career as summer will be here before you know it.

What You Can Gain From Attending An Information Session

Written by Monica Richard, OUR Staff. Originally published 11.6.2012. Updated 11.1.2013.

If you are thinking about applying for a job, continuing your studies, or considering a fellowship opportunity, at some point you may encounter the “Information Session” event. This blog post isn’t going to address whether or not you should attend the event, but what you can expect to gain if you do.Decision Image - blog 11.6.2012

Believe it or not, organizations and programs want you to be successful when applying for the opportunities they offer. If a program gets the right student for the right opportunity then everybody wins.  The best organizations put some effort in helping you successfully navigate their application process. The information session is one such tool.  The format for these sessions can range from an organization or program overview where decision makers are present to a panel of people who have completed the opportunity you covet, in some cases tips are provided to help you make your interview or application stronger.

Information sessions serve a purpose and provide benefits, and there are three things that you should know:

  1. They are for you. Yes. Program information will be shared, but it is done so to provide you with information to make your interview or application stronger.  Otherwise, why go to the trouble of providing so much information on a website and hosting an information session? If particular points are highlighted during the session, pay attention. The organization is telling you what others have either done well or poorly.  For instance, if a recurring theme is “Please read carefully,” be sure that you do what? Correct. Read carefully.
  2. They will save you time. Let’s face it. Sometimes reviewing information on a website, though informative, can be overwhelming, especially if you are not sure where to start. During an information session, you will be directed to the places you need to go to learn about the program, and how to apply.  Occasionally attendees are given a checklist or handout to streamline the application process.
  3. You can ask specific questions. An organization will do its best to try to cover the answers to past questions it has received through its frequently asked questions (FAQs) page. However, both the questions and the responses are going to be written for a general audience. It’s hard to capture every scenario. And if your situation is the exception to the exception, then perhaps speaking with someone after the information session is the best way to address your concern. More than likely there will be someone present that can address your issue without having to get back to you.

If you decide to attend an upcoming information session, be prepared to listen for dos and don’ts, take advantage of any extras (e.g. advice, handouts, direct links, etc.) and come prepared with questions.

Join us at an upcoming Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program (SURF) Information Session:

  • November 12, 2013, 5:00-6:30 pm, FPG Student Union Room 3408
  • January 28, 2014, 5:00-6:30 pm, FPG Student Union Room 3408

To learn more about the Office for Undergraduate Research and its programs, visit our.unc.edu.

Fall 2013 Workshop Series

Join the Office for Undergraduate Research for our Fall 2013 workshop series!

Taking the First Steps
Thursday, October 3, 2013
5:00-6:30 p.m.
Student Union 3411

Are you interested in conducting undergraduate research?  Are you curious about how to get started? Do you want to know more about the opportunities and resources available? Come hear from student Ambassadors, OUR staff, and Liaisons for Undergraduate Research about their experiences, advice and guidance. There will be lots of time for Q&A!! Cosponsored by the Student Government Academic Affairs Committee.

The Office for Undergraduate Research is partnering with the House Undergraduate Library and The Writing Center for two sessions of the UL’s Fall .eDU Series:

Unlocking Abstracts                                    
Tuesday, September 24, 2013                       
11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
House Undergraduate Library Room 124

Tackle a Literature Review
Monday, October 28, 2013
7:00-8:30 p.m.
House Undergraduate Library Room 124

Research Methodology:  Community-Based Research
Thursday, November 7, 2013
5:00-6:30 p.m.
Location: Graham Memorial 039

Do you plan to conduct research during your undergraduate career here at Carolina? Are you interested in investigating a community need through that research? In this interactive workshop, Professor Beth Moracco will lead a discussion about what is involved in doing research with human subjects, the principles and methodologies of community-based and community-based participatory research, and the kinds of research questions for which these methodologies would be appropriate. Come ready to talk about your interests and to brainstorm how to turn them into undergraduate research projects.  Cosponsored by the Carolina Center for Public Service. Note: This workshop will count as a skills training for the Buckley Public Service Scholars program.