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Frequently Asked Questions: Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship 2023

Q: What are you looking for in an applicant?

Successful applicants are hard-working and intellectually curious. They are prepared to work independently but also to ask for help when they need it. Additionally, they are curious about a future in social science or the legal profession. While SURFers might have any number of majors, they should have some social science research experience (either independently or as a research assistant) and a demonstrated desire to learn and contribute to the sociolegal literature.

Additionally, for over three decades, the SURF program has provided new opportunities to students from underrepresented backgrounds, including race, socioeconomic status, disability, first-generation status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more. The SURF program is intended for students who, because of individual, structural, and/or systemic factors, have not necessarily been given the same privileges and advantages as their peers.  Most importantly, a successful SURF applicant seeks to use this opportunity to advance themselves and others.

Q: What should I put in my personal statement?

A: The personal statement should respond to the prompt listed in the application materials and be around 750 to 1000 words. With your personal statement, you should consider the broad question of why you should be a SURFer: what previous skills and future ambitions set you up for success as a Fellow, and why do you need the SURF program to succeed in what you want to do with your life?

We recommend that you take a look at the ABF website so you can use your personal statement to explain how your past, present, and future makes you a fit for the program. Successful personal statements are well-written, revised, and proofread. It should show us your voice; it should make us excited to meet you and excited to see what you will do in the future. Most importantly, the personal statement should tell a cohesive story that explains your interest in the sociolegal field and why you are the ideal SURF applicant.

Q: Who should write my letter of recommendation?

A: The confidential letter of recommendation should come from someone who can speak to your academic and research skills, as well as your desire to pursue social science or legal careers. Ideally, the letter writer will be a professor or other academic source, as this program is a research fellowship. We suggest you choose a letter writer who knows you best, rather than the most prestigious professor at your institution.

Additionally, we recommend you ask for the letter of recommendation as soon as possible, ideally giving your letter writer six to eight weeks (or more) to compose the letter. The best letters explain both why you are an excellent candidate for the SURF fellowship and why the SURF fellowship is necessary for your intellectual and personal growth.

Q: What does an average day look like for a fellow?

A: There is no “average day” for a SURFer. Fellows can expect to spend about fifteen to twenty hours a week helping their research mentor with an ongoing project. Previous students have helped their research mentors compile literature reviews on topics ranging from the history of juvenile incarceration to the presence of Asian Americans in the legal profession; done primary source research and analysis regarding Brown v. Board of Education and the Black Lives Matter movement; and prepared transcripts of interviews with college students on the topic of sexual assault on college campuses.

The rest of the week might consist of meetings that help students explore their academic and career interests. Fellows will also meet with a few professionals in the legal field a week, including attorneys at top international law firms, immigration lawyers, public policy specialists, and beyond.  The American Bar Foundation is also home to dozens of scholars and researchers in the sociolegal field who will lead discussions and seminars with students. By the end of the program, students will have grown their research skills and learned more about potential career paths.

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