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Summer Research Assistantships

Summer Research Assistantships

Research activity during the summer is an excellent way for a student researcher to make focused progress in a project. There are many such opportunities across campus, and students are encouraged to talk to faculty members to devise a new project, or continue one begun during the academic year. Projects can be either student generated ideas, or projects connected to a faculty mentor's ongoing research.  SMU supports assistantships for students to pursue their research interests full-time so that undergraduates can make the most of opportunities provided by their faculty mentors. These Summer Research Assistantships (SRAs) allow students to earn up to $4000 during the summer, including the 50% match from the University, doing the research of their choice.  They will be paid hourly on a biweekly basis.

The selection of SRAs is a competitive process. To be considered, the interested student should prepare a proposal of 650 words or more by Friday, April 8, 2016. Students are encouraged to seek editorial comment from their faculty mentors, but the proposal should be written by the student. It should include the following information:

  • Clear title
  • Overall motivation for the research
  • Methodology, technique or practice needed in the research
  • Description of specific research to be carried out by the student
  • The student should also indicate how they hope to benefit from performing research, with particular emphasis on the proposed SRA effort. Potential benefits include the connection of the proposed project to their vocational/career goals.
  • A brief letter of reference from the faculty mentor supporting the student
  • Acknowledgement that the student will write a 1500 word report of their research experience, which will be due no later than Monday, August 15, 2016.
  • A completed URA form is needed as well as a Payroll Authorization form filled out by the faculty mentor and corresponding department's administrative assistant

With the SRA proposal, the 2nd page of the URA form can be left blank aside from the required signatures at the bottom. The proposal, URA form, and PAF are due to the Director of Undergraduate Research, Clements G13 PO Box 750283, by Friday, April 8, 2016 to be guaranteed full consideration.  A panel of SMU faculty will select approved SRAs from the submitted applications.

The SRA Report

Final reports are expected of all SRAs.  Normal part-time URA support for the student or faculty mentor can be renewed for the subsequent term only once the SRA report has been submitted.  These reports should be written by the student, and students are encouraged to seek editorial comment from their faculty mentor.  The reports should be written to satisfy the following criteria:

- Clear title
Project Description:
       - Motivation and intellectual context for the student's specific research
       - Description of the research project carried out by the student
       - Results: what was new, or what was the result of the work?
       - What was the student's unique contribution?
       - How could the effort be improved upon in future work?
- Reflective Component
       - What did you learn from this experience?
       - Did your experience impact your vocational plans or expectations? If so, how?

Based on the criteria listed for the Project Description, as well as overall writing quality and the Reflective Component, each report will be judged by a faculty panel.  The selection is highly competitive.  Students authoring the highest quality reports will be invited to present their results at the Undergraduate Research Presentations session of SMU's Research Day, held in Spring Semester.  Invitees who will be off-campus for that event will be able to present at the Fall Engaged Learning Symposium.  Invited students who present their work earn the distinction of Summer Research Fellow (SRF).

Faculty Guidelines on SRAs

Faculty mentors should review the URA program Guidelines.  For the summer, they can seek support for up to 3 SRAs, with a limit of a total of 6 students including part-time URAs. 

There are two choices for summer research as specified in the student pay papers and registration:

  • If the student is taking a credit bearing (1 or more credit) course during the relevant summer period, they are classified as a student employee. This student is exempt from FICA tax, and pays income tax, and no benefits are charged to the home base org.
  • For students not enrolled in SMU credit bearing courses, they must be enrolled in a zero credit research course during their summer research and they must be classified as 'temporary staff'.  The student is charged FICA and income tax.  Benefits charges are incurred against the same fund and org that the wages are paid from (50% benefits charged to URA program, 50% to the fund or provided by the department).  All departments should have one of these courses defined in the catalog.  For now, if no such course exists in your discipline, one from a different department can be used (e.g. PHYS 4049).

It is important the students be registered in one of these two scenarios.

For those applications that rely on a source of matching funds for which the application is still pending, such as McNair Scholars or Hamilton Research Scholars, the SRA application should still be submitted by the SRA deadline for full consideration.  In this case, the application should include:

  • Mention of this status
  • Name of the matching program (eg. McNair Scholars)
  • Date that program’s application decisions are expected to be known 

The latter is particularly important for external sources of funding.  SRA approvals will be decided based on merit, but new openings arise after the deadline for full-consideration if any approved SRAs don't secure matching funding.

By contrast, if a student is applying for an internship but would be interested in applying for an SRA should the internship not become available, the student should only apply for SRA when they are informed of this status.