The final decisions for Pomona's Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) were e-mailed to students on Friday, April 1. I would first like to congratulate those who were selected for SURPs and wish those who weren’t the best of luck during next year's application process.
While I believe that SURPs provide a great opportunity for Pomona students and are a model summer enrichment program, I do not wish to enumerate the benefits of SURP, but rather to examine the program in order to find room for improvement. With this in mind, we should remind ourselves of the goals of undergraduate research and of SURP. According to Pomona’s website, undergraduate research provides students with an “advantage when applying for fellowships or graduate schools, a chance to tackle real-world problems and to find out what it's like to be treated as colleagues.” If these are what Pomona sees as the benefits, then I see two faults in the SURP application and selection process.
The first has to do with professional courtesy. It is respectful, especially among colleagues, to let applicants know when they will receive notice of the selection or rejection of their proposal. Students were not given a fixed date to expect a response from the Faculty Research Committee. Instead, they were left asking their friends if they knew when SURP decisions came out. Most were told that they could probably expect to hear back near the end of March. While this was the case, it was impolite for Pomona to not provide a firm or official date for any SURP-related decisions.
The second is the more substantive fault in the SURP process. The e-mail sent to applicants who did not receive a SURP thanked them for applying, saying that it was a difficult decision and ending with the dreaded, “Unfortunately your proposal was not selected for funding this summer.” It was a polite message, one that any applicant to a scholarship with a large pool of applicants might receive.
However, the pool of applicants was limited to Pomona students who have come to expect personalized feedback and constructive criticism from their professors and the administration. A form e-mail without any advice or specific reasons for the rejection is a clear disservice to students not selected for SURPs. If the committee discussed why specific SURPs were not chosen, why not provide students with that information and the rationale behind the decision? With this knowledge, students not selected for funding could improve on their proposal writing skills and gain experience for future grant proposals and fellowship applications. Thus, even as a rejected candidate, a student could still receive a few of the benefits that undergraduate research is supposed to provide.
I hope the Faculty Research Committee realizes how fixing these easily-remedied problems would positively affect the program and increase its benefits for students.