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My Honors College

Surf and Exploration Grants

SURF vs. Exploration Scholars

The Exploration Scholars Program was created to encourage the action it is named for — exploration. Creative projects are welcomed, and, unlike traditional research projects, the Exploration Scholars Program values students gaining research skills and an understanding of the realities of scholarship over groundbreaking discoveries (though those are, of course, always welcome!

The purpose of the Science Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) Program is to encourage Honors College students to work with a mentor from the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields on a joint project in the mentor's discipline area.

Choosing a Project

The student should have active and substantial intellectual input to the direction and focus of the project. Ideally, the student's contributions would be sufficient enough to warrant co-authorship on any resulting publications. Frequently students are able to become co-authors on published work.

Grant Application Process

Please note, all students are required to attend a workshop each time they plan to submit a grant application (even if the application is for a renewal of an existing grant). In addition, all students are required to schedule an individual meeting with Dr. Alexander after attending the workshop. There is an appointment book outside of Dr. Alexander’s office. Grant meetings cannot be scheduled through Genbook or any other electronic method, students will need to sign up in the appointment book on the table outside of Room 224, Harper College.  

We strongly urge interested candidates to keep checking this website regarding workshop dates and grant deadlines, as these may be subject to change depending upon the finalization of the University dates for advisement.  Please see below for additional information.

  • Tuesday, February 5th at 6:00 PM

  • Wednesday, February 6th at 7:00 PM

  • Thursday, February 7th at 4:00 PM

All workshops will be held in the Gressette Room, 3rd Floor of Harper College.

March 18th, 2019 is the deadline for Honors College Research Grant submissions for funding effective July 1st, 2019.

Choosing a Project

The SURF and Exploration Scholars Programs were designed to allow Honors College students to work with a mentor on a project in the mentor’s discipline. Ideally, projects will be initiated by the student or conceived jointly by the student and mentor. For students in the early stages of their development as scholars, however, their work may serve to directly facilitate the mentor’s ongoing research. While a student’s project may directly contribute to the mentor’s research, it must always be remembered that it is the student’s project, not the mentor’s; the student should have a clear sense of involvement and ownership. Honors College Research Grants are for undergraduate research, not work-study or student employment.

Choosing a Mentor

It is very important to find a mentor who will provide guidance and support for the duration of the grant. Through many years of experience, we have found that full-time faculty at the USC-Columbia campus and the Medical School are the most reliable and qualified mentors. As a result, we expect all mentors to be full-time faculty members at either of those institutions.

There are many ways to find a mentor. Oftentimes, students simply have an interest in the work being done by a professor teaching one of their classes. Alternatively, some students search for keywords on the Office of Undergraduate Research and USCera databases of faculty research interests.

We also encourage students to explore departmental websites and read research papers written by a prospective mentor in their search—not only will this provide a better insight into their research, it will also lend credibility to an email inquiry a student may send to a potential mentor.

If a student wishes to be mentored by an individual lacking the preferred credentials, he or she should explain the situation to Dr. Alexander, who will consider it on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, a student needing to change mentors after the grant has been approved must contact Dr. Alexander.


Over the course of their college careers, students are allowed to apply for a maximum of $4,500 in Honors College Undergraduate Research Grant funds. In any given year, the maximum amount for which a student may apply is $3,000.

Honors College Research Grant funding is awarded exclusively as a student stipend, which provides $10/hour for undergraduate researchers.

Students cannot receive funding for a Honors College Research Grant while they are enrolled in SCHC 499: Senior Thesis. We do, however, allow Honors College Research Grant recipients to draw funding from the USC Magellan Scholars program concurrent to their Honors College Undergraduate Research Project

Project Budgets

A detailed budget must be submitted as part of the application. This budget should include a breakdown of the hours the student plans to work throughout the year.

Funds cannot be carried over into the next funding cycle; any funds not utilized during the grant period will remain with the Honors College. Please note, however, that money not utilized over the course of the project will not be counted against the student’s $4,500 maximum and can be re-applied for during the next funding cycle.

Project Duration

As these projects often occur during the academic year, the Honors College Research Grant can include a flexible schedule. Students may begin working as early as July 1, and may continue working on their projects until June 30 of the following year.

There are restrictions on how many hours students can work in a week. During weeks in which class is in session, students are allowed to work a maximum of 15 hours a week. During breaks, students are allowed a maximum of 40 hours a week.

Please note- student employees for the university are allowed a total of 20 hours while classes are in session. As a result, students with a university job in addition to their research grant must cap their total time to 20 hours. For example, a student working 10 hours at the provost office would only be allowed to report 10 hours on their research grant.

Reporting Hours

Reporting hours is a two-step process.

First, students must fill out a paper copy of their time card and have it signed by their mentor. This timecard must be scanned or emailed to Students must then enter their hours in ITAMS.

Once both of these steps have been completed, the student’s hours will be approved in ITAMS by Mr. Michael Davis and then processed for payment.

Final Report and Presentation

As with other funding agencies, the Honors College requires a written report of the results of a given project.

The final report should be approximately two pages long and is due three weeks prior to the end of the funding period. Please include a description of the project, a summary of the conclusions drawn from the project, and a description of publications or presentations of that project (e.g. at Discovery Day), as well as a description of the guidance provided by the mentor.

Additionally, students are strongly encouraged to present their project at the Discovery Day Research Fair in April. Some students are also able to co-publish the results of their project in a peer-reviewed journal with their mentor.

IRB Approval

Any projects involving the use of human subjects must receive approval from the Institutional Review Board. More information can be found on the website for the Office of Research Compliance .

CITI Training

Prior to beginning work on any Honors College Research Grant, students are required to take a Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) course. A specific course will be chosen by the student and his or her mentor. Proof of completion must be sent by email to Dr. Alexander before funding can begin.


The following conditions apply:

  • Faculty mentors must be available to meet or communicate with the student at least once during each two-week pay period, including in the summer. Appropriate supervision to ensure the student a safe working environment must be provided at all times.

  • Students will be required to report their time through ITAMS and provide a matching written time card signed by their faculty advisor to the SCHC each pay period. If a mentor is off campus, an e-mail from the mentor is acceptable. Written verification of the hours must be provided before the hours will be approved on ITAMS. It is the responsibility of the mentors to let the SCHC know immediately if there is a problem with the student's work or time.

  • All research requiring USC Institutional Review Board approval must include the student's name on the relevant protocol. All research involving vertebrate animals must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocol and the student's name must be on the protocol.

  • The mentor is responsible for making sure that the student is appropriately informed, trained, and supervised for all work with hazardous material, and that all relevant tutorials and permissions are completed (e.g., for Radiation Safety).

  • Any work supported by the Honors College Research Grant subsequently presented or published should cite the support as: "This work was supported in part by the South Carolina Honors College Science Undergraduate Research Funding Program"  Student initials must be appear at the end of the statement.

  • Upon receiving a SURF or Exploration grant, students will be expected to complete a CITI training course. Students will be assigned a course based upon the specific details of their projects.

How to Apply

Interested students are required to attend a research workshop (listed above) before the fall or spring deadline.

For grants beginning in Summer 2019:
Individual Meetings with Dr. Alexander from Friday, February 8th, to Friday, February 22nd 

These workshops last roughly 30 to 45 minutes and will teach students how to properly complete the application form, what is and is not an acceptable project topic, and how to select a faculty mentor.  Any students unable to attend any of the three workshops due to class conflicts are encouraged to contact Dr. Alexander at at least one month prior to the scheduled workshops.

Please expect 30 days from the time you submit your Honors College Research Grant application until notification of award decision. Please also be aware you need to allow two weeks for the paperwork to be processed.