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The Provost's Undergraduate Research Fellowship (PURF) FAQ

MISSION: The mission of the UMass Amherst Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellows (PURFs) program is to ensure that selected students will graduate as accomplished scholars, regardless of their disciplines, with the academic, research, professional skills, and competencies that will guide their choices as they pursue graduate studies or join the workforce.

GOALS: PURFs will engage in relevant and independent disciplinary research and studies under the guidance of faculty mentors. They will have expert mentoring both from faculty and peers in their individual disciplines. They will be exposed to cutting-edge research activities conducted by renowned faculty on this campus. Students will have the opportunity to attend professional conferences and participate in discipline-related travel that are relevant and important to their work. Students will be expected to participate in co-curricular academic, social, and cultural events that will provide working knowledge to enhance their professional and interpersonal relationships.

The Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship program gives up to 50 entering students a one-time award of $4,000 to apply to the cost of research or other academic projects that, under the close mentorship of a faculty member, will culminate in a capstone project, which will be shared at a public celebration in the spring of the Senior year. This fellowship is not part of a financial aid package; these funds support additional expenses associated with research, scholarly, and creative activities. The possibilities are endless but examples of covered expenses include: apprenticeships with researchers, artists, businesses or community groups; travel to study at museums or specialized libraries; fieldwork or field schools; art supplies; support for performances; travel to academic meetings; and specialized national or international summer courses. See the ‘What can I use my fellowship funds for?’ for more detailed information about when and how it can be used.

There is no application for the PURF program. Rather, PURF recipients are selected from among early decision applicants who demonstrate exceptional potential in fields ranging from art to music, writing, community engagement, leadership and research. Criteria include achievements in these areas as well as the traditional metrics of grades and test scores.  The award is geared toward students who want to extend their academic experience beyond the conventional classroom curriculum and explore their talents under the close mentorship of a faculty member.  

The PURF Fellowship presents an opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research and scholarship under supervision of UMass Amherst’s nationally and internationally recognized faculty and with the support of a community that provides mentorship and personalized attention. Your fellowship will enable you to do projects that are more expansive than those of most undergraduates and will strengthen your resume for future applications to graduate or professional school and the job market. 

Year 1 (Freshman)

  • Freshman PURF fellows must arrive on campus early for a 1-day orientation. Costs associated with early check-in will be paid for by the PURF program.
  • You are expected to attend the “Connection Reception” hosted by PURF early in the Fall semester.
  • You are required to attend all events and workshops hosted by the PURF program. At most there will be three per semester.
  • You are required to schedule and attend two meetings with your college-based PURF advisor, one early in the Fall and the second at the end of the Spring semester. 

Year 2 (Sophomore)

  • You are encouraged to attend the “Connection Reception” hosted by PURF early in the Fall semester.
  • You are required to attend all events and workshops hosted by the PURF program. At most there will be three per semester.  
  • You are encouraged to take the PURF 1-credit course on ‘How to be a Mentor’ in the Spring semester so you can mentor incoming PURF students in the Fall.
  • You are required to schedule and attend at least two meetings with your college-based PURF advisor. The first meeting should be early in the Fall so you can start developing goals for your PURF experience and a plan for implementing them. The second meeting with your advisor should be an end-of-the-year check-in before you submit your “Sophomore Summary” (see below).
  • You are required to submit a brief “Sophomore Summary” (link to Sophomore Summary) of the status of your project that includes a signature from the faculty member who you have talked to about your interests or, if you are in a field in which students typically identify a faculty member in their Junior year, your college-based PURF advisor.

Year 3 (Junior)

  • You are required to attend the “Connection Reception” hosted by PURF early in the Fall semester if you are a PURF mentor. We encourage you to attend even if you are not a mentor.
  • You are required to attend all events and workshops hosted by the PURF program. At most there will be three per semester.
  • You are required to schedule and attend at least two meetings with your college-based PURF advisor. The first meeting should be early in the Fall so you can start planning for your PURF project. The second meeting with your advisor should be an end-of-the-year check-in before you submit your “Project Proposal” (see below). 
  • You are required to submit a “Project Proposal” (link to Project Proposal), which includes a signature from a faculty mentor.

Year 4 (Senior)

  • You are required to attend the “Connection Reception” hosted by PURF early in the Fall semester.
  • You are required to attend all events and workshops hosted by the PURF program. At most there will be three per semester.
  • You are required to schedule and attend at least two meetings with your college-based PURF advisor, one near the beginning of each semester. Your advisors will help you make sure that your capstone project is underway and completed on time.
  • You are required to complete a capstone project, under the guidance of a faculty mentor, and present it at a public celebration of the accomplishments of PURF Scholars. This campus-wide event will spotlight the incredible talent among our students through “poster sessions” for science and social science students, performances of poetry and drama, readings from creative writing, debate forums for fellows interested in contemporary politics and policy, and other activities designed to highlight what our Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellows have accomplished in the course of their studies at UMass Amherst.

Freshman year – Work with your PURF Academic Advisors to learn about your major (or think about majors), and use faculty websites to learn about the faculty in your department. As part of the PURF program we will talk about how to approach faculty and ask about working with them. It is unusual for a Freshman to find a faculty advisor, so it’s ok if you don’t. It’s a big decision so deserves a lot of information-gathering, thought, and planning. Your required end-of-the-year check-in with the PURF Academic Advisor in your School or College will provide an opportunity to reflect on your first year and start focusing your interests. 

Sophomore year – Make sure that you take some courses in your area of interest that are taught by faculty (not grad students) and make an effort to meet the faculty in person, preferably one-on-one. University policy requires that you declare a major no later than the registration period during your third full-time semester on campus (typically the Fall of your Sophomore year). You should also be thinking seriously about research, scholarly, or creative topics that will be your capstone project. Whether you identify a faculty advisor and a project in your Sophomore or Junior years will vary depending on your field of study and what your project will entail.   

Junior year – During this year you should be taking upper-level courses in your area of interest. By the end of the first semester you should have a faculty advisor and be meeting with him/her regularly to clearly outline your project. By January of your Junior year you should be in the beginning stages of collecting data or compiling information for your project.

Senior year – This year will be devoted to finishing your capstone project. You should be meeting with your faculty advisor regularly and pacing your work to ensure that it is ready to share in a public venue in late in the second semester.

You will be paired with a peer mentor (typically a Junior in your School or College) to help you navigate your first year as a student at the university. Your mentor is there to answer questions and offer advice from a student’s perspective, point you to seminars and other academic events that might be of interest, and simply to talk about how things are going. Research shows that peer mentoring enhances the success of both mentees and mentors. 

The purpose of the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (PURF) fund is to support research, scholarly or creative activities that are mentored by a UMass Amherst faculty member and culminate in a capstone project during your Senior year. Because “research, scholarly, and creative activity” covers a broad range of undertakings, there are many different ways that the funds can be used. Below are some possibilities but this is not an exhaustive list. If you have more detailed questions or want to do something that does not fall under one of the categories listed here, send your question to ksmiaroski@provost.umass.edu

  • Participation in an off-campus REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduate programs, which are sponsored by the National Science Foundation on many college campuses during the summer) or experience on another campus provided that the activity is endorsed by the faculty mentor at UMass Amherst.
  • Travel to conferences, symposia, workshops, or field schools directly related to the capstone project. This includes registration fees, airfare or mileage (current rate is $.54/mile), housing, and a per diem allowance for food and incidentals (Uber, subway, museum entry fees, etc.) 
  • Production expenses for a film, play, dance performance, or art installation which includes but is not limited to:  space and equipment rental, modest remuneration for performers, light and camera personnel, etc.
  • Cost of living allowance during the summer or winter session while working full-time on campus on a faculty-supervised project. The living allowance calculated by Financial Aid is currently $1,460 per month. It includes room, board, travel, and miscellaneous expenses. 
  • Purchase of specialized equipment, services, or software that is not available on campus (reagents, testing kits, art supplies, theatrical props, costumes and make-up, on-line survey support, etc.)

The Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship cannot be used for the following:

  • Cost of living allowance during the Fall or Spring semesters.
  • Defraying the cost of UMass tuition.
  • Computers or other general-use personal electronics (smart phones, tablets, or accessories). 

You can access your PURF funds as soon as you have developed a vision of your capstone project and have identified a faculty mentor. This can be as early as the summer after the successful completion of your second full semester at UMass Amherst. However, we expect that the Sophomore and Junior years will be the most appropriate time for most students to use their research funds. 

No, in fact we strongly suggest that you pace your spending to ensure that you have funds available for the capstone project in your Senior year.  Developing a long-term budget strategy is something that your faculty advisor and the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship Coordinator can help you with.

You can find an application to access PURF funds here: Application to use PURF funds. The application requires a description of the activity you propose, a description of how it will contribute to the capstone project that you will complete in your Senior year, a detailed budget, and a signature from your faculty advisor. The completed application should be sent to the Provost’s Office for approval (edumont@umass.edu). The primary criteria that will be considered in approving the application are the clarity of the link between the proposed activities and the development of the capstone project and the extent to which the activities are mentored by a UMass faculty member or, in some cases, an advanced graduate student. A third criterion is the timing of expenses relative to the capstone project. It is critical that students plan ahead to ensure that there will be sufficient funding for the project when it is in full swing, typically between the end of the Sophomore and middle of the Senior year. We strongly encourage students to work with their faculty mentors and advisors to develop a careful strategy for when and how to use the funds to ensure that they are used strategically to support the capstone project. If there are questions about a student’s application to use funds, the Provost’s office will contact the student and advisor for clarification. Once approved, the proposal will be forwarded to Financial Aid Services for processing.

When Financial Aid Services receives an approved application from the Provost’s office, it generally requires 1-2 days to post the award and to disburse the funds to the student’s University account in SPIRE. As long as you do not owe a balance to the University, and the award is for the current term, you will receive the funds in the form of an excess check. 

Refunds are processed by the Bursar’s Office via Excess Express, so students must sign up for Excess Express (http://www.umass.edu/bursar/refunds-and-excess-express) in SPIRE in order to receive any refunds from the University. You can designate any US bank checking or savings account for Excess Express deposits. If you cannot designate a US bank account for refunds, you will need to contact the Bursar’s to determine how to receive the funds.

Note that the Bursar’s office processes refunds once per week, typically on Friday mornings.  If funds are disbursed from Financial Aid to the Bursar’s office by Thursday evening, and you do not owe a balance and have an active Excess Express account, you should see a deposit in the designated bank account by Wednesday the following week.  You will receive an email from the Bursar’s Office when the deposit is made in the designated Excess Express account.

Yes. Although you will receive your fellowship funds before you make purchases, all receipts for purchases from Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship funds must be submitted with post-activity report (see below). Failure to submit the report and receipts will place a hold on all remaining fellowship funds.

As is the case for almost all grant and fellowship programs, students must submit receipts and a report on activities paid for by the fellowship within 90 days of their completion. You can find the post-award report form here (link to Post-award Report)

No, the money can only be applied to cover expenses incurred as part of your research as an undergraduate student.

The fellowship will supplement any other financial aid you may receive. In the semesters where you spend the money your total cost of attendance will be adjusted to account for what you spent. That way, there will be no negative impact on the other financial aid you receive.

Being a PURF mentor enables you to develop valuable leadership, management, and communication skills in an academic setting. These skills will prove useful time and time again no matter what career path you choose. Mentors will also receive a certificate, which is a nice addition to your curriculum vitae.

When mentoring Freshman, mentors are required to arrive on campus early for a 1-day orientation with the entering PURF scholars. Costs associated with early check-in will be paid for by the PURF program. More generally, a mentor’s responsibilities include: maintaining open regular communication with your mentee, providing advice as needed (including referral to the School/College PURF advisor, the PURF office, or other campus resources), being an active listener, giving constructive feedback and encouragement, and spending some one-on-one time with your PURF mentee. All mentor-mentee pairs will receive two meal vouchers each semester, although we hope you will get together more often than that. 

Yes. PURF mentors receive training in the Spring semester so that they are prepared to mentor incoming Freshman in the Fall. The mentoring program consists of three or four mentoring workshops. Each workshop is roughly 2 ½ hours long and includes both individual and group activities. All mentors receive a certificate at the end of the workshop, which is an excellent addition to your CV or resume. Mentorship training helps students develop the ‘people skills’ that are important at work and in your personal life.