SURFing the waves of research

The Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center labs welcomed a wave of new members this summer, as five talented undergraduate students participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. This unique experience pairs mentors with motivated University of Wisconsin–Madison undergraduate students as they pursue 10-weeks of collaborative research in stem cell and regenerative medicine.

A few of the SURF mentees gather including (left to right) Shreeya Rajesh, Max Herman, and Dhvani Trivedi.

The program, which is sponsored by WiCell, the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center (SCRMC), and the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT) awards up to five undergraduate students a $6,000 stipend and the opportunity to collaborate on a research project while being mentored by a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow. The program is administered by the SCRMC Graduate Student Association (GSA), an organization of UW–Madison graduate student and postdoctoral researchers that aims to foster interaction, collaboration, dialogue, and support among campus stem cell and regenerative medicine researchers. Members of the GSA help to select the SURF applicants, assign them mentors, and support the participants throughout the program.

“Helping to organize the SURF program this spring and summer has been a great learning experience to understand all of the work and people necessary to coordinate a successful Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program,” says Austin Feeney, a GSA officer and a MD-PhD student in the Palecek Lab. “It was my first year serving on the SURF Board this year, and it has been an extremely rewarding experience.”

Feeney shared that he is particularly proud to support undergraduate research as his own undergraduate experience is what inspired him to pursue his current academic goals.

“I became involved with SURF after becoming a board member with the SCRMC GSA because I saw the unique opportunity to help undergraduates learn more about the strong stem cell and regenerative medicine research community on campus,” Feeney said. “As an undergraduate at UW-Madison myself from 2014-2018, early research experiences allowed me to discover my passion for stem cell and regenerative medicine research, leading me to pursue graduate studies. The SURF program is designed to provide an opportunity for early undergraduates to explore stem cell and regenerative medicine research. From the SURF program, many students are able to find a supportive research environment where they can continue to do research throughout their undergraduate career.”

In fact, statistics show that over 80 percent of SURF participants continue to work with their assigned lab beyond the 10-week program.

“The SURF program has given me the opportunity to not only learn new skills and protocols, but also grow as a scientist and think like a researcher,” says SURF participant and Neurobiology student Shreeya Rajesh. “Working day after day in a such an energetic and rigorous research environment alongside my mentor has allowed me to understand and appreciate how enlightening and fast paced the research field is with new discoveries.

Likewise, Max Herman, a SURF participant and undergraduate Biochemistry and Biology student says that the program helped him to confirm his area of interest while allowing him to gain valuable research experience.

“I’d say the most valuable thing I got from this program is an idea of what I may do post-undergrad,” says Herman. “Having not a lot of rigorous experience in research or medicine, I came into the summer not knowing which route I wanted to pursue. Working 40 hours a week in a lab tells you pretty quickly if research is right for you or not, and I found myself greatly enjoying my time in the lab! I can definitely see myself pursuing research in the future.”

In addition to the lab experience, SURF mentees also have the opportunity to present their research at the SCRMC Fall Conference. This helps mentees to learn how to prepare a poster and give an oral presentation.

“These programs are extremely important for the next generation of scientists,” says Herman. “They provide an opportunity for students to really understand what the research of a graduate student looks like. You’re there for all the literature searches, lab meetings, and experiments.”

Applications for the next round of SURF will open in February 2024 with a deadline of March 22, 2024. To learn more visit

Thank you to the SURF sponsors WiCell, the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center (SCRMC), and the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT).