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CUSP Independent Research & Creative Projects Funding

[UPDATE: All Independent Research and Creative Project opportunities must be a virtual online experience.]

The CUSP Independent Research and Creative Project provides partial financial support for Scholars who wish to conduct their own independent research or creative project under the guidance of a professor or creative professional.

The Independent Project Fellowship affords scholars the opportunity to engage with the methodological framework of independent academic research and/or the creative process. A branch of the summer enhancement fellowship, the independent program differs from the practicum in that it aims to familiarize students with the skill set specific to formal academic writing and researching, which includes preparing a research statement, developing an appropriate research question, working with an academic mentor, and utilizing academic resources, such as the Columbia University archives. The fellowship thus serves as an invaluable foundation for students who might be interested in writing an undergraduate thesis, pursuing a graduate degree or producing a portfolio.

Students considering the independent project should be aware that the process requires sustained and serious commitment. In order to qualify for the fellowship, students must attend a series of preparatory workshops facilitated by the Graduate Student Mentors, find a faculty sponsor who will support their project, prepare drafts of their work for feedback ahead of the submission deadlines, and present their work to their peers in a panel session during the fall semester following the summer experience.

All Scholars funded for Summer 2021 are expected to:

  • Post a response on an educational blog on a weekly basis during the summer, beginning in June. The final blog entry will consist of the abstract.
  • Provide a budget reconciliation report listing their CUSP-related expenses and appropriate original receipts. This will be due by the Welcome Back Dinner & SEF Showcase at the start of the Fall 2021 term.

  • Submit a paper (20-25 pages, with at least one visual representing the project) at the start of the Fall 2021 term.

  • Present the results of their research at the SEF Independent Projects Panel in the Fall 2021 term.


* SEF Independent Projects Panel (MANDATORY ATTENDANCE)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
6:30-8:00 p.m. ET


* SEF Information Session (MANDATORY ATTENDANCE)

Thursday, November 5, 2020
6:00-8:00 p.m. ET


* Independent Projects Workshop #1 (MANDATORY ATTENDANCE)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020
6:00-8:00 p.m. ET

What is the difference between an independent research project and a creative project? What does an independent project proposal entail? Graduate Student Mentors will introduce the components of the research proposal beginning with the title and ending with the budget. This workshop will address how to formulate appropriate problem statements, research questions, bibliography, finding a mentor, etc. GSM's will introduce students to resources on campus such as the writing center, Columbia library info services, etc. 

The workshop will cover the following items: 

  • What is expected of students who receive the grant

  • Overview of deadlines, requirements, budget guidelines, codes of behavior

  • Identifying and developing a research question or topic

  • IRB/RASCAL Training

  • Writing the research proposal and thesis

  • Finding a mentor


* DEADLINE: Monday, January 18, 2021 (11:59 pm): DRAFT PROPOSAL DUE

  • The proposal should explain a plan or suggestion for the CUSP Independent Project Summer Fellowship
  • Identify possible faculty adviser
  • Prepare a 5 minute "elevator speech" for feedback
  • Please send proposals to CUSP (
  • Any draft submitted after January 18 will not be considered.
* Independent Projects: Workshop #2 (MANDATORY ATTENDANCE)
   Wednesday, January 27, 2021
   6:00-8:00 p.m. ET
Working with their draft proposals, students break into small groups to discuss their proposals with the GSMs and their peers. Fellow students will provide constructive feedback. 
* A-to-Z Workshop Reflection Survey: For all Scholars applying for SEF Funding (MANDATORY PARTICIPATION)
   Online Form
   DUE: Sunday, April 11th, 2021, 11:59pm
   Distribution: TBD
* Online Application Deadline
   Sunday, April 11, 2021 - 11:59pm ET
   A reminder will be sent to all scholars.


Currently, all summer experiences must be conducted virtually online, with the exception of scholars that secured an internship or research assistantship on Columbia's campuses. This means that CUSP cannot offer SEF awards to CUSP Scholars who participate in internships, research assistantships, volunteer work, or independent projects that are in-person outside of Columbia University.  If you have any questions, then please feel free to contact us at



* APPLICATIONS FOR SUMMER 2021 WILL BE DUE SUNDAY, APRIL 11th, 2021 BY 11:59PM ET.  Applications will be available online on Saturday March 13th, 2021. 

Unique for Independent Project applicants - your faculty supporter must complete a form as part of your application. A link will be sent to you via an email confirmation following your application submission and you can forward the link to the supporter for completion. Faculty supporters will need only to respond to multiple choice and short questions regarding your project proposal. The faculty member must submit their support form no later than Monday, April 19th, 2021. You will receive confirmation once the faculty member submits their form.


The online application can be saved as a draft, reviewed, and revised before your final submission. However, you should have available at the time of your submission: the logistical information about your internship/research assistantship and contacts; your budget breakdown (e.g. amount for housing, food, supplies) that you will enter into the form fields; and, an essay answering the supplementary questions as a .doc or .pdf. The supplemental questions will ask you to describe your internship and what motivated you to this opportunity; to explain what you intend to learn during the summer; and to list the CUSP events that you attended and how each event contributed to your understanding of this year's theme of "Disruption." If you were approved to attend alternate events due to academic conflicts, then you will have to reflect on your experiences and on the theme from those events. 

Preparation Tips:

  • You must participate in and complete the reflection forms for at least 4 CUSP events or alternate events (if applicable) by Sunday April 11th, 2021, at 11:59pm;
  • Have readily available your employment/position confirmation letter for those pursuing internships, research assistantships, or volunteer positions (more below). 
  • Prepare your responses to Supplemental Questions in advance
    • What was the inspiration for your project?
    • What was the most challenging part of writing your project proposal?
    • How did the CUSP events (or alternate events) contribute to your understanding of this year’s Speaker Series theme of Disruption? [List your events and explain.];
  • Consider a realistic budget – on average, awardees receive about $4,000 for a 12-week summer experience.  With the recent economic climate and an uptick in student interest in the SEF, the amounts for this year will be variable.  You must be able to justify your budget in the application.

Applications will be evaluated by a selection committee on the basis of their overall fulfillment of the selection criteria (see below).  Incomplete applications and candidates who do not meet the criteria will not be considered. Notification of the final decision will take place in June.

The online application can be saved as a draft, reviewed, and revised before your final submission.  To be prepared, you should have available at the time of your submission: the logistical information about your Independent Project and contacts; your project proposal as a .doc or .pdf ready for upload; your budget breakdown (e.g. amount for food, housing, and miscellaneous); and an essay answering the supplementary questions as a .doc or .pdf. The supplemental questions will ask you to describe the CUSP events that you attended and how each event contributed to your understanding of this year's theme of "Dissonance." If you were approved to attend alternate events due to academic conflicts, then you will have to describe your experiences at other events and its relatability to the theme.  

* Criteria for Selection: To be considered for the funding, applicants must: (1) have a GPA of at least 2.6; (2) be in good academic standing with Columbia College and the School of Engineering; and (3) be in good standing with CUSP. Due to recent and extraordinary circumstances, CUSP waives the eight (8) event minimum required to remain in good standing in the program.  (Traditionally, meeting the minimum is required before submitting the SEF application.)  However, all scholars should have participated in CUSP or alternate events during the fall 2019 term, including students that were studying abroad.

Applications will be evaluated on: (1) the basis of the originality and scholarly promise of the project; (2) the feasibility, clarity, and coherence of the proposal; (3) the ability of the applicant to undertake the research; and (4) the commitment of a faculty sponsor.

* Human Subjects Research: Many applicants wish to undertake “human subjects research” in which they interview or survey people.  Because of the importance of treating human subjects ethically and ensuring that no harm comes to someone who participates in research, all universities are federally mandated to oversee approval of all human subject research through an Institutional Review Board (IRB). Given the short duration of SEF Independent Projects, CUSP will not support projects by Scholars requiring IRB approval unless they are listed as an approved researcher by the faculty sponsor.  For applicants wishing to undertake such research, the letter from the faculty sponsor must include a statement confirming that the IRB process has been fulfilled. For questions regarding IRB permits, please contact Annie Barry (, Assistant Manager, Institutional Review Board (IRB). 



To apply for the SEF Independent Project award, please CLICK HERE - SEF APPLICATION! The application will be open from March 13th through April 11th, 2021.

Good luck! We look forward to reviewing your applications.

Questions about the SEF application? Contact us at

*IMPORTANT: CUSP does not vet the safety or security of the setting in which Scholars intend to pursue their projects. It is the individual students’ responsibility to take the appropriate precautions following the approval and recommendations of the Undergraduate Travel Committee. The nature of this fellowship is solely for financial support.   

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