Program Components

SURFO fellows on R/V Endeavor in June 2016.
SURFO 2016 fellows (Elizabeth Wright-Fairbanks and Jennifer Warmack) on R/V Endeavor.


The first week and a half of the SURFO program involves acclimating the participants to the research environment at the Graduate School of Oceanography. This involves a series of social events, background lectures, and introductory sessions with selected research advisors. The range of activities include:

  • A welcoming breakfast and tour to introduce the students to the Narragansett Bay Campus.
  • A series of interactive Oceanography lectures by graduate students to provide an overview of the field.
  • Meetings with research advisors to discuss background, expectations, and goals of research projects.
Testing an underwater holographic camera system.
SURFO Hyunyung Boo testing an underwater holographic camera system.

Research Projects

Each year, the list of potential research projects is posted in January and is updated weekly until the application deadline. Until posted, prospective students can get a flavor of the research performed at GSO by exploring the “people” and “research” listed on the Graduate School of Oceanography web site ( or past SURFO projects (Summary of Projects 2020).

For 2024 projects include (check back for updates): (2024 project descriptions)

At the heart of the SURFO program is the research project. Once students demonstrate they understand the scope and goals of their project, they proceed with their research. Frequent meetings with their research advisor and mentor help guide the SURFO student through the phases of the project.

The final products of the research are:

  • a report summarizing their research accomplishments in the form of either a written scientific peer reviewed manuscript or a draft proposal to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program.
The 2018 SURFO cohort.
SURFO 2018 participants.

Seminar Series

A series of weekly “Hot-Topic” lectures/seminars specifically designed for the SURFO participants is provided by various GSO researchers. One lecture from each of the main sub-disciplines of Oceanography (Biological, Chemical, Geological and Physical) is presented and which highlight the interdisciplinary nature of Oceanography. Here are some examples of past presentations:

  • Role of DNA-fingerprinting in biological oceanography
    by Tatiana Rynearson
  • Global distribution of microbes in the deep biosphere
    by Steve D’Hondt
  • The global fate of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
    by Rainer Lohmann
  • Advancements in hurricane forecasting
    by Isaac Ginis
  • Heavy metals ROCK
    by Veronique Oldham
  • Global climate impacts of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
    by Jaime Palter
  • Dazzling plankton diversity
    by Jan Rines
  • Modeling water circulation in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound
    by David Ullman

In addition, seminars covering various topics by guest speakers or visiting scientistsare available throughout the summer.

SURFO workshop photo.
SURFO workshop.

Instructional Workshops

Bi-weekly instructional workshops designed for the SURFO program are provided to supplement the research experience of the students. Subjects covered may include:

  • Meet a successful GSO graduate in a field outside of academia.
  • Ethical conduct of research.
  • Visualizing data.
  • How to give a professional presentation.
  • How to write a scientific paper.
  • Roundtable discussion about graduate school and science careers.
  • Communicating science to the public.
  • Justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
SURFO 2015 interns get a first-hand view of water circulation in RI coastal ponds.
SURFO 2015 interns get a first-hand view of water circulation in RI coastal ponds.

Social/Recreational Events

Numerous planned and spontaneous social and recreational events help SURFOs to integrate within the GSO community. Examples include:

  • Lunchtime BBQs.
  • A kayak trip in a local salt pond.
  • Ultimate frisbee, softball, soccer, beach volleyball etc.