CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards

The Program.  This award program recognizes undergraduate students in North American colleges and universities who show outstanding potential in an area of computing research.  The award is primarily about research. While it is expected that successful nominees will have excellent academic records and will have engaged in some form of service (e.g., club leadership, teaching, peer tutoring), excellence in research is the primary consideration.  

Eligibility.  Students enrolled as undergraduates in North American colleges or universities in Fall 2021 are eligible.   On the nomination form, the electronic signature of the chair/head of the home department confirms that the nominee is in good standing and eligible for the award.

Number of Nominees Per Department.  Departments that grant Ph.D.s in a computing field may nominate up to four students per year.  Departments that do not grant Ph.D.s in a computing field may nominate up to two students per year. 

Diversity.  In addition to recognizing excellence in undergraduate research, CRA is committed to broadening the participation of individuals in traditionally underrepresented groups in computing fields.  CRA recognizes that students in different academic environments have different opportunities for research.  The selection committee will consider these factors in its evaluation; nominations can describe these factors in nominees’ personal statements or recommenders’ letters.  CRA strongly encourages departments to consider all aspects of diversity when selecting their nominees.

Awards.   Up to four CRA Undergraduate Researcher Awards will be made each year.  Each award recipient will receive financial assistance of up to $1,500 to attend a research conference of their choice.   In addition, some nominees will be designated as runners-up, finalists, and honorable mentions.  The award recipients, runners-up, finalists, and honorable mentions will be announced by e-mail in mid-December, will receive certificates of their awards, and will be recognized on CRA’s website.

What departments submit

A nomination is officially a submission on behalf of the department chair, but it may be prepared and submitted by a designated representative for the chair.  The nomination form includes a prompt to upload the following:

  • One letter of recommendation (up to three pages long) from a faculty member.  The faculty recommender need not be from the same department or institution as the nominee.  The letter should discuss:
    • The problem that the nominee worked on, its significance to the field and/or society, and what was challenging about the work done.
    • The specific tasks/contributions to this research project that the student performed.  For example, did they do data collection, data analysis, algorithmic development, algorithmic implementation, paper writing, etc.  Be specific and precise, as it is critical for the awards committee to understand and evaluate the individual contributions of the nominee.  If they collaborated with other individuals, distinguish between their contribution and the contributions of others and the overall team’s accomplishments.  

        It would also be helpful if the letter addressed any of the following that are appropriate for the nominee:

    • What makes this student stand out from other research students, perhaps in terms of research and in community engagement or personal experiences (e.g., club leadership, teaching, peer tutoring).
    • What opportunities the student took advantage of outside of your group that demonstrate development of research skills or engagement in research.
    • How the student showed leadership and/or independence in research or in other ways.
  • Materials prepared by the student (these are described in detail in the “What students prepare” section) including:
    • A resume (up to two pages)
    • A summary of research (up to 750 words)
    • A personal statement (up to 300 words)
  • Academic Transcripts

What students prepare

A nominee is expected to submit a resume, a research summary not to exceed 750 words in length, and a personal statement not to exceed 300 words.

Resume:  The resume should contain information on the nominee’s academic record and service, and it must indicate each research project in which the nominee has been involved.  For each such project, the resume should include:

  • a few sentences describing the project,
  • name(s) of the research mentor(s),
  • where the research was conducted,
  • complete citations of publications arising from this research (if any),
  • and, for manuscripts currently under review (if any), the titles and the venues to which they are submitted.

Research Summary:  The research summary (not to exceed 750 words) gives the nominee the opportunity to describe research project(s) in detail.  While the award committee comprises computer science professors, it’s likely that most of them will not have expertise in the specific field in which the nominee worked.  So, while one can use well-known concepts without defining them (e.g., names of data structures and terms like “NP-completeness”, “compiler”, or “k-means clustering”), one should imagine writing to a computer science professor who works in a different subdiscipline.

It’s important to explain the problem, its significance to the field and/or society, and what was challenging about the work. The summary should talk about the problems the nominee worked on and why.  It should also discuss tasks performed (e.g., idea generation, data collection, data analysis, algorithmic development, algorithmic implementation, paper writing, etc.).  If the nominee collaborated with someone, the summary should indicate the nominee’s individual contribution.  It’s important to be specific and precise, as it is critical for the awards committee to understand and evaluate the individual contributions of the nominee.  Particularly of interest are situations where the nominee took a leadership role and/or showed independence in their work.

Personal Statement:  The personal statement (not to exceed 300 words) should address interests and activities outside of research (e.g., club leadership, teaching, peer tutoring) and/or challenges encountered with respect to getting and staying involved in research.

2021/22 Selection Committee
Michael Hilton, CMU, co-Chair
Kelly Shaw, Williams College, co-Chair
Monica Anderson, U of Alabama
Jonathan Bell, Northeastern
Victoria Interrante, U of Minnesota
Jelani Nelson, UC Berkeley
Evan Peck, Bucknell
Raghu Ramanujan, Davidson College
Jenna Wiens, U of Michigan
Yuqing Melanie Wu, Pomona College

Opens: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Deadline: Friday, October 15, 2021 at 9PM ET 

NOTE: Students are not permitted to upload their own submissions.

Questions and inquiries about the awards should be directed to:

CRA gratefully acknowledges the support of Microsoft Research and Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL) who sponsor the Outstanding Undergraduate Researchers Award Program in alternate years. The 2021 award is being sponsored by Microsoft Research.

Click here to view awardees from 2021 and prior years.