CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards

The Program: The CRA Undergraduate Research Awards (“URA”) program recognizes undergraduate students in North American colleges and universities who show outstanding potential in an area of computing 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 2023 are eligible for the 2024 award. 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. All nominations require the electronic signature of the chair/head of a nominee’s home department. Students are not able to self-nominate. 

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 4 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. Award recipients, runners-up, finalists, and honorable mentions will be announced on our website and directly contacted by e-mail in mid-December. These students will also receive certificates of their awards via mail.

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 from a faculty member.
    • Recommender Eligibility: Any faculty person who previously worked with the nominee is eligible to write the letter of recommendation. Faculty need not be from the same department or institution.
    • Content Limit: Letters should not exceed three pages in length.
    • Content Recommendations: All recommendation letters should address the following:
      • The significance of the research problem the student addressed:
        • Explain the problem the nominee addressed and its significance to the field and/or society.
        • Highlight the challenging aspects of the work undertaken.
      • The nominee’s contributions to the research:
        • Specify the tasks undertaken by the student.
          • For example: data collection, analysis, algorithm development, implementation, paper writing, etc.
        • Emphasize the individual contributions. If the nominee collaborated with other individuals, distinguish between their contribution, the contributions of others, and the overall team’s accomplishments.
      • Other information relevant to the nominee’s leadership skills and/or community engagement:
        • Highlight what sets this student apart from other research peers, considering research prowess and community involvement (e.g., club leadership, teaching, peer tutoring).
        • Describe opportunities the student took advantage of outside of your group that demonstrate development of research skills or engagement in research. 
  • Materials prepared by the student (these are described in detail under the “What students prepare” section), but include:
    • A resume (up to two pages)
    • A summary of research (up to 750 words)
    • A personal statement (up to 300 words)
    • Student’s academic transcript(s) (unofficial transcripts are accepted)

A nominee is expected to share the following documents with their nominator: a resume, a research summary (not to exceed 750 words in length), a personal statement (not to exceed 300 words), and an academic transcript (unofficial transcripts are accepted).

Resume: Resumes should not exceed two pages in length. A resume should contain information on the nominee’s academic record and service. It should also indicate the nominee’s involvement in research project(s). For each project the student has participated in, the resume should include:

  • a few sentences describing the project,
  • the name(s) of the research mentor(s),
  • the institution 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 is comprised of 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”), nominees should imagine they’re writing to a computer science professor who works in a different sub-discipline.

A research summary should:

  • Explain the research problem:
    • Clearly outline the research problem, emphasizing its significance to the field or society.
    • Detail challenges faced during the work.
  • Describe the nominee’s contributions:
    • Note specific problems addressed and, if relevant, the reasons for tackling them.
    • Specify tasks directly undertaken by the student, such as idea generation, data collection, analysis, algorithmic development, implementation, and paper writing.
  • Collaboration and individual contributions:
    • If your research project was a collaborative effort, please, indicate specific individual contributions.
  • Leadership and independence:
    • Highlight instances where the nominee assumed a leadership role or demonstrated independence in their work.

Personal Statement:  The personal statement (not to exceed 300 words) should address the student’s 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.

Academic Transcript: Excellence in research is the primary consideration for this award, but all students are required to submit an academic transcript from their institution. Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.

Once the nomination materials are complete, the department chair (or an authorized representative) should submit the nomination form.

The nomination form will ask for:

  • Information about the nominator
  • Information about the student
  • A single-file PDF with the faculty recommendation letter and students materials

If you have trouble accessing the form, please reach out to our team at

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the deadlines for next year?

Typically, applications open in early September, with a deadline around mid-October. We anticipate providing more detailed information on our website by late August.

How do I submit a nomination?

Nominations are submitted via a form. While the exact process changes year over year, we will be sure to provide specific instructions to our website to ensure that nominators are able to promptly submit their materials.

Can a student self-nominate?

No, students are not allowed to self-nominate. Students will need to provide their materials to the department nominating them. All nominations must be submitted by the student’s home department.

Does a student have to be a CS-major to qualify for the award?

No, the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award is not restricted to computer science majors. Any student who has engaged in computing-related research is eligible to be nominated by a computing-related academic department at their institution.

If the student studies computer science, but their interests lie outside of computing, are they still eligible to be nominated? 

We accept nominations from all-computing related departments in North America. If your research meets that criteria, you are eligible to be nominated. 

Is this award restricted to students in their first undergraduate degree?  

Yes, students who have already completed an undergraduate degree are ineligible for the award.

If a student has graduated, but has not started graduate school, are they still eligible?

Unfortunately, to be eligible for the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award you must be currently enrolled as an undergraduate. If a student has graduated, they are no longer eligible for the award.

If the student is taking a leave term during the fall, are they still eligible?

To be eligible, the nominee must be enrolled as an undergraduate student during the fall for which they are being nominated. That said, if there are extenuating circumstances, such as medical/health issues, then we could make an exception, so long as the department provides a letter that notes the student’s canceled registration and expected graduation date.

Are students who are in their 5th year of a 5-year combined BS/MS program eligible?

To be eligible, the nominee must be an undergraduate student during the fall in which they are nominated. 

It is our understanding that across institutions there are two types of BS+1 programs: 

  • Programs where a student does not graduate with a BS until the BS+1 is completed (e.g., at U of Chicago). Programs like these have various financial consequences as students are able to remain on financial aid etc.
  • Programs where the student does graduate after 4 years with the BS and in the 5th year they have graduate student status (e.g., at Purdue). At many of these institutions, students in their 5th year serve as TAs.

Ultimately, a student is eligible only if they have not received their bachelor’s degree (whether they take graduate courses or not does not matter impact their eligibility).

Can a team of undergrads be nominated for the award if their work is very collaborative?

The award program doesn’t allow for joint nominations, but departments are able to nominate both of the students individually. Please note that it is extremely important to indicate each nominee’s individual contributions and distinguish their achievements from one another. 

I plan to nominate a student who is studying abroad. Are they still eligible?

Students must be enrolled in a North American university to be eligible for this award. 

If the student is enrolled in a non-North American university for the fall and will be transferring their credits, then they are not eligible for the award this year. If the university recognizes their enrollment as part of their home institution enrollment, then they are eligible for the award. 

Does the transcript have to be the official transcript or it can be an unofficial copy?

An unofficial transcript is acceptable.

As a transfer undergraduate student, would you require a transcript from my previous college as well?

Yes, all transcripts related to your undergraduate degree are required. Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.

Is there a page limit for the resume? 

No, there is no official page limit for the resume, but most resumes are 1-2 pages long. If you need assistance with your resume, it may be helpful to consult your home institution’s career services office or department. 

Can I exceed the word limit for the research summary or the personal statement?

We provide guidelines for the word limits to help ensure an equitable review of nominations. These guidelines intend to give students guidance for how much content should be included (in the past, we have had situations where some applicants include a few paragraphs while others include multiple pages). Students should abide by the limit. 

Can nominees include images in their research statement? 

Yes, if a nominee wishes to include images in their statement, they are allowed to do so. 

I don’t understand what you’re looking for in the research summary or the personal statement. Can you provide more context? 

The research summary should aim to address the research problem, its significance, its challenges, and your contributions. The committee reviewing nominations is aiming to evaluate the individual contributions of nominees. As such, the team would like to hear from nominees who can provide specific and precise details about their research contributions and their roles within their respective project(s).

When addressing the challenges of your research, you are welcome to interpret the question however you’d like. In the past, nominees have included both intellectual challenges (such as methodological issues, data limitations, or conceptual hurdles) and personal challenges (like time management, collaboration issues, skills gaps, etc). Put simply, the reviewing committee would like to understand your perspective and approach to the challenges you faced.

The personal statement provides nominees with an opportunity to share more about their background, and gives the committee an opportunity to evaluate nominees more holistically. The personal statement intends to provide an avenue for nominees to describe their lived experience, whether that’s their interests, passions, adaptability, and/or resilience.

With regards to the challenges with getting involved with research, you’re also welcome to interpret this question as you’d like; whether you respond with circumstantial challenges or personal challenges. Previous nominees have used this space to discuss their path to research, and how their specific circumstances shaped their experience (i.e. if they attended an institution where undergraduate research is rare or uncommon). To reiterate, you are encouraged to personalize the statement as you desire. 

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to interpret the directions of the two written statements. We want candidates to provide answers that feel true to them and their experiences, and that give the reviewing committee insight into who you are and what you’ve done. I hope that this gives you enough context to either begin or continue drafting your research summary and personal statement. Should you have further questions, our team would be happy to help address them! 

Is it required that the nominating department have CRA membership?

No, departments do not need to be CRA members to nominate students for our awards. However, if your institution is interested in becoming a member, please contact a member of our team at 

Is an Information School eligible to submit nominations for the award? 

Depends on the school, but if the i-school grants doctoral degrees in the computing field, absolutely! It would be appropriate for an i-school to submit nominations independently of a Computer Science School if they award degrees in the field.

As a School of Computer Science, we have X departments/institutes, all of which grant PhDs in their own programs. Does this mean we can submit 4 nominations per department or is it 4 from the School of Computer Science overall?

Each department that grants PhDs in a computing research field is allowed for 4 nominations. If there are multiple departments at your institution that grant degrees in the field, then your institution is eligible to have multiple departments submit nominations for students. Limits are defined by departments not by institutions. 

Can I nominate a student who has transferred to another institution? 

Unfortunately, no. The student would have to be nominated by their home department, where they are enrolled. However, you would be eligible to write their recommendation letter, if the home department decides to nominate that student.

Can our department write a joint reference/recommendation letter for a student since they completed multiple research projects? 

You’re welcome to write a joint letter, so long as the letter does not exceed the 3 page maximum. Given that the student worked on multiple projects, it makes sense that you’d like to work collaboratively with your colleague to highlight their strengths. As a reminder, it is most helpful if the recommendation letter specifically addresses the student’s contributions. 

Can we submit more than one letter of recommendation for a nominee? 

To keep the process equitable, we would appreciate it if nominators could follow the one-letter guideline. You’re welcome to write a joint letter, so long as the letter does not exceed the 3 page maximum. Given that the student worked on multiple projects, it makes sense that you’d like to work collaboratively with your colleague to highlight their strengths. As a reminder, it is most helpful if the recommendation letter specifically addresses the student’s contributions.

If the student I nominate doesn’t receive the award this year, are they still eligible to be nominated again next year (if they are still an undergraduate)? What if they are a runner-up, finalist or honorable mention this year – are they still eligible to be nominated next year?

Yes. Irrespective of whether or not a student was previously awarded (as awardees, runner-ups, finalists, or honorable mentions), they can still be nominated so long as they still meet the criteria of being enrolled as an undergraduate in a North American university. 

A student conducted research with faculty who no longer works at their home institution. Can they (the faculty at another institution) submit the nomination? 

To clarify, to be nominated for this award, a faculty member needs to write a recommendation letter. The faculty member writing the recommendation letter does not need to be a current faculty member at the student’s home institution. We recommend that the person writing the recommendation letter be someone who worked with the nominee, since they’ll be best prepared to highlight their strengths and contributions. 

Nominations must be submitted by someone within the nominee’s home institution’s department (either the department chair, or an authorized representative).  

If a student is doing research in our School of Computer Science (SCS) but has a primary major in another department, should a nomination come from that department the SCS? / Can a department nominate a student from another department?

Nominations should come from the student’s home department, but the recommendation letter can be written by any faculty member that the student has worked with. 

2023-2024 Selection Committee
Michael Hilton, Carnegie Mellon University, Co-Chair
Steve Swanson, University of California, San Diego, Co-Chair
Alex Psomas, Purdue University
Anna Rafferty, Carleton College
Bo Zhu, Dartmouth College
Brittany Duncan, Nebraska-Lincoln University
Hadi Hosseini, Pennsylvania State University
Jonathan Bell, Northeastern University
Matt Weinberg, Princeton University
Ovidiu Daescu, University of Texas, Dallas
Rahmat Beheshti, University of Delaware
Tracy Hammond, Texas A&M University

Nominations for the 2023-2024 award have closed. Applications typically open in September, with a deadline to submit around mid-October. We will update this page with 2024-2025 dates as soon as they are available.

NOTE: Students are not permitted to upload their own submissions. All nominations must be submitted by a department chair, the head of a department, or an official representative designated by aforementioned leaders.

Questions? 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.

Click here to view the past awardees.