Detail from Plant forms, an Impression Figure by Margaret Watts Hughes, pigment on glass, date unknown (recolored). Courtesy of Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery via

A Research Experience for Undergraduate Students


Program Overview • Dates & Times • Tuition & Fees • Program Goals • Venue • Directors & Mentors • Audience • Application Requirements • Outcomes


Program Overview

The SFI Undergraduate Complexity Research (UCR) program is a 10-week residential experience in complex systems science. Students can select from a menu of projects, or develop a project in collaboration with their mentor(s). Students learn how to combine theory, methods, and data from the physical, natural, and social sciences to ask big questions about real-world complex systems using the rigorous methods employed at SFI. Through a series of seminars and workshops, students enhance their skills as researchers and prepare for the next steps in their academic and professional journeys. 

Dates & Times

June 2 – August 10, 2024

The UCR is a full-time (all-day) commitment. All participants are expected to attend the entire program in person.

Tuition & Fees

There is no tuition for this program. 

Students receive a stipend of $700 per week, or $7,000 over the course of the program. All UCRs are provided with housing and meals at no cost to them and travel support to/from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Program Support   The Santa Fe Institute UCR program is supported by SFI's generous donors.

Program Goals
  • Explore new ideas through an independent transdisciplinary research project, guided by an SFI mentor. Read about past projects on our Projects page.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of complex systems research through discussions and seminars.
  • Become a part of the SFI research network and connect with new colleagues and collaborators.
  • Build technical and professional skills; explore diverse future career opportunities.
  • Join a small, collegial, and enthusiastic UCR community who help each other succeed – even after the end of summer.

The UCR program takes place on the campus of the Santa Fe Institute, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

campus of IAIA atrium at the Santa Fe Institute museum in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico
IAIA Santa Fe Institute downtown Santa Fe, NM

UCR students are accommodated in student dormitories at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The IAIA campus is located in a beautiful Southwest high desert setting with mountain views, extensive walking trails, and quiet places for contemplation.

Directors & Mentors

The UCR program co-directors are:

Chris   Melanie
Chris Kempes, professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Chris's work focuses on developing general perspectives of life that can be applied in contexts ranging from modern ecology, to astrobiology, to human institutions. He is one of the creators of the Origins of Life course on, which explores the question of how life emerged from an abiotic world. Chris was a UCR at SFI in 2005.   Melanie Mitchell, Davis Professor of Complexity at the Santa Fe Institute. Melanie's current research focuses on conceptual abstraction, analogy-making, and visual recognition in artificial intelligence systems. She is the founder of and instructor of the Introduction to Complexity course there. Her most recent book is Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans.

Mentors are selected from a transdisciplinary network of SFI faculty, representing a wide range of interests and approaches. The program directors and Education support staff assist with mentor introducations and mentor matching during week one of the program. Seminars and workshops are organized by the UCR Curriculum Director and led by SFI faculty and invited experts.


UCR students at SFI on a winter research visit

Undergraduate students from all backgrounds in the physical, natural, and social sciences and mathematics are invited to participate. Strong quantitative skills and experience with a programming language are favorably considered. Prior research experience is not required. Students from institutions with limited research opportunities are encouraged to apply.

Applicants from any country are welcome. Accepted applicants who are not US citizens or permanent residents will receive assistance with visa sponsorship as appropriate to their individual circumstances.


  • Current undergraduate students (see FAQs for how we define this)
  • College seniors graduating before December 2024 are not eligible.
  • High school graduates who have not yet started their undergraduate study are not eligible.
  • SFI policy requires participants to provide proof of complete COVID-19 vaccination prior to beginning the program.

The UCR team is committed to offering inclusive educational programs in which all participants feel valued and supported in their learning journey. We believe that human diversity in all of its dimensions is essential to meaningful scientific progress. We believe that open discourse and respectful sharing of broad perspectives is essential for understanding our world. We work to ensure our educational programs reflect and encourage this diversity and inclusivity, and we welcome you to join us.

Application Requirements

While the application period is open, access the application system through the "Apply now!" button at the top right of your screen.

Applicants submit:

  • Biographical information (filled out directly in the application portal).
  • Current academic CV or résumé.
  • Research statement, including responses to three prompts (see application for details).
  • One letter of recommendation from a professor, mentor, or advisor.
  • Unofficial transcript from each college or university attended.

Applications will not be accepted after the deadline. Aim to submit your application at least two days before the deadline in case you have any problems. Invite your recommender to write a letter of support when you begin your application to give them time to complete the request.

For help creating a strong application please visit the UCR application tutorial on ComplexityExplorer. If you have not already registered for a free account, you will need to do so before enrolling in the top right of your screen.