Fellowships & Scholarships
PEAK Experience #6: The Trail-Blazer Award
  • Northeastern: 03/19/2023
  • Fellowship: 04/02/2023

If you meet the eligibility criteria and are interested in applying for this fellowship, please fill out a preliminary questionnaire. You may contact the office with any questions.

Award Details

This award is one of the Project-Based Exploration for the Advancement of Knowledge (PEAK) Experiences Awards. Please review the PEAK Experiences Awards overview page to see the entire list of experiences and determine which one is right for you; our list of Frequently Asked Questions about the PEAK Experiences Awards might also be helpful.

You’re interested in questions that may lie outside of your domain of study or outside the bounds of what can be accomplished while you are enrolled in classes. This award is for big thinkers who want to spend at least nine weeks of the summer making their mark – either by moving outside their disciplines or by making bold discoveries within them through full-time exploration.

If you’re working within your discipline, you need to make a case that you are tackling – with great independence and sophistication – a significant project that can take your study and career aspirations to the next level.

If you’re working outside of your discipline, your task is to convince us of the importance of the problem you’re interested in tackling and the uniqueness of the perspective you bring to bear. Then, convince us you’re the right person to carry it out by making connections between your expertise and what you want to know, crafting a clear plan of action, and enlisting the help of a mentor who can help you shape a feasible and powerful project.

This is an award for the bold! We’re seeking a few good students to go the extra mile and make the case for themselves and the worthiness of their projects.

You can use a Trail-Blazer Award to participate in a co-op research experience.

Internal Award
US Citizenship Not Required

This award is for full-time, currently enrolled Northeastern undergraduates who demonstrate a great degree of independence and initiative in the development and execution of research or creative projects. Applicants should possess substantial prior engagement with the frameworks, methods, and techniques of research or creative endeavor in their field (whether through independent projects, employment, or co-op), or should articulate the connection between their experience and the proposed project in a way that demonstrates their readiness to take on significant work at a high level.

Students may meet these criteria and apply for this award at any stage of their Northeastern career. We want to know how you are prepared to be a Trail-Blazer—and where the trail that you blaze will lead.

Trail-Blazer Awards may be made to students individually or to groups of up to three students.

The following criteria distinguish the Trail-Blazer Award:

Novelty and Importance: Projects are expected to make a significant, original contribution to an intellectual or creative field of endeavor—either to blaze a trail either within a domain in which the applicant has substantial expertise, or to blaze a trail that innovatively links the applicant’s expertise to a question or problem not typically approached from that perspective. Applications should contextualize the project amid current work in the field and make clear the project’s unique contribution.

Independence: Trail-Blazer Awards are intended to support independent, student-initiated undergraduate research and creative endeavor. Applicants should demonstrate meaningful autonomy in the design and implementation of the project. These awards are therefore distinct from research positions contemplated in prior grant applications, from the traditional work of a research assistant, and from the type of work supported by the other awards in the PEAK Award Sequence. In the case of science and engineering projects, there should be an appreciable distinction between the faculty mentor’s funded research and the Trail-Blazer project, and students are expected to make their own clearly defined intellectual contribution in the context of the mentor’s research program.

In addition to the above, Trail-Blazer Award applications are evaluated for their overall quality, feasibility, strength of mentorship, anticipated outcomes, and potential to contribute to a student’s intellectual, personal, and professional development.

Feasibility will be demonstrated through preparation of a detailed project timeline, outlining a project scope appropriate to the expectation that students will dedicate at least nine weeks of full-time effort (40 hours per week) to the completion of their project. Accordingly, students must maintain a regular presence at their research site (whether the Northeastern University campus or an off-campus research site) for the duration of the project. Projects must ordinarily occur during the Summer sessions, unless students have made arrangements to dedicate themselves full-time to the project through means such as a research co-op. Feasibility also encompasses the safety of the student researcher (particularly with regard to travel) and the requirement that all research comply with regulations on research involving human subjects or vertebrate animals. Feasibility of the project is enhanced when projects are undertaken in the student’s field of study and/or when relevant skills or expertise have been developed through previous research, creative, co-op, or service activities.

Mentoring: Students are expected to establish and maintain a schedule of regular contact with their faculty mentor. The Mentoring Plan should demonstrate a willingness on both the student’s and the mentor’s part to maintain this relationship despite challenges such as geographic distance, travel, and limited connectivity.

Outcomes: Trail-Blazer projects are expected to produce outcomes in a format appropriate to the subject matter and field of inquiry. How will your project’s results be shared with the world: as a film, a website, a prototype, a performance, a scholarly article? In addition to producing and submitting this research or creative product, Trail-Blazer recipients commit to reporting regularly on their progress, presenting their work for other members of the Northeastern community in the fall, and locating an appropriate venue for external review of their work.

Applicant Development: Projects are evaluated on the alignment of the project with students’ learning and life goals. How will this project move you toward a powerful and provocative potential future, including graduate school, fellowships, and employment opportunities?

Awards are competitive and funding is not guaranteed.

The Trail-Blazer Award offers up to $6,000 per recipient that can be used for project supplies; student stipends/wages; and travel costs directly related to the research or creative endeavor. PEAK Experiences Award funds cannot be applied to tuition.

All Trail-Blazer applicants benefit from an intensive, guided series of project-development workshops, and award recipients are invited to present their work to the university community at the annual Creative Endeavor and Research Experience Symposium (CERES).

Prior to submitting a Trail-Blazer application, students must participate in the prerequisite PEAK Project Development Workshop Series.

The Trail-Blazer Award application procedure has three stages:

  1. Preparation: Because they will help you prepare a strong, thorough, and rigorous application, attending the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships’ series of Project Development Workshops is not merely a requirement, but indeed a benefit of the Trail-Blazer application process. You should complete the workshops in the term in which you are preparing your application.
  2. Intention: Submitting a brief, preliminary Letter of Intent. Letters of Intent are due for the Northeastern Deadline, noted in the sidebar. For more information, see below.
  3. Application: Submitting a full proposal, including a letter of support from your Faculty Mentor. Applications are due on the Fellowship Deadline, noted in the sidebar.

Letter of Intent
You can find examples of Letters of Intent here and here.  To initiate the application process, Trail-Blazer applicants should use the Letter of Intent Portal to submit a Letter of Intent not exceeding 500 words, which will provide the basis for your final proposal. Groups should submit a single letter of intent on behalf of the entire group. Letters of intent are due by the Northeastern Deadline (see sidebar). The letter should do the following:

  • State the research question or describe what you intend to create, invent, or discover.
  • Briefly discuss the potential significance of the project, both for your own personal development and your field of specialization.
  • Indicate whether the project requires or is likely to require IRB and/or IACUC approval.
  • Indicate whether the project involves international travel, and, if so, whether you will need permission to travel to a country the university considers high-risk.
  • Briefly outline any prior/preliminary work accomplished and/or experience that might be relevant to your proposed project.
  • Indicate the name of your faculty advisor (or potential mentors you plan to approach) and the preliminary work you have done with him or her.

Full Proposal
Students who have met all requirements and filed an appropriate letter of intent are invited to submit a full project proposal. The proposal consists of:

  • An information form
  • A Project Proposal Narrative
  • A detailed, line-item budget prepared using the Budget Template
  • A project timeline
  • An annotated bibliography
  • A current official transcript
  • A current resume
  • A confirmation of IRB/IACUC approval
  • Supplementary materials (if needed)
  • A letter of support from your faculty advisor.

The elements of these pieces are described below.

Information form: You are asked to provide personal information as well as basic information about your project.

Project Proposal Narrative: Please address the following questions in the following order. As the Trail-Blazer is the PEAK Experience with the highest expectations of independence and sophistication, we ask that you address the application questions in depth, but please do not exceed the word counts provided for each portion of the proposal. Please format the proposal as a single-spaced document in 12-point font with one-inch margins. Be sure that your name appears on each page and that your pages are numbered.

  • Project Background and Objectives stating what question, problem, or creative area you hope to explore and outlining the objectives of the research. This section should also provide important background information for your project, contextualizing the project in terms of the broader work in the field. This section should, therefore, include at least three comprehensive references to articles or books in the field. To begin, check out the Northeastern library’s Subject Guides for Research as well as these tips for evaluating scholarly sources. (300 words)
  • SignificanceTrail-Blazer projects should make a significant, original contribution to an intellectual or creative field of endeavor—either to blaze a trail of new knowledge/practice within a field, or to blaze a trail that innovatively uses a particular field’s techniques to address a question or problem not typically approached from that intellectual or creative perspective. Explain how your project fits this criterion. (150 words)
  • Project Design and Methodology This important section should outline your methodology—that is, the theory and techniques on which your project will rely—as well as a specific course of action for carrying the project through to completion. This statement should include an assessment of resources required for project planning and implementation and a consideration of potential project challenges. (400 words)
  • For group projects only, you are asked to also provide a statement justifying why this project must be undertaken as a group, as well as what roles you expect each member to play in seeing the project through to fruition. (300 words)
  • Mentoring Plan that outlines the anticipated frequency and mode (e.g., in person, phone, email, Skype) of your communications with your faculty advisor. Be sure to account for conditions such as travel (yours or your advisor’s), time zone differences, and the like, and be sure to discuss the Mentoring Plan with your advisor before submitting it. (150 words)
  • Outcomes Statement that describes the anticipated outcomes or products of your project. (Note that the research product is different from the required final project report. The product is the actual thing you expect to have made: a paper written, a portfolio assembled, a prototype crafted, a film screened, a website launched, etc.) Detail how will you share the results of your project, including potential venues to share your work outside Northeastern (e.g. a discipline-specific conference, specialized publication, etc.) in addition to submitting the work internally to RISE, which is expected of all recipients. (200 words)
  • Personal Statement. Describe your experience and preparation for undertaking this project with respect to the following questions (300 words per applicant; each applicant should prepare their own Personal Statement):
    • What has been your prior engagement with the relevant field(s) of endeavor, and what is your expertise? The expectation of a Trail-Blazer Award is that you should possess expertise sufficient to allow you to blaze a new trail within your own subject area, or to blaze a trail by innovatively applying your expertise to an intellectual or creative problem not typically approached from that perspective. How are you prepared to do this?
      • If you have previously received a Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavor Award, or PEAK Award, you may take an additional 100 words to elaborate on how your experience with the previous project(s) has informed your application and influenced your approach to planning and conducting a research or creative project.
    • Describe your motivation for undertaking this project by relating it to your larger learning and life goals. Specifically, please explain how the project moves you toward at least one intellectual goal, one personal goal, and one professional/postgraduate goal.

Budget: Prepare your project’s budget using the provided Budget Template. This spreadsheet provides separate lines for you to list and explain each itemized expense or resource. Modify or add to the pre-populated line items as necessary for your project.

Project Timeline: Detail what you intend to do and when you intend to do it. Structure this like a syllabus, week by week, dividing your project into steps and apportioning your time appropriately. While this timeline can include pre-project preparations, the timeline should cover a minimum of nine weeks actively working on the project and exclusively dedicated to its execution. Students cannot attend classes or participate on co-op during the duration of their projects. Projects must begin after the first day of Summer classes (you cannot start in the spring semester).

Annotated bibliography: Include works cited in the proposal and other key sources you anticipate using in your research. An annotated bibliography provides a brief synopsis of each listed work, explaining its relevance and applicability to your project. The annotated bibliography should include at least 10 references.

Current transcript and resume: Groups should provide these for each member.

Confirmation of IRB/IACUC Approval. If you have received official confirmation that your project does not require this approval, attach that correspondence here, as well. No project involving human or vertebrate animal subjects will be funded, and no such research may commence, until the appropriate approvals have been secured.

Supplementary Materials. If needed, you may include graphs and illustrations, preliminary research, or portfolios.

Letter of Support: The Letter of Support (PDF) should directed to the Trail-Blazer Selection Committee and should address the faculty advisor’s involvement with the project; discuss the student’s initiative, motivation, and determination for the proposed project; comment on the quality, originality, and worthiness of the proposal; outline arrangements to ensure completion of the project and verify willingness to review and sign-off on the final product of the research and the final project report. Faculty advisors are considered the principal investigator for all student (undergraduate and graduate) projects with human subjects or vertebrate animals.  Advisors are therefore responsible that the research is conducted in accordance with federal regulations and university guidelines, including obtaining approvals.  Research conducted through the University must be conducted in keeping with ethical norms. Proposed research involving the use of human subjects or vertebrate animals requires approval from the University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). A signed Assurance by the faculty advisor, Department Chair/Program Head and the student must be submitted with the student’s proposal. We rely on faculty members to verify a project’s intellectual merit and feasibility; please raise significant concerns about a project with the student, our office, and in your letter, should you choose to write it. Beyond these approvals, we rely on faculty members to honestly assess the intellectual merit and feasibility (including safety) of a student proposal. 

When soliciting faculty support, please share with your potential advisor this document (PDF) describing the Trail-Blazer award.

Decisions will be announced before the end of the spring term.

Interested? Have Questions?

If you meet the eligibility criteria and are interested in a fellowship or opportunity, please fill out a preliminary questionnaire. Contact the office with any questions: