The California Academy of Sciences is offering an exciting opportunity for undergraduates to engage in research. The Academy houses collections that reflect interests in global biodiversity -- from the deep sea and coral reefs to the forests and mountains of tropical Asia. Starting each June, the Academy's Summer Systematics Institute will bring seven undergraduates to the California Academy of Sciences for an 8-week summer session that will provide participants with an excellent understanding of what are among the most important aspects of biology: the study of biodiversity and the evolutionary relationships among organisms. Each prospective intern will apply to work with an Academy scientist on a research project. Students will develop directed projects that provide them with an introduction to the problem, organisms to be studied, and aspects of data collection, interpretation, and dissemination as it relates to systematic biology. Successful applicants will participate in formal lectures, tours of the Academy's facilities, and research seminars. Each student will write up the project's results in the form of a scientific paper, and make an oral presentation to their peers. Recruitment is on a national level, with emphasis on candidates from groups under-represented in the sciences, particularly African-Americans, Native-Americans, and Latinos. Participants will receive a stipend, housing/subsistence allowance, and travel funds to and within San Francisco. Information on application procedures can be found at: For specific inquiries about the program or the application, candidates can also contact the Curriculum Coordinator: Dr. Rich Mooi at

Project Report

This REU Site award to the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA, supported the training of 35 students for 8 weeks during the summers of 2009-2013. The program, called the Summer Systematics Institute (SSI), provided opportunities for students to work 1-on-1 with CAS scientists on research projects in biodiversity and sustainability science. Students took lectures in systematic biology, enjoyed facilities tours, and community-building activities from pizza-fueled workshops dealing with how to choose and apply to graduate schools to tidepooling and a faculty-hosted dinner along the Russian River. Lectures emphasized ethics as applied to collections-based science, responsible conduct of research in a museum setting, appropriate data collection and archiving, and informed attitudes towards preserving the world's biodiversity. Students worked on projects designed to introduce them to interesting and vital scientific problems in the worlds of biodiversity and conservation science as they collected and analyzed data on potential study organisms from microbes to trees, birds, fish, and marine invertebrates. Graduate student teaching assistants provided guidance in molecular techniques. The SSI is integrated with our endowed Biological Illustration Internships, providing our students with mutual glimpses into alternative careers in biological science. We have developed, in conjunction with educators, assessment tools providing feedfack on every aspect of the program. The CAS engages in research on biodiversity -- the richness of life on Earth -- and evolutionary biology through global programs of fieldwork and lab-based research. Its curatorial staff oversees a collection of over 30 million specimens supporting insights integral to studies of evolutionary pattern and process, and threats to biodiversity from largely human-driven global change. SSI students are immersed in this science, engaging twin assets of collections and personnel to advance the CAS's research mission. Components of this mission include molecular phylogenetics, physical anthropology, conservation biology, and biodiversity ecosystem function, as well as microbial, marine, and terrestrial systematics. Broader impacts Recruitment to our program is national, with emphasis on groups under-represented in science. Being a non-degree-granting institution, the CAS only recruits SSI participants from outside. Over the life of the grant, we consistently made offers to a higher percentage of those in underrepresented groups than applied, regardless of ethnicity. In total, almost 46% of the participants were from these groups (versus only about 15% who applied). Notably, one participant was enlisted in the Armed Forces, and one was non-traditional, a former inmate enrolled in community college upon release from prison. We have excellent relationships with local community colleges, and also recruited from others outside the region. Evaluations by students and faculty are conducted each year to benchmark improvements in the SSI. Students learn how to communicate results through oral presentations at the SSI mini-symposium, and through public outreach venues available to them as staff of a major museum. Products include presentations at conferences and online/print publications. About 10 participants returned to the CAS after the main summer program and more than a dozen were funded to present at international conferences such as the student-friendly annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. In two of the years, our students attended the Bay Area Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences, an innovative, cross-disciplinary meeting of REU Sites illustrating the landscape of research opportunities in the region.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Sally E. O'Connor
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California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco
United States
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