Undergraduate Research and Mentoring
Biological Sciences

After Acceptance

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You will be notified of your acceptance by the URM program director and, at the same time, informed about the name or your mentor. We will match you as closely as possible with a faculty member whose research suits your interests. Once you are in Hawaii, you will work with that faculty member to develop an individual research project that you will carry out during the 10-week internship.

Flight and housing arrangements will be made for you in Honolulu by our Program Assistant, Mrs. Marissa Stone, who will contact you by e-mail.

Student Faculty Match-up

As noted in the application materials, each student should take part in choosing her/his research mentor. Go to the list of mentors and read about their research projects; also checkout links to the web pages for each of the possible mentors. This information should guide guide you in selecting mentors and projects that seem of greatest interest to you. You are asked to name up to three faculty mentors in whose labs they would like to study. Based on the interests of each student and the information provided by the recommendations from their home institutions, the selection committee makes a match for each of the selected interns to the most suitable available faculty mentor. We try to put only a single new intern into any one lab each year.

When You Get To Hawaii

Upon arrival in Hawaii, interns are all housed together in the UH Manoa dormitories, and provided with an initial orientation to the program, the campus and the mentors. On the first Monday morning of the Summer Program, all of the PIs and faculty mentors will be present during the orientation. At this first meeting, you will be introduced to your mentors, and, at the end of the cohort session, travel with the mentor to her/his laboratory. In the laboratory, each faculty mentor will introduce you to all of the others who are members of the lab group, including other undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research associates. The mentor will talk daily with you, and, in each lab, the intern is "rotated" through a series of research activities with the others in the lab to get a "feel" for their research, its goals and methods. This orientation gives each new intern a solid grasp of the breadth of research in her/his mentor's lab.

Mentoring During the Summer URM Program

Once each intern has been introduced to the broader range of issues and opportunities available via the initial orientation series, they will begin work with their chosen mentors. In-lab training is the responsibility of entire lab groups, led by the faculty mentor, and includes all aspects of research, including choosing projects, developing hypotheses, selecting experimental methods, collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative information, and preparing written research reports. Each mentor will provide an orientation to their research programs and ensure all interns are properly trained in laboratory safety and general laboratory operations. Students will have the opportunity to interact with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to gain additional insight and experience.

By the beginning of the third week, each mentor begins discussions with the intern to select an individual research project. The Hawaii-URM program emphasizes the importance of each student's "ownership" of her/his research, and thus they are never simply "handed a project," but are provided with several general areas - often presented as specific research questions - appropriate to the laboratory and among which they can choose. Together, the intern and the faculty member develop the research plan to include testable hypotheses, methods, potential results (e.g., what kinds of data will emerge and how will they be analyzed?), and what finishing the project will entail.

A typical week for an intern in the program involves a Monday-morning, on-campus workshop at which students learn the variety professional development skills, including short courses in laboratory- and bio-safety; and training in research design and analysis, verbal and written presentation techniques, scientific writing, preparing a curriculum vitae, meeting presentations, and public speaking. Students will be exposed to scientists who work in university and governmental labs which emphasize environmental biology. Monday afternoons will often be used for field trips to various labs, governmental agencies and field sites to observe Hawaiian natural history and on-going field research projects. The remainder of each week will typically be spent in the lab doing research and interacting with other undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, but all mentors are expected to have an "open door" policy in which the interns can come to them almost anytime. Most lab groups have weekly meetings in which all participants present their week's work, including any success and problems encountered, and the groups, as a whole, discuss them. The URM interns will become regular participants in these weekly meetings. Weekends are generally reserved for free time and planned social events to increase bonds among the interns and between the interns and their mentors.

Ten examples of previous intern research projects:

Alfonso Alexander (Pohnpei, FSM): "Larval dispersal of the Brown Surgeonfish between Hawaii and the Central Pacific." (Mentor: Dr. Robert Toonen)

Eugene Gold (Pohnpei, FSM): "Pressure-volume curve parameters of Hawaiian native plants: do they correspond to species or habitat differences?" (Mentor: Dr. Lawren Sack)

Amata Kabua (Marshall Islands): "Native vs. Alien: marine ecosystems version of David vs. Goliath." (Mentors: Drs. Alison Sherwood & Celia Smith)

Jacques Idechong (Palau): "A study of the effects of reduced salinity on fertilization rates in the Scleractinian reef coral Montipora capitata from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii." (Mentor: Dr. Bob Richmond)

Julius Lucky (Pohnpei, FSM): "Investigating the effects of nutrient enrichment on coral growth and survivorship." (Mentors: Drs. Cindy Hunter & Zac Forsman)

Peltin Olter Pelep (Pohnpei, FSM): "Conservation genetics of endangered Hawaiian tree snails: are all Achatinella bulimoides from one interbreeding population? Is there useful DNA in mucus trails?" (Mentor: Dr. Michael Hadfield)

Kaipo Perez III (Hawaii, UHM): "The effect of terrigenous sediment films on larval settlement in the reef coral Pocillopora damicornis." (Mentors: Drs. Paul Jokiel & Ku`ulei Rodgers)

Jansen J. Santos (Pohnpei, FSM): "Fledgling success of endangered Hawaiian Akepa." (Mentors: Drs. R. Cann & Leonard Freed)

Gwendalyn Sisior (Palau): "Comparison and analysis of community structure in forest plots subject to different past management." (Mentor: Dr. Tamara Ticktin)

Saipologa Toala (American Samoa): "Where do zooxanthellae come from when the coral Pocillopora damicornis is recovering from bleaching?" (Mentors: Drs. D. Carlon, R. Kinzie & R. Toonen)

End-of-Summer Symposium

Each year, we complete the summer program with a day-long symposium during which each of the summer interns gives an oral report on her/his project to all of the other interns, mentors and others from the mentors' laboratories. The students are trained to use PowerPoint to illustrate their talks, and each one has an opportunity to answer questions from the audience at the end their talk. We have a catered lunch and finish the symposium by taking our group photo and saying goodbye and "until we meet" again to one another.

The Year-Long Program

For those students who continue for full year internships, expanded project selection will take place during the late summer and the fall semester. All students will be required to participate in a weekly URM colloquium and will be expected to present and defend a research proposal. Once the proposal is approved, they will provide weekly reports on progress as well as problems encountered. The weekly problem-solving sessions are considered to be an important opportunity to teach students the scientific method in action. The weekly colloquia also include a strong emphasis on preparing for graduate school, including writing CVs and statements of interest, choosing graduate programs, taking Graduate Record Examinations, and applying to graduate schools.

We are well aware that many of our students experience significant stress as they attempt to cope with life far from home, the complex "big-city" society found in Honolulu, and a more rigorous academic routine than they have had. For these reasons, the mentors and others in the labs will be prepared to help the students acquire new knowledge and will be "forgiving" when the interns must spend extra time preparing for examinations and writing term papers. Because of our 9-years of support for UMEB, our mentors and many in their labs are familiar with the kinds of problems many interns face when coming from small island communities, and they are experienced in helping the students make the necessary adjustments.

A training program in Environmental Biology in its best implementation includes experiences in research, management and policy. Our year-long program will accomplish this enrichment with the traditional mentoring of UMEB, and it will build management and policy experiences beyond what the summer program holds. URM interns will be fully functioning members of individual laboratories across the UH Manoa system by participating in lab meetings, and meeting and working with a wide range of fellow undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research staff as core activities.