Six months after completing my REU at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, I can now reflect on my experiences in the jungle and appreciate all that the program has done for me. I am now a first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Melbourne, and I know that my research experience last summer strengthened my graduate school applications and contributed to my acceptance into one of the best universities in the world.
What is an REU? REU stands for Research Experiences for Undergraduates, and they are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). My program in particular was also supported by Duke University and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). These programs occur during the summer and are aimed at students who are interested in conducting scientific research at a graduate level.
REU Programs are offered around the United States, and in some cases (like mine) institutions will fund research outside the country. Each institution that hosts an REU program has the freedom to make the experience unique, however, there are many similarities across all of them. Each student works under the guidance of an advisor on a project that can be finished by the end of the summer (most programs last about 10 weeks).
My Experience: My REU project was titled Social organization in day and night roosts of the Proboscis Bat (Rhynchonycteris naso). I was given the opportunity to spend a summer in the tropical rainforest of Costa Rica studying Bat behavior. Leaving the city of Los Angeles where buildings and cement surrounded me, and spending the summer in the forests of Costa Rica where you can see beautiful animals and plants everywhere you look made this a dream internship for a young zoologist like myself. This internship taught me so much about how to be a successful researcher and carry out a scientific experiment.
Benefits of an REU: Not only do REU Programs give you the chance to get to know students with similar interests from across the nation while living in a new city for a couple of months, they also give you insight into the life of graduate school. You will strengthen your research, team working, writing, and presentation skills. After completing the project, I presented our research at four national and regional conferences, providing me with further networking opportunities.
In summary, participating in a summer research program was a blast! I made memories and friendships with my fellow interns that I will forever cherish. Plus I strengthened my academic and research skills, as well as my resume and graduate school application. For anyone looking for research experience in the field of ecology, I would highly recommend the REU through the Organisation for Tropical Studies at La Selva Biological Station. Field projects cover a wide range of topics including botany, invertebrate and vertebrate zoology, and behavioral ecology. The program is run incredibly well with mentors and a coordinator whom are passionate about helping students reach their full potential within the program.