Cary REU Program

Summer 2018 will be the 31st year that the Cary Institute's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program has provided 8-12 students with opportunities to conduct cutting edge research in ecology. 

2018 Program Dates: May 21 - August 10, 2018
Application Deadline: January 28, 2018 11:59 PM EST.

Applications for 2018 are closed.



The Cary REU program in Translational Ecology engages students in activities in three interwoven strands that, when experienced together, provide a strong foundation for pursuing excellence in ecology:

  1. Cutting Edge Independent Research Projects 
  2. Reflective Practice and Training Activities 
  3. Translational Ecology Activities 

A brief description of the activities in each strand follows.

Cutting Edge Independent Research Projects 

Under the guidance of one or two scientific mentors, each Cary REU student performs an independent research project of her or his own design. From discussions with other REU Site Directors it is clear that the independence we give our students in formulating their own research questions is unusual among REU programs in biology. Students do not work in a vacuum, but rather receive a great deal of support and guidance from their mentors and other scientists, post docs, graduate students and research staff. The length of our program (12 weeks versus the more typical 10), our philosophical convictions concerning teamwork and mentor-student relationships, and the proven success we've had in the past all support this approach.

Once students delineate a research question and associated hypotheses, they select appropriate methods and develop a research plan that is presented informally to fellow students and mentors at the end of the second week to receive constructive feedback. A written proposal is completed by the end of the third week that is reviewed by their mentor(s) and at least one peer. Students implement and complete the project on their own, ending with analysis and report writing.

Students write abstracts and give a 15 minute presentation in a formal Undergraduate Research Symposium at the end of the 11th week, attended by staff, students and scientists from the surrounding community (typically 45-75 in attendance). Students complete a draft of their research papers during the final week of the program. Students will have the option to submit their paper to the online Cary Undergraduate Ecology Research Reports publication edited by the Project Directors. This publication not only gives our students experience in seeing their work carried to completion, but also is useful in promotion and recruitment. Many students present their research at local or national conferences, and some go on to submit their work for peer reviewed publication. 

Reflective Practice and Training Activities 

Hallmarks of the Cary REU program are emphases on reflective practice and collaborative science. We try to foster critical reflection about science and its linkages to society in every facet of the program. Starting on the first day, students are given notebooks and guided in reflective journaling that is revisited frequently at the beginning or end of many of the summer’s sessions.  Specific activities within this strand include:

Interactive Sessions

We offer hand-on, interactive sessions or online training in: a) asking good questions and formulating hypotheses in ecology; b) linking research with ecological theory; c) ethics and ecology; d) safety in ecological research; e) Responsible Conduct of Research; and f) Future Pathways to Graduate School and Jobs.

Statistics/R Workshop

While skills in data visualization, interpretation and analysis are critically important to the generation and communication of scientific knowledge, many undergraduate students arrive with few of these skills. The R platform is a rigorously vetted freeware program that has been experiencing an increased popularity among data experts in academia and corporations.  Its interface encourages students to develop confidence in writing code to manipulate, visualize and analyze their data. This workshop has multiple sessions throughout the summer and supports students in building proficiency in statistics for study design, data visualization and interpretation, data analysis, and data documentation and archiving. 

Scientific Writing Workshop

To support students in developing effective writing skills, we offer a multi-session workshop, The Workshop starts with pre-assessment of the students’ writing and involves mini sessions tailored to pre-assessment-identified needs, as well as common problems that arise from the drafts themselves. The focus is on the research proposal early in the summer, and then on the research paper, culminating in intensive work in the final week of the program. Students have several opportunities for guided peer review coupled with post review reflection on their own writing, along with individual consultation with the Workshop leader.

Translational Ecology Activities

Translational ecology is a theme that runs across the research and reflective practice/training strands of the Cary REU program. To complement and expand on the independent research experience, the Cary REU program includes four short activities that address the key dimensions of translational science.

Linking to the Public – Communications and Writing for the Public

 Writing or speaking about research for a lay audience can be rewarding. It helps identify the most important and interesting ideas and findings, clarifies your understanding and satisfies your interests in connecting with people in the larger community. Students participate in a Communications Workshop where they learn about insights from practitioners and communications researchers and then engage in an exciting Elevator Speech “Speed Dating” activity. This activity is coupled with an assignment to write a lay-accessible summary of their research in their research proposal which will be revised, with feedback from a peer and mentor, for the Undergraduate Research Symposium program booklet.

Linking to Education – Sharing Science and Education Roundtable

The Sharing Science program, where Cary-REU students spend 4 hours in the field doing near-peer teaching with youth from a nearby urban area, has been one of the most highly rated parts of our program in recent years.  A brief training session with Institute educators, and support during their teaching experience, ensure a positive experience. To build on their experiences as teachers, students participate in an Education Roundtable where they collectively generate ideas about effective teaching, and then are challenged to consider ways they could measure or document student learning to improve their teaching and get a glimpse of the possibilities and promise of education research. 

Linking to Policy and Management – Gallery Walk of Science – Society Connections

Students explore the science/society interface as it plays out for their own research project. They develop a conceptual visualization of the complex, two-way interactions between their science and policy and management, share their concept maps with each other and with Cary scientists. The group will discuss common themes, and then each student will produce an 8 ½ x 11 poster of their synthesized ideas as an enduring record of the complex and important ways that science and society are intertwined. 

Integration: Forum on Translational Ecology

The full-day Forum on Translational Ecology fosters integration across the 3 strands of the program. Professionals from diverse careers related to ecology (10-12 in all, including an environmental lawyer, writer, high school teacher, government scientist, activist, NGO scientist, professor, etc.) spend the day with the Cary REU and students from nearby REU programs. They give short presentations about what it’s like to do their job, their advice for students interested in such a career, and how they translate ecology in their work. After informal conversations over lunch, small groups of students meet with panels of the visitors for more personal and in-depth exploration of the career and translational ecology themes of the day. A regional audience of students from other REU programs, local colleges and high schools participates each year.


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