Opportunities for undergrads

Are you interested in marine science? 

This page describes some ways that undergraduate students can get involved in marine science at UMass Amherst. This advice is also useful for students in the Five Colleges and is broadly applicable to students at other schools.

I love marine science, how do I start? 

There are 2 major things that you can do to get involved in marine science as an undergraduate student. First, join a lab group and gain research experience. Second, you should try and land a fellowship or internship.

OK, how do I join a laboratory group? 

The first order of business is to identify the laboratory groups that do marine science. At UMass Amherst, here’s a list of marine groups:

  • Cheng Lab – Marine Global Change Ecology (that’s us, woo!!), we focus on ecological questions in marine systems
  • Danylchuk Lab – Marine recreational fisheries
  • Jordaan Lab – Marine and freshwater fisheries ecology
  • Kahl Lab – coastal resilience, climate adaptation, cooperative extension
  • Komoroske Lab – molecular ecology, population genetics, functional genomics of marine/freshwater threatened and endangered species
  • Roy Lab – freshwater ecology
  • Staudinger Lab – Aquatic and marine species vulnerability and adaptive capacity, phenology, adaptation and conservation strategies

Cheng lab at Gloucester Marine Station

The second order of business is to see if they have opportunities. You can certainly start by emailing the professor but we’re always swamped and busy. So you might have better luck by contacting the graduate students directly. Often, the graduate students are listed on the lab website.

Opportunities may also be available through structured calls for undergrads, such as BURA (biology majors) and through email listservs (ENVIRSCI/NRC). These opportunities are usually announced at the beginning of every semester, so pay attention to the deadlines.

However, sometimes lab groups will have opportunities at other times of year. You can only know if you ask, so don’t by shy. Ask for opportunities and BE PERSISTENT. If you really want to join a lab, demonstrate your desire. This does not mean emailing the professor every other day, but I personally think it’s fine to send a few emails if your query hasn’t been answered. Maybe not more than once every 10 days or so. If you’re having difficulty talking to lab folks, you can also drop in on their office hours. In our department, we list our office hours on our office door.

Undergraduate students in our lab group often times earn independent study credit.

How do I obtain a fellowship/internship? 

Same deal as before. Look for the opportunities. At UMass Amherst, marine students should consider the Five College Coastal Marine Science Certificate Program. Competitive students may earn a 10 week paid internship.

Ibuki, Eli, and Alex were FCCMS interns at Gloucester Marine Station

Students can also apply for an NSF REU (research experience for undergraduates). REU programs are funded by the National Science Foundation and are designed for undergraduates to develop their own independent research project at a laboratory. They are competitive programs but are highly regarded. You should apply for them!

Here’s a list of ocean science REU opportunities. Each site listed has an REU program with specific details on applying.

Locally, here in New England, some marine labs have specific internships or research apprenticeships. Shoals Marine Lab has both internships and apprenticeships.

The Smithsonian also has many internship/fellowship opportunities.

When I was a youngin, I gained experience in animal husbandry at public aquariums. If this route interests you, check out the American Zoo and Aquarium Association job board. They have career jobs and internships listed.

For broader ecology, you should also consider subscribing to ECOLOG-L. This is an ecology listserv that regularly has emails with opportunities for job technician positions (e.g. summer field assistants).

What will make me competitive in marine science?

First, have the right attitude. Be communicative, responsible, reliable, positive, and hard working. You would be surprised at how many folks take themselves out of the running by being uncommunicative (ghosting emails) or flakey (not showing up when you say you will).

Second, have skills that you can bring to the table. What’s useful in marine science?

Underwater research, a scientific diving certification class at Shoals Marine Lab

  • Field
    • Open water SCUBA / Scientific diving certification
    • Boat operations
    • Natural history identification
  • Laboratory
    • Microscopy
    • Husbandry (care and feeding of critters)
    • Molecular bench
  • Analytics
    • Statistics
    • R computing!
  • Conceptual
    • Read papers to build your knowledge base


That’s it for now. I will come back and expand upon this page in the future!