Undergraduate Research Experience

Research Experience for Undergraduates

Gulf of Maine and the World Ocean

test.JPGUndergraduates in Bigelow Laboratory's summer REU Program spend ten weeks at the Laboratory conducting independent research with guidance from a scientist mentor. Directed by Senior Research Scientist Dr. David Fields, and funded by the National Science Foundation, the REU Program is designed to give students pursuing degrees in the sciences, mathematics and engineering a laboratory-based research experience with an emphasis on hands-on, state-of-the-art methods and technologies. REU students are immersed in the Bigelow community and participate in seminars, field trips, Laboratory outreach programs, social events, and more.

Each student in the program is paired with a Bigelow Laboratory scientist based on mutual research interests. During the ten weeks, students work with their mentors to identify a research question, develop a proposal, conduct their research, and prepare an abstract and poster. At the end of the program, students present their poster and give a talk at a student symposium.

Research areas vary year to year, but include marine microbiology, ocean biogeochemistry, optical oceanography, remote sensing, bioinformatics, sensory biology and phytoplankton ecology.

The 2016 program dates are May 31 through August 5 and will be held at the Laboratory's East Boothbay campus. Successful applicants receive a stipend, free housing, food allowance, and funds for travel to and from Bigelow Laboratory. Applications will be open January 1, 2016.

“This opportunity has solidified my future goals and aspirations as a scientist. I now have a better idea of what I need to accomplish to get the career I want and I feel I am better prepared to tackle those tasks."

“The REU program showed me the process of research – start to finish – in finer detail than I’ve ever seen. I was involved in nearly every minute aspect. I gained more valuable lab experience and used new toys."

“The greatest strength was the communication and community spirit. Not only could I talk to my mentors about anything, at any time, even other people’s mentors were available.”

Mentors and Project Opportunities


Each REU students is mentored by a Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory. For examples and abstracts of REU projects from previous years, visit the sub-pages dedicated to each year. On the program application, applicants will indicate two scientists they are interested in working with; students with questions about potential research projects are encouraged to contact the scientist leading the project. Please visit the research pages of individual scientists here.

2016 Mentors
Christoph Aeppli
Steve Archer
Barney Balch
Peter Countway
David Emerson
José Antonio Fernández-Robledo
David Fields
Cynthia Heil
Mike Lomas
Joaquin Martínez Martínez
Paty Matrai
Beth Orcutt
Nicole Poulton
Nichole Price
Nick Record
Ramunas Stepanauskas
Ben Twining 


An REU participant must be a current undergraduate student and a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or its possessions; international students and graduating seniors are not eligbile for this program. An undergraduate student is defined as a student who is enrolled in a degree program (part-time or full-time) leading to a baccalaureate or associate degree. Students who are transferring from one college or university to another and are enrolled at neither institution during the intervening summer may participate under certain circumstances. See the National Science Foundation's eligibility guidelines for more information.

Minorities and students with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

Applicants should have, at minimum, one year of basic biology, have taken at least one earth or ocean science course, and be in good standing with their home institution. Most REU students will have completed two or three years of college and be majoring in earth science, environmental science, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics or engineering. Prior research experience is not required, but relevant coursework and enthusiasm for conducting independent research are important. We encourage applications from non-traditional students, as well as those attending community colleges.

Please note that our program is extremely competitive. In 2015 we received nearly 250 applications for 10 REU positions, so applicants must meet the eligibility requirements.

How to Apply

The 2016 Application will be available January 1, 2016.

Please read the application instructions before beginning the application process.

A complete application to the REU Program consists of the following materials:

1) The online application form

2) Responses to the short answer questions

3) Two letters of reference from individuals, at least one a recent science instructor, who can comment on your interest and commitment to self-motivated projects. Recommenders should submit their letters using the online form.

4) An official or unofficial transcript from your academic institution

All application materials must be received by March 1st. Due to the high number of applications received each year, incomplete applications will not be reviewed. All application materials should be sent to Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Do not submit applications to the National Science Foundation.

All students who are offered a position with the Bigelow REU have from March 15th to March 30th to accept or reject the offer. This REU site is funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences. The cognizant Program Director for all NSF-OCE funded REU sites is Elizabeth Rom: elrom@nsf.gov or (703) 292-7709.

Contact Information

REU Program
Dr. David Fields
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
PO Box 380
East Boothbay, ME  04544 USA
(207) 315-2567, ext. 313

2016 Important Dates

Application Period: January 1 - March 1

Students Notified: March 15 - March 30

Program Start Date: May 31

Program End Date: August 5

Frequently Asked Questions

test3.jpgWhat does the program cost?  There is no cost to participate in the REU. All housing expenses are covered by the program and 2016 participants will receive a $5000 stipend for the ten weeks. Funds are also available for project expenses and travel to and from the Laboratory.

What is the program schedule like?  Students are typically at work in the lab Monday through Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm. Some weekend work and longer hours may occasionally be part of some projects, the actual schedule varies depending on the lab group and research project. Students also meet one morning each week as part of a seminar series on developing and conducting an independent research project and attend a series of brown bag lunches on topics such as ethics in science, graduate school funding and career development.

Where will I live?  Participants live together in Bigelow's McKee House, located at the entrance to the Laboratory's East Boothbay Campus, and in other rental housing nearby. Students share a room with another REU program participant in the co-ed house; single rooms are not available.

Where will I eat?  Bigelow does not have a dining facility, so students are responsible for their own meals. Both McKee House and the rental house have fully equipped kitchens, and students are encouraged to cook and share meals together.

Do I need a car?  It is highly recommended to bring your car or bike, though housing is within walking distance of the Laboratory. The town of East Boothbay (within walking distance from the Lab) has a general store, restaurant, post office, public dock, beach, etc. The town of Boothbay Harbor and grocery shopping are a 10 minute drive from Bigelow. Arrangements can be made for students without cars to get groceries and into town; taxis are also an option.

What is the Boothbay Region like?  Boothbay Harbor is the nearest large town to the Lab and has a summer population of around 10,000. Boothbay Harbor is where you'll find shopping, restaurants and social activities. The Boothbay Region is ideal for a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, boating and swimming. Portland, the nearest city, is about an hour and a half away.

Can I receive credit for this program?  Yes, this is encouraged. Students interested in receiving course credit should make arrangements through their home academic institution.

Can I be a senior?  Yes, as long as you have not graduated.

Is the program start date flexible?  The first week of the program is important and we want all students in residence then, but recognize that many students are will not be finished with school until after the program start date. In the past students have arranged to take their finals early, or take them at Bigelow. We encourage students in this situation to apply for the REU and if they're accepted we'll work to accommodate their schedule.