Providing undergraduate students with the thrill of discovery: FHL Blinks/NSF REU/BEACON Summer Internships

The young students finished their talks in the FHL Commons, and the room cheered. Another successful conclusion of the FHL Blinks/NSF REU/BEACON Summer Internships, ending with polished presentations of their mentored research experiences. Tomorrow the students will take a ferry, a bus, or a plane and head back to another year of academic studies, but their lives are changed. They have spent the summer here at Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island, doing 8 weeks of research with a caring mentor and they are ready to change the world. 

Fig 1: The 2010 class of FHL Blinks/NSF REU/BEACON Summer Interns learning statistics in the FHL computer lab, using the data that they collected working with a mentor.

Field experiences have significant impacts on both the intellectual development of student participants and helping them understand the links between disciplines (Lopatto 2004; Simmons et al. 2008). The FHL Summer internships are interdisciplinary by nature and include a half-day each week of professional training for the students, mentoring for the students and the mentors, and discussions with a wide diversity of research scientists at FHL so the interns hear about many paths to professional success.

Fig. 2: A few of the undergraduate students who participated in the Blinks/NSF REU/BEACON Internship Program in the summer of 2015, at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meetings in Portland in January 2016. Every FHL Internship program class from the past 6 years was represented at SICB 2016 in Portland, OR, and every one of the 14 students from the summer of 2015 presented their summer research there. Elska Bette (third from left) won the Steven Vogel award for the best poster for her work with her mentor, FHL postdoctoral mentor Nick Gidmark.

The Blinks Program was started at FHL in 1996, to increase diversity of researchers in the marine sciences. The endowed funds were donated by John Blinks in honor of his mother, Anne Hof Blinks, who was a weaver and textile scholar. Dr. John Blinks is a very well-known FHL researcher who studied photoproteins here at the Labs for years and left a legacy of wonderful research.

The NSF REU Program began in 2009 with an NSF grant to co-PIs Professor Adam Summers and Professor Emily Carrington for an on-site REU program. Later, Professor Sophie George (visiting Professor at FHL) became the Director of the Program, and co-PI with Adam Summers. Now the program is directed by Viktor Iyengar, a former Blinks Scholar who went on to become a faculty member at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

In 2010, Billie Swalla at the University of Washington became one of the founding members of BEACON, an NSF Science Technology Center at Michigan State University to study Evolution in Action. BEACON has generously funded 1-2 undergraduate students a year for the past seven years. Together these three funds make up the FHL Blinks - NSF REU - BEACON Summer Internships.

The FHL Summer Internship experience at FHL includes:

1) a mentored independent undergraduate research experience,

2) a minority role model who runs the program – Vikram Iyengar,

3) videoconference discussion of BEACON research projects each Friday,

4) weekly professional development seminars (including RCR training), on how to write an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, resume building, statistics and scientific ethics training,

5) a visit to UW Seattle to encourage students to apply for graduate school,

6) FHL research seminars throughout the summer, presented by prominent FHL scientists,

7) student research presentations and final papers are submitted at the end of the summer, and

8) $500 for a trip to a national meeting the following year, usually the national Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting.

Student interns participate in an intensive research experience, but they also learn that doing science is fun. They become close to the other students in the program as they learn about their diverse research projects and they see prominent scientists dressing up at the FHL Invertebrate Ball and taking their children on picnics. We are looking forward to another exciting summer in 2017, with eight students arriving to do their FHL Blinks/NSF REU/BEACON Summer Internships.

We know that these mentored undergraduates frequently go on to graduate school and will be the leaders in marine research and science in the future. We welcome them back to FHL to continue their graduate and postdoctoral research, especially if they return someday with their own students!


Lopatto D. 2004. Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE): First Findings. Cell Biology Education, 3:270-277.

Simmons M.E., Wu X.B., Knight S.L., and R.R. Lopez. 2008. Assessing the influence of field- and GIS-based inquiry on student attitude and conceptual knowledge in an undergraduate ecology lab. CBE Life Sci Educ, 7(3):338-45.


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