The Semester in the Field Program began in Panama as a partnership with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and then expanded to include Kenya. Many EEB faculty felt that both teaching and learning are better done by total immersion removed from the distractions of campus life. This belief emerged as we watched our majors return from field studies with a much deeper understanding of the tropics and the impact of humans on biodiversity as well as with a more mature understanding of what constitutes original research. Their enthusiasm and knowledge enrich all of our courses on campus.
Students interested in learning about or undertaking research in the tropics have some exciting options:
This four-course program on tropical biology and sustainability, also taught in three-week segments, takes place at Princeton University's Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya and other sites in Kenya.
It is taught in collaboration with scientists at Mpala, EEB faculty, other appropriate Princeton faculty, and Columbia University faculty.
The courses delve into the ecology of savannas, conservation in Africa, the natural history of mammals, tropical agriculture, engineering and field hydrology, and paleoecology.
The department offers a spring term in Panama in conjunction with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Students take four intensive three-week courses in sequence, beginning with an introduction of key concepts in tropical ecology and conservation.
The program also includes courses on coral reefs, parasitology, and anthropology (focusing on Pre-Columbian peoples and their land-use practices).
Individual students are welcome to pursue other independent field opportunities sponsored by independent universities and institutions.
For example, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the School for Field Studies (e.g., at the University of Cape Town in South Africa), James Cook University in Australia, among others.
Tropical Biology and Sustainability in Kenya
EEB, in collaboration with the School of Engineering, the Program in African Studies, Columbia University and Kenyan institutions, offers a spring semester in Kenya. As with the Panama Field Semester, four courses are taken in sequence and involve total immersion in the tropics. We have chosen Kenya as our Old World tropics site because of its rich variety of ecosystems and animals, and the presence of the Mpala Research Centre (MRC)—a facility for scientific research, education, and training in central Kenya, emphasizing environmental sciences, biodiversity conservation, and natural resources management.
In previous years, students have studied animal predation and habitats, mastered key field techniques, learned the importance of ecosystem restoration, and experimented with fashioning building blocks from easily available local materials. In addition, students often enjoy going on a safari, visiting a private wildlife reserve, or climbing Mt. Kenya.
After students complete the 'in the field' part of the course they return to campus to write up their findings, present their work at a symposium, and work intensively on their junior paper.
Princeton University News published a wonderful piece featuring a story about Mpala and the research program, Wild science: The nature of the Mpala Research Centre
Tropical Biology in Panama
The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology offers intensive study in Panama for juniors interested in the ecology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and conservation biology of the tropics. Over the years faculty and students alike have noted that learning both the principles and practice of ecology is best done via total immersion, especially when the setting is in the tropics. We have chosen Panama as one of our New World tropical sites in part because of its diversity of habitats. It is also home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) which has field stations, dormitories, classrooms and scientists that can help enrich our program. STRI's website for our program contains background, logistical, and course information for students.
Tropical Biology in Panama Courses
The program entails students taking four Princeton courses in sequence. The first course is Tropical Biology taught by STRI faculty member Dr. Janeene Touchton. This course offers an intensive, three-week field experience at various sites in Panama. It examines the origins, maintenance, and major interactions among elements of the tropical-terrestrial biota. This course involves extensive travel and the completion of many field projects.
The second course is Ecology and Epidemiology of Parasites and Infections Disease taught by EEB professor Dr. Andrew Dobson. In this course students will explore the dynamics and abundance of parasites in a variety of host species in the Panama Canal zone.
Following spring break, the third course is Biology of Coral Reefs taught by Dr. Maria Echeverry-Galvis, Princeton Ph.D. graduate and professor at Pontifica University in Colombia . This course focuses on the ecology and behavior of coral reef organisms and includes extensive daily work in the water.
Pre-Columbian Peoples of Tropical America and Their Environments is the fourth course. It is taught by STRI faculty Dr. Dolores Piperno, and allows students to fulfill the Princeton's 'Social Analysis' (SA) distribution requirement. Once students finish the 'in the field' part of the course they return to campus to write up their findings and work on their junior paper. During this somewhat novel reading and exam period they live in University housing but are responsible for their own meals.