2019 SSI interns and instructors on a field trip at the Bodega Marine Lab.
Since 1995, the California Academy of Sciences' Summer Systematics Institute (SSI), with support from NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program and the Academy's Robert T. Wallace endowment, has addressed critical topics including; worldwide threats to biodiversity, the origins and diversification of life, phylogenetic systematics, and evolutionary biology.
SSI is a nine-week paid research internship at our state-of-the-art research facility and museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This world-renowned venue offers undergraduates important insights into the contributions that museum-based research can make to issues facing society today by providing them the opportunity to do museum-based research for the summer. The program accommodates up to 10 undergraduate students. This internship is made possible by the National Science Foundation and the Robert T. Wallace Endowment for undergraduate education.
Participants will conduct research with their chosen advisor on a project relating to the discipline of the advisor and student. The program begins with a week-long field trip to the Pepperwood Preserve in Sonoma County where students will participate in workshops on natural history field methods and science communication, before traveling to the Bodega Marine Lab to participating in the annual Snapshot Cal Coast Bioblitz.
Throughout the program, participants also take part in a museum-based curriculum that includes lectures and lab exercises on phylogenetics and systematics, molecular techniques, biodiversity, evolutionary biology, global change, and other contemporary issues in the natural sciences. Other activities include collections tours, popular writing, and science communication workshops, and time out on the museum floor directly communicating with the public.
The program culminates with a research symposium, where participants have an opportunity to communicate their summer research findings with the Academy community. Following their summer internship, participants are also invited (and encouraged) to attend a scientific meeting to present their findings in the form of a talk or poster.
Duration & Location
The Summer Systematics Institute is a full-time program (40 hours/week) for nine weeks, from June 1 through July 30, 2021. The first week of the program will be spent at Pepperwood Preserve and the Bodega Marine Lab, with the remainder of the time spent in San Francisco at the California Academy of Sciences.
How to Apply
The application process is entirely online. You will need to complete the application form.
The online form will ask you to prepare a statement of interest in working at the Academy.
Complete the advisor selection portion of the application form after consulting the advisors and projects listed at the bottom of this page.
You will need to find two references and provide their contact information. At least one must be a science professor or academic professional (such as an instructor or teaching assistant) who knows your school work well enough to address that in their recommendation. Your other reference can be someone who knows you from working with you at any job, volunteer work, or community work. They just need to be able to talk about you as a person and as a learner. You should speak to these people before submitting their information to be sure they are willing to receive emails or phone calls and answer questions about you.
Deadline: February 1, 2021. Applications received after midnight on February 1, 2021, will not be reviewed.
Applicants will be notified by email sometime in early-March 2021 and should note that because of the schedules of potential mentors reviewing applications, and the possible need to contact applicants on reversion lists, there cannot be a firm deadline on our part. Due to the volume of applicants, we cannot give individual confirmation for application materials received. We hope that applicants can be patient as we make our final decisions.
Any U.S. citizen or resident alien (green card) who is an undergraduate student, and who will not have graduated before fall of 2021, is welcome to apply. That is, you must be enrolled in an undergraduate program at the time of the internship.
Housing & Stipend
A $5,400 ($600/week) stipend will be awarded to each intern. Travel to and from San Francisco will be provided. Housing will be provided in dormitories in San Francisco (within walking distance and easy public transportation to the Academy), with details to be provided upon the selection of interns. Personal stipends may be subject to federal and/or state income taxes.
Click the + next to each advisor's name to learn more.
Rayna Bell studies the ecology and evolution of amphibians and reptiles with an emphasis on island biogeography, hybrid zones and coloration phenotypes. Much of her work in based on a group of diverse and colorful frogs, the hyperoliid reed frogs, which are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and the Gulf of Guinea islands. More recently, Rayna has started studying the diversity and evolution of the frog visual system, a research direction that stems from her interests in understanding the ecology and evolution of coloration in frogs.
Additional information on Dr. Bell’s research can be found at: http://www.raynacbell.com.
There are two unidentified reed frog species on Bioko Island (Hyperolius cf. endjami and H. cf. fusciventris) and two identified reed frog species (H. ocellatus, H. tuberculatus). I have sanger sequence data (mtDNA and nuDNA) for all four species and preliminary results suggesting that H. cf. endjami is hybridizing with H. ocellatus on the island. The two main goals of the project are 1) confirm the species IDs of H. cf. endjami and H. cf. fusciventris with a combination of morphological and molecular data, and 2) determine whether H. cf. endjami and H. ocellatus are indeed hybridizing, again with a combination of morphological and molecular data. The intern would be sequencing mtDNA and nuDNA from samples I've collected at several sites across the island and a couple reference mainland samples, and collecting morphological data from corresponding voucher specimens.
Sarah is an arachnologist whose research focuses on terrestrial arthropods, primarily spider evolutionary biology, although she occasionally dabbles with insects. She is mostly interested in flattie spiders – pretty much every aspect of their biology – and dictynoids. If you have any interest in collaborating (aka joining the Flat Spider Society), get in touch with her! She has a BSc from Virginia Tech, an MSc from San Diego State University, and a PhD from the University of California Berkeley. Prior to her current appointment, she was a research officer at the Western Australian Museum and a member of the Berkeley City College Biology Faculty. Sarah has previously taught our SSI Program systematics course.
You can read more about her research here.
Using genomic techniques to collect and analyze population data from a once thought to be extinct spider restricted to salt-flats in the desert southwest. Testing hypotheses about dispersal and connectivity, dating divergence.
Dr. Dumbacher’s research focuses on describing the diversity in bird and mammal species and understanding the factors that cause species to diversify. Using samples from an array of bird and mammal species, including birds from Papua New Guinea, owls from North America, and sengis (aka “elephant shrews” from Africa), he uses genetic tools to describe biodiversity and to understand evolutionary relationships. Much of this work is calculated to ask conservation- related questions about populations that may need attention in the wild.
Dr. Kapan’s lab at the California Academy of science is currently focused on two related areas of applied science to make an impact on the health of people and the planet. First, he is co-leading a growing collaborative research program to measure the effect of on-the-ground work to restore the resilience of socio-ecological systems concentrating on California forests and second, he has an ongoing research program on ecology, evolution and health related to invasive mosquito vectors (and emerging infections pathogens they transmit—the latter in collaboration with Dr. Shannon Bennett). He also conducts basic research on insect genomics in his lab, including work on Heliconius butterflies and Hawaiian insects including invasive Aedes mosquitoes. Most recently he has been focusing on developing new methods and R-packages to measure gene-sharing between species (introgression) a phenomenon that has applied implications for both conservation and invasive species. Finally, he utilizes citizen science and public outreach to make a positive impact.
Our long-term study on the avian response to controlled fire at the Caples Ecological Restoration project has now turned a corner. After 3 years of monitoring birds while the watershed was being prepared for the reintroduction of fire, areas of the watershed have now been 'burned' in a low-intensity fire spanning all of the expected burn treatment areas. Spring 2020 (early June) will kick off with intense fieldwork to survey birds on a 400m grid where we visit 83 points in this mid-elevation (5500-8000') watershed. Bird surveys are accompanied by autonomous recorder sampling which can be done by anyone (only hiking and navigation skill required). Lab work will include training machine learning models to identify recorded sounds as well as using output of this process to model avian occupancy using special software in R. Requisites for this position are the ability to camp for >20 days in rustic but fun conditions, ability to hike and navigate safely in wilderness, good team player including help with camp meals and field data entry and skill with computers / computer programming and excitement to work back in the lab on big data both sound files and our >20000 observation database from traditional point count methods. Familiarity with bird ID especially by sound not necessary but a plus!
Terry's research on the systematics, phylogenetics and comparative biology of nudibranchs and other sea slugs focuses on the implications of phylogenies in understanding evolution of shell-loss, mimicry, and other comparative aspects of the evolution of these animals. He has studied the diversity of these mollusks along the California coast for more than 40 years. Most recently, this work employs evolutionary studies to develop new strategies for conservation of Philippine reefs in the center of the center of marine biodiversity. He develops key collaborations with research institutions, conservation organizations, and large public exhibits to bring these findings to diverse audiences.
Determine whether several new species are members of a clade or represent more than one clade.
Sarah is a curator in the Botany Department and botanist with broad interests in plant systematics and speciation. To address these questions, Jacobs focused her PhD at the University of Idaho on amassing large data sets that combine ecological, geographic, and molecular information along with plant measurements to sort out tangled species relationships. One of her goals is to create a general framework that can be applied to other plant lineages, with the aim of asking broader questions about the evolution of species in western North America. At the Academy, Jacobs uses cutting-edge genomics, size and shape analyses, and statistical approaches to further develop her framework. Her work will help to resolve long-standing taxonomic questions and reveal the evolutionary drivers responsible for such incredible plant diversity across the West.
The plant genus Castilleja (also known as “the paintbrushes”) is an iconic group of wildflowers, particularly in western North America. Despite its reputation, the genus is notorious among botanists for difficult taxonomy and challenging systematics. This project will contribute data (molecular, morphological, and/or ecological) to ongoing efforts to delimit lineages and characterize the diversification process in this complex group. The intern will learn and hone skills associated with plant identification, field data collection, data analysis and basic scripting.
Giovanni is a biodiversity data scientist and macroecologist. His work at the macroecology–conservation practice interface takes advantage of emerging approaches for analyzing and visualizing big datasets to improve our predictive understanding of large-scale biodiversity change and support conservation decisions. Macroecology aims to explain and predict the abundance, distribution, and diversity of organisms across large regions and time periods. With biodiversity under increasing pressure from human actions, macroecology can contribute greatly to the evidence base for national and international decisions aimed at conserving biodiversity and ensuring a sustainable future for our planet.
You can read more about Gio’s work here.
The early detection of abrupt changes in the geographical distribution of species following environmental changes is crucial in order to slow and prevent biodiversity loss. For this purpose, we are building an Early Warning and Forecasting System for biodiversity change on the California coast powered by tens of thousands of volunteers and community scientists providing observations of biodiversity. This project will combine recent crowdsourced community-contributed observations with 20th century museum specimen collections to help us unearth a continuous record of distribution change for a small subset of macro-invertebrate species on the California coast. This project will suit someone with a curiosity for big ecological questions that span large scales of space and time, as well as a penchant for computer programming, data science and geospatial applications.
Peter is the Curator of Geology, and has been at the Academy since 1999. He holds degrees in Biology (B.Sc.), Oceanography (M.S.) and Geology (Ph.D.). His research is transdisciplinary, with a focus on understanding the evolution of ecological systems, emphasizing paleontology, deep time, and perspectives on complexity dynamics. Most of his research these days centers around global change biology, and how we can further develop our understanding of Earth's past ecosystems to better forecast our future.
Peter was born in the United Kingdom, and grew up in the beautiful countries of Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California Davis, and later became a citizen of the United States. He is a strong supporter of immigrants, broad inclusivity of all persons in American society, and the promotion of underrepresented groups in the sciences, including women and ethnic minorities.
You can learn more about him and his research here.
Paleoceanographic records provide a unique opportunity to understand how ecosystems have responded to rapid climate change in the past. Recent research on the California margin indicates strong ecosystem responses to climate change, including transitions between multiple ecosystems, and long recovery times from disturbance. This project will use sediment records from along the California margin to address two key questions: 1) How did the development of the modern Oxygen Minimum Zone during the Holocene influence marine ecosystems, including multiple stages of perturbation and recovery? and, 2) Can we identify the Anthropocene as a marine ecological shift beyond background decadal-centennial-millennial scale climate? This work will utilize microfossil collections at the California Academy of Sciences to identify and interpret metazoan and protistan assemblages.
Gary Williams studies the systematics, evolutionary biology, and biogeography of octocorals, a group of corals found worldwide and at all latitudes, on coral reefs as well as in the deep-sea. His work involves coral communities from various parts of the world from shallow water tropical coral reefs to ocean depths exceeding 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). Octocorals include some of the most beautiful and morphologically diverse animals in the world’s oceans – these are the soft corals, sea fans, and sea pens. They are a group of corals that represent two-thirds of all living coral species and are characterized by having eight feathery tentacles surrounding the mouth of each polyp.
The project goal will be to produce a phylogenetic tree of deep-sea or coral reef corals (soft corals, sea fans and sea pens), using the Scanning Electron Microscope for skeletal morphology and our Comparative Genomics Lab for molecular analysis
Molecular phylogenetics of Pacific Basin octocorals – from deep-sea California to Indo-Pacific coral reefs
Morphological diversity and molecular phylogenetics of mesophotic and deep-sea octocorals from the eastern Pacific
Laurel Allen is a communications and digital-engagement expert with a background in cultural research who regularly provides talks, trainings, and workshops in the areas of science communication, social media, persona/voice-and-tone development, and more. At the Academy, she oversees digital-engagement strategy and execution for a family of 4 distinct in-house brands, work that encompasses digital special-projects (e.g. apps, AR lenses, VR experiences, 360-object creative) and 10 social-media platforms for a total community of 3MM+. After several years of rapid growth, the Academy is today the largest and most engaged social presence in the world within its vertical, i.e. among all science and natural history museums, zoos, and aquariums. Laurel is also an Explorers Club Fellow and Shorty Award winner, and her long-form writing has appeared in Fast Company, Gizmodo, Indefinitely Wild, Modern Farmer, Alert Diver, and others.
The ability to effectively communicate science—and to help the public engage with it in compelling ways—is a critical skill whether it’s the focus of an eventual career or just one aspect of your work. The person in this role will work directly with the Academy’s social media and communications teams to tell the stories of SSI students, curators, projects, etc. across a wide range of platforms, from executing social media coverage and special features (~60%), to learning how to pitch mainstream press (~10%), to creating a final video project (~30%). (There may also be opportunities for longer-form writing.) Over the course of nine weeks, you’ll gain experience with interviewing techniques, storyboarding, shooting and filming, writing and editing, livestreaming, working with audience insights, the mechanics of social platforms, and more.
These internships are made possible by the National Science Foundation and a generous gift from the Robert T. Wallace Endowment for undergraduate research experiences.