‘Bootcamp’ Preps Marine Science Students for Immersive Semester

The rather idyllic location for the Bowdoin Marine Science Semester bootcamp

To kick off an intense semester of academics and travel, the ten students participating in this fall’s Bowdoin Marine Science Semester were put through their paces at “bootcamp” last week.

Bootcamp “provides the students an initial opportunity to experience our immersion format, get to know each other as well as our faculty and staff, and learn important skills they will need over the course of the semester,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Sarah Kingston, who is one of the program’s faculty members.

Over the course of the fall, the students take four three-to-four week course modules — in benthic ecology, biological oceanography, marine molecular ecology and evolution, and on the history of Harpswell and the coast of Maine. They make field trips to Hurricane Island, off Rockland, Maine; Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy; and to the Gulf of California, Baja California Sur.

The students, who arrived Sunday, Aug. 20, first set up tents at the Coastal Studies Center in Harpswell — where much of the semester takes place — and were given the rubber boots and snorkeling gear they’ll use throughout the semester.

 

 
 

On Monday morning they learned about boat safety. Later in the afternoon, after watching the solar eclipse, the group spent an afternoon at the Giant Stairs in Harpswell. The stairs are intriguing both to geologists and biologists, and the students first heard from Assistant Professor of Earth and Oceanographic Science Emily Peterman, who spoke about the geology of Maine’s coast. “My objectives were for students to collect field data to determine what are the primary controls on the orientations of the islands of mid-coast Maine,” she said.

During her lesson, the students observed evidence of glacial deposits, and, using compasses, both measured the direction of striations caused by glacial carving and the orientation of the bedrock’s foliations.

Next, the students conducted a mini-bioblitz, which is when scientists and students — and sometimes citizen naturalists or other volunteers — survey all the living species in an area. “It’s a non-invasive way to assess the diversity of organisms in a certain spot,” explained Kingston. 
 

 
 

In doing the bioblitz exercise, the students were also learning to identify the organisms — mostly algae and invertebrates — that live in the intertidal zone. Later in the semester, they will visit several monitoring stations Bowdoin has set up along the coast to census the species in these spots. They do this to “see how the intertidal community is changing over time as water in the Gulf of Maine is changing,” Kingston explained.

(It is important to note that while the students head out with buckets for the bioblitz to collect organisms, they don’t keep any of them. “Someone will find something, put it in a bucket with water to transport to show other students, then transfer it back to its original location,” Kingston said. “This is to keep the organism alive and not stress it out.”)

Kingston said that safety training is a large component of Bootcamp, but that the students also get introduced to the statistical framework and programming platform they’ll use for research, as well as to the classes they’ll be taking. Because a large part of the semester is the independent research project, the faculty also go over the timeline and goals for this.

“In addition, being in residence for a week at the Coastal Studies Center gives them a glimpse of how place-based learning and research can work,” Kingston said.

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