OTS classic field course for grad students – winter opportunityOTS’ classic field course for grad students – winter opportunity

Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond

Program Details

Where: OTS Stations in Costa Rica (La Selva, Las Cruces, & Palo Verde) and Cuerici

When:Dec 28, 2015 – Jan 23, 2016

Cost:$2,100 OTS members; $6,100 Non-OTS members

Duration: 4 weeks

Accreditation: 4 credits

Deadline: Oct 10, 2015

Language: English

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Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond Overview

Field Ecology: Skills for Science and beyond is an intensive, four-week course that will challenge you in every way. This course is a shortened version of the Advanced Ecology summer course. Nevertheless, at its heart lie the highly regarded OTS “field problems”, which engage students in the fast-paced formulation of research questions, experimental design, data collection, analysis, and oral and written presentations.

Students will take away advanced skills in research design, data analysis, writing, science communication, modeling, and collaborative research – all in the breath-taking tropical setting that is Costa Rica. Long days and late nights, filled with science. The 2016 course will place emphasis on research and analysis tools as well as science communication. We guarantee that you will return to your home institution a better scientist. Who could ask for more?!

Course participants are eligible for pilot and research awards provided by the OTS Fellowship program. Students most complete the course successfully to be eligible. For more information click here


Program Description

The students will get extensive experience designing and conducting group and individual research projects across a range of tropical ecosystems. A large emphasis will be placed on:

  • Concrete research and analytical tools.
  • Research design.
  • Statistical analysis.
  • Ecological modeling using R.
  • Scientific writing.

  • Behavioral experiments (including digital video analysis).
  • Learn biogeochemical tools for tropical ecosystem studies.
  • Phylogenetically based community analyses.
  • Sound analysis.
  • Ecological niche modeling.

In addition, the course will emphasize skills for communicating science both to scientists and the general public. Science communication will be addressed through a workshop on writing, audio recording and film production. Students be responsible maintaining a student blog, the production of a course podcast, and short films based on student research.


Field Ecology: Skills for Science and beyond is designed to make the most out of the students’ time. A students’ day during the Filed Ecology course will usually begin at 06:00 hrs. with breakfast at 06:00 or 06:30 and a start to the field by 07:00 hrs. Lunch will be at 12:00 hrs. (Lunch may be out in the field depending on the circumstances) and dinner at 18:00 hrs.

We will have a review of the next day's work after dinner, usually followed by a lecture and occasional general group discussions or data analysis. The pace can be overwhelming at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you get used to it, and by how much you see and learn.

Sites Visited

Field Ecology: Skill for Science and beyond is a highly mobile course that travels to field sites throughout Costa Rica. Costa Rica has an incredible diversity of ecosystems and the course field sites represent most of the major ecosystem types in the country, ranging from wet forest to dry forest, low elevation to high elevation. The course visits all three OTS field stations (La Selva, Las Cruces, and Palo Verde), as well as Cuerici Biological Station.

La Selva Biological Station. Situated in wet lowland rainforest on the Atlantic slope, La Selva is not only OTS' largest and longest-running station, but also one of the world's premiere centers of tropical forest research. Over 1500 hectares of old- and second-growth rainforest is readily accessible via an extensive trail system. Besides its impressive forest and excellent laboratory and classroom facilities, one of La Selva's great assets is the opportunity to interact with researchers from around the world. In addition to this, the station connects to Braulio Carrillo National Park via a forested altitudinal transect ranging from 30 m to 2500 m above sea level.

Las Cruces Biological Station. Situated in premontane rainforest on the Pacific slope, Las Cruces has a world-class plant collection in the Wilson Botanical Garden and an associated 160 hectare tract of old growth mid-elevation forest. Las Cruces is surrounded by agricultural landscapes, ideal for research on fragmentation and restoration ecology.

Palo Verde Biological Station. Situated in the heart of Palo Verde National Park in the Guanacaste province, the Palo Verde Biological Station is surrounded by over 19000 ha of semi-deciduous tropical dry forest and seasonal freshwater wetland. The tropical dry forest is one of the most endangered of the tropical ecosystems and one of international research interest. The seasonal freshwater wetland, designated as a RAMSAR site in 1991, lies in front of the station and attracts abundant waterfowl.

Cuericí Biological Station.Situated near Cerro de la Muerte, Cuerici Biological Station is a high elevation site containing stunning tropical oak forest and access to the paramó. The forest itself is protected as a private reserve and the station is also a sustainable development project and trout farm.


Field Ecology: Skills for Science and beyond is characterized by having two full-time coordinators and a teaching assistant from renowned universities worldwide. This edition of the course will be led by Andrea Vincent.

Andrea Vincent is an ecosystem ecologist with a broad interest in the cycling of carbon and limiting nutrients, especially phosphorus. In her research she uses a mix of old-school ecology tools with state-of-the-art techniques such as 31P and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, to test ecological hypotheses. She did her PhD at the University of Cambridge (UK) and STRI (Panama), and two postdocs in boreal and arctic Sweden. She is currently a professor at Universidad Nacional, in her native Costa Rica.

Will Eldridge is a fish ecologist interested in the way land use and other disturbances alter the structure and function of fish in streams and rivers. He uses a combination of ecology, genetics, bioenergetics, physiology, and modeling methods in field and laboratory settings. He received his PhD from the University of Washington in 2007. Before receiving his PhD he was a Fish Geneticist with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission in Olympia, WA for three years. Between 2007 and 2014 he was the PI for the Fish Ecology Laboratory at the Stroud Water Research Center, an independent non-profit dedicated to research, education and restoration of streams and rivers around the world from a base 45 mile southwest of Philadelphia, PA. He is currently an independent scientist.


Andrés Camacho is a biologist from Costa Rica. His main interests are evolutionary biology, bioacoustics, biogeography and animal-plant interactions. He did his M.Sc. at the Universidad de Costa Rica, studying divergence patterns of the Timberline wren (Thryorchilus browni), an endemic bird to the Costa Rican  and Panamanian highlands. He is currently an instructor at the University of California Educational Abroad Program (UCEAP) in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Invited Faculty List

Students will have the opportunity to interact, be taught by and participate in group field projects with faculty from many different universities and research interests. A list of potential invited faculty is provided.

  • Miguel Acevedo - University of Puerto Rico
  • Steven Whitfield - Miami Zoo
  • Leigthon Reid - Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Gloriana Chaverri - University of Costa Rica
  • Rachel Gallery - University of Arizona
  • Dave Moore - University of Arizona
  • Eben Broadbent - University of Alabama
  • Catherine L. Hein - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
  • Morgan Heim - Day´s Edge Productions
  • Sarah Joseph - Black Llama Films

Please make sure to review this page frequently as invited faculty members may be changed or added to the list as the course draws near to the start date.




Tuition and Financial Aid

Field Ecology: Skills for Science and beyond course costs exceed $6,100 per student. Students from non-OTS institutions are charged $6,100 for tuition, whereas students from OTS-member institutions are charged $2,100 (less a $4,000 OTS scholarship).

Cost includes: all lodging and meals, transportation during the course, and all course materials. Personal expenses such as laundry, mail, entertainment, international travel, airport tax ($29), insurance, medical expenses, etc. are not covered. Also, students planning additional time in Costa Rica before or after the course should allow $50-60 per day.

Course fees are due in full one month prior to start of course; the first $500 constitutes a nonrefundable deposit.

Additional scholarships may be available for students with demonstrated financial need. If you are interested in being considered for a partial scholarship please make sure to include a request for a partial scholarship along with the rest of the required documents. The letter should outline your financial situation, previous scholarships/grants (if any), and the amount you are seeking from outside sources to cover the costs of the course. The letter will help us asses your situation individually and determine your eligibility for a partial scholarship if you are selected for the course.

Please note that the scholarships are awarded and applied only to the tuition/course cost. They cannot be applied in any other way, for example travel expenses. Although we may be able to award a partial scholarship, we recommend that you seek funds for the course outside through you own means, such as applying for grants from your department or organizing small fund raisers.

Application Process

Course enrollment is limited to 22 students. Selection of participants is highly competitive. Qualified students from OTS member schools will have first priority, and any number of applications will be considered from each OTS institution. Applications from non-OTS institutions are welcome. The course is taught in English; however, Spanish is useful, and participants are urged to develop basic Spanish skills.

Please keep in mind that the transcripts from the course may take up to two months to process before they are sent out to your institution. Accepted students are encouraged to consult with their advisor and department what is need to transfer the credits once the course is over.

How to apply?

The application process is simple.

Click on the Apply Now button on the program page and follow the online instructions to fill out the application on-line.

At the end of the application you will be required to upload the following documents in pdf format.

  • Curriculum Vitae (4 page max.)
  • Transcripts (official)
  • Letter of Interest
  • Letter requesting financial aid (if applicable)

You will be required to request the following:

  • Two letters of reference.
  • A graduate advisory supplement which needs to be filled out and sent to us by your graduate advisor. This form can be downloaded from the online application page.
  • OTS Delegate Endorsement (only applies to OTS member institution students). This form is downloaded from the online application page.

Please request that these documents be sent directly to graduate@tropicalstudies.org. We will not accept any reference letter, supplement or endorsement that is not sent directly from the referral person.

Prospective applicants from member institutions must consult with one of the two representatives of the OTS Assembly of Delegates at their institution.

Advice and endorsement by the local representative are a necessary part of the application process. There are two Delegates at each OTS member institution and their names can be found on the Assembly of Delegates page or by contacting OTS Costa Rica Education Program at graduate@tropiocalstudies.org. 
See list of member institutions.

Application fee:

A processing fee of $50 must accompany the completed application (please make out a check to Organization for Tropical Studies, North American Office, Box 90630, Durham, NC 27708 0630). You may also pay via credit card. Please contact guiselle.castro@tropicalstudies.org if you have any questions.

Accommodations and Meals

It is important to recognize that the OTS program differs from your typical on-campus life.

You will be a guest in Costa Rica, and consequently you will need to be sensitive to and respectful of Costa Rican customs and culture. In general, Costa Ricans (“Ticos” and “Ticas”) are warm, friendly, and courteous. We encourage you to interact with many Ticos, and we hope you will develop some good friendships.

It is important to remember that certain behaviors that are acceptable among fellow classmates at an OTS site may not be acceptable when dealing with non-course participants. For example, Costa Ricans tend to be conservative in their attitudes toward nudity and sex. Thus, stages of undress that are acceptable and inevitable in field station dormitories are offensive in public. Also, nudity on beaches, no matter how apparently deserted, is inappropriate.

Costa Ricans tend to be much more tolerant of noise (say, the loud music coming from the neighbor’s house or the children shouting and running in the living room) than many of us are in the U.S. While we ask that you be respectful of Costa Rican ways and customs, we also understand that cultural norms can often be subtle, complex, and even counter-intuitive. If you would like some advance preparation regarding Ticos and their way of life, we suggest you read Biesanz, Richard et al. The Costa Ricans (1982, Waveland Press, Inc., ISBN 0-88133-340-9) before coming to Costa Rica. Also, please feel free to ask OTS staff about any questions you have regarding cultural differences and norms at any time.

Though you may have one or two roommates on campus, in Costa Rica you will be living closely with 15-25 other students and two to five professors or field assistants. This means communication and respect will be crucial. All of us need to be as open, honest, and cooperative as possible. We also need to have sincere respect for one another, regardless of different opinions and lifestyles. This includes respect for privacy, respect for rules and regulations, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs such as ours. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and a good sense of humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in our program. By living and working with the same people for several weeks, you will undoubtedly develop a number of very close friendships. The combination of uncomfortable (being wet, muddy, and tired), wacky (a bunch of Gringos on the dance floor), wonderful situations (watching iguanas sunning on the bridge at La Selva), and truly amazing (interacting with people from all sorts of social back-grounds in very different settings) creates great images and memories. You will, for sure, share these with your fellow participants well beyond the end of the course.

As OTS students, you must not only be proactive in asking the questions (and finding the answers) that are important to you, you must also be ready to share your own knowledge and experience with the rest of the group.

Passport and Visa Information

You must have a valid Passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within 6 months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. It is important to take into account the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses we will provide any information necessary (within reason) to help with the visa application. Please keep in mind that visa application processes can take several months depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit http://www.migracion.go.cr/extranjeros/visas.html

U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account.

Please consult OTS if you have any questions about this.