Introduction to the Semester


The Semester in Environmental Science is a 15-week fall semester at the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The curriculum provides an intensive field and laboratory-based introduction to ecosystem science and the biogeochemistry of coastal forests, freshwater ponds and estuaries.

More than 50 colleges participating in the MBL consortium in Environmental Science have approved SES for credit. Undergraduates from the University of Chicago can remain enrolled full-time and receive University of Chicago credit through our SES UChicago partnership program. Students from non-affiliated colleges and universities are encouraged to attend SES and may be able to receive credit from their own institutions.

Scientists at the MBL Ecosystems Center and at the MBL Josephine Bay Paul Center serve as faculty for the program. In addition to teaching fundamentals of ecosystems science, they discuss their current research, which touches on important issues of global and environmental change.

The curriculum leads students to develop research questions of their own. Equipped with new knowledge and techniques learned in the first weeks of the semester, they pursue independent research during the last six weeks of the program. SES students report their findings at a final symposium that is open to the entire Woods Hole scientific community, a world center for marine and environmental sciences.

Faculty Fellowship Program
As funding permits, the SES may sponsor a faculty fellowship intended to provide a stipend in support of sabbatical leave for professors at participating colleges.  Contract the SES Director to find out the current status of the faculty fellowship.

“My experience at Woods Hole was a big part of what influenced me to continue my education…It was amazing to live in a community of scientists where everyone is working together producing research. The SES program is a truly unique opportunity for undergrads combining classes, research and community.”Lynn Diener, Bard College ’99, SES ’97, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison 2005, Associate Professor & Sciences Department Chair and Biology Program Director, Mount Mary University


The Marine Biological Laboratory
The MBL, an affiliate of the University of Chicago, is the oldest private nonprofit marine laboratory in North America, and has served as a home to researchers and students studying both basic biology and the environment for over 128 years. The noted author and scientist, Lewis Thomas, called the MBL “the National Biological Laboratory.” Little wonder – since its founding in 1888, more than 56 Nobel Laureates have conducted research at the MBL. Today about 250 scientists, technicians, and support staff occupy the lab year round. In the summer, the lab population swells to over 1000 as students and investigators from more than 400 educational and research institutions representing over 70 countries come to MBL for the summer season.

The Ecosystems Center
Established in 1975, The Ecosystems Center operates as a collegial association of scientists under the leadership of Interim Director, Dr. Anne Giblin. Because the complex nature of modern ecosystems research requires a multidisiplinary and collaborative approach, center scientists work together on projects, as well as with investigators from other centers at the MBL and from other institutions, combining expertise from a wide range of disciplines. Together, they conduct research to answer a variety of questions at field sites ranging from Arctic Alaska to Antarctica, Sweden and Russia to Brazil, and from the temperate forests of New England to the estuaries of the eastern United States and Panama.

Discover Woods Hole
It is no accident that the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is located in Woods Hole on Cape Cod. To the north of the Cape, cold Gulf of Maine waters support fauna characteristic of the boreal biogeographical province, while south of the Cape, warm Gulf Stream waters sustain fauna typical of the Virginian province. Situated at the boundary between these two biogeographic provinces, a great diversity of marine organisms are within easy access of the lab. Little wonder Woods Hole has become a mecca for marine and environmental sciences and is home to nearly a dozen scientific research and academic institutions, including the MBL, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA/NMFS), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the Sea Education Association (SEA), the U.S. Geological Survey and the Woods Hole Research Center.