Beam Reach course outcome guide (syllabus) for
Marine field research

Course data and contact information

Number: OCEAN 360
Title: Mar Field Research
Location: Friday Harbor Laboratories
Quarter credits: 10
Contact: Scott Veirs

Official description (published in UW Time Schedule)

Intensive off-campus marine research experience. Spend 5 weeks designing a field experiment and then implement it during a 5-week cruise aboard a sailing research vessel. Academic maturity of an advanced sophomore required. Offered jointly with OCEAN 365.

Expanded description

This course is a major component of the undergraduate curriculum of the Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School ( The 10-week curriculum is split evenly between land and sea components. This course is designed to guide you through a rigorous scientific experience in the marine environment. Key steps are formulating your own questions within a group research theme, generating a research proposal and integrating it within a collaborative group science plan, implementing the plan at sea, and presenting your results in a public forum. The research theme is different for each voyage and is specified in a 5-year research plan that is generated by Beam Reach staff, faculty, students, and stakeholders from the relevant geographic area. Mini-lectures and readings introduce aspects of biological, chemical, geological, and physical oceanography that are relevant to the class research theme.

The 5-week land component of the course begins with a series of presentations from local scientists involved in the research theme that will anchor the course. Their presentations emphasize background information, recent results, and controversies, and are designed to nurture your curiosities and help you learn to pose scientific questions fearlessly. Over a 3-week period, you refine your questions into a research proposal through an iterative process that includes library research, critical analysis of scientific literature, daily exchanges of ideas with your peers, and weekly consultation with a scientist/mentor. After peer review and revision of the proposals in week 4, students and faculty collaborate during the final week on land to create a science plan that will accomplish all individual research projects during the upcoming sea component.

The sea component begins with safety and sail training and then centers on accomplishing the group science plan. During the first 2 weeks at sea, you observe and experiment intensely. About half way through the cruise, your first priority will shift from observation to data analysis, interpretation of results, and preparation of final written and oral reports. Opportunities for constructive feedback from peers are built into the daily afternoon class, which also includes mini-lectures on topics related to the research theme from faculty, staff, or visiting scientists. Frequent meetings with mentors will help you achieve the goal of presenting your original findings in a public forum during the final week.

The course emphasizes scientific communication and may satisfy writing requirements at your university or college. You practice communicating through reading scientific literature, writing scientific proposals and papers, presenting research results to a scientific audience, and describing your scientific experience to a general audience through logbook entries. On average, an hour a day is devoted to developing communications skills. Typical structured activities are discussing readings from the primary literature (journal club) and sharing feedback with peers and faculty on compositions or presentations.

Course objectives

Intended student learning outcomes

  1. Become more curious, constructively skeptical, and fearless in questioning
  2. Formulate a question that can be answered or addressed through scientific processes
  3. Generate a compelling proposal, present it to peers, and revise it in response to their comments
  4. Critique proposals constructively and create a group science plan through cooperation and collaboration
  5. Be facile with basic software used by scientists to prepare written documents
  6. Collaborate with peers to accomplish individual and group goals simultaneously
  7. Sail, navigate, solve problems, and make observations aboard a research vessel (that demonstrates sustainable technologies)
  8. Analyze data using basic statistical and computational methods/tools
  9. Distill published literature and new results into written/oral presentations
  10. Search, read, and analyze scientific literature
  11. Accelerate personal growth, adapt to group dynamics, and observe the environment through journaling and reflection with a mentor
  12. Utilize a structured process for writing scientific proposals and publications

Course format

The 10-week course is divided evenly into land and sea components. The land component takes place on the campus of the UW Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island in Washington State. Students live and eat on campus and attend class from 8-12 am and 2-6 pm. The sea component is a research voyage in Puget Sound and/or the Northeast Pacific ocean during which students and teachers operate a sailing vessel and scientific equipment 24/7 on a watch schedule. Students have their own bunk, cook and maintain the vessel cooperatively, and attend a daily afternoon class in addition to standing their watch.

Learning activities

Learning assessment tasks (evaluation and grading)

  1. faculty assessment of inquisitiveness during mentoring meetings and group activities
  2. faculty assessment of questions posed in final research proposal based on questions rubric
  3. faculty and peer grading of final research proposal and its presentation based on proposal rubric
  4. faculty and peer grading of performance during proposal review and generation of an integrated (group) science plan
  5. peer assessment of individual contributions to realizing the group science plan
  6. pass performance tasks related to small boats during land component; captain and watch leader assessment of vessel management skill acquisition during sea component
  7. faculty and peer judgments based on data analysis and presentation rubrics applied during daily reports (science)
  8. peer review of manuscript drafts and final presentations
  9. faculty assessment of improvement between iterations of paper and presentation
  10. faculty and peer rating of retrieval, analysis, and presentation of an article at the weekly journal club; successful generation of a bibliography (using bibtex format) in the final paper
  11. faculty assessment of progress relative to personal goals based on weekly meetings with student; peer response to on-line journal
  12. faculty and peer review of research proposals (and faculty assessment of improvement between multiple drafts)
  13. peer review of manuscripts; peer assessment of response to reviews
  14. faculty, peer, and public review of final presentations;
  15. for advanced students: results of submittal to a peer-reviewed journal for publication

Course content

Text(s) and required materials

None. Scientific literature and reserved texts will be available through the library of the Friday Harbor Laboratories.