Undergraduate research training in tropical ecology at the Luquillo LTER, Puerto Rico
The Luquillo LTER program (LUQ) provides research experiences to undergraduate students by immersing them in its active research environment. LUQ offers a variety of programs and opportunities to undergraduate students that allow them to gain research experience and technical skills in tropical ecology. Our goals are to (1) provide students with research experiences under the advice of established scientists and (2) supplement experiences with educational activities designed to equip students with the necessary tools to conduct scientific research. Experiences are unique in location (tropical environments) and culture (Puerto Rico) and for many participating students these are not easily accessible at their home institution. Experiences are in the form of our summer internship program at El Verde Field Station (an REU site), research internships with ongoing LTER projects (e.g., using REU supplements), and volunteer opportunities with large LTER projects. In the summer internship, students design and conduct independent research projects under the advice of faculty mentors from the LTER and associated projects. The program receives over 150 applications a year from Puerto Rico and mainland institutions. Minority enrollment has been high and most students continue toward graduate studies and many publish in peer-reviewed journals. Research internships with specific projects are more diverse and different projects require different levels of commitment and independence. Lastly, volunteers participate of large-scale projects and gain valuable experience by been exposed to the dynamics of very large, multi-researcher projects. Overall, LUQ trains a large number of undergraduates every year, many from underrepresented groups and from institutions with limited access to research opportunities.