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Semester in Environmental Science at the MBL
Woods Hole, United States (Outgoing Program)
Program Terms: Fall
This program is currently not accepting applications.
Homepage: Click to visit
Restrictions: Dickinson applicants only
Budget Sheets Fall
Dates / Deadlines:
There are currently no active application cycles for this program.
Program Description:

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Semester in Environmental Science - Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Students have the opportunity to study for the fall semester at the world renowned Marine Biological Laboratory.  Students spend 20 hours a week in the lab and in the field studying the forests, ponds and estuaries of Cape Cod.  During the last five weeks of the program, students conduct an independent research project under the guidance of MBL's faculty.  Students considering graduate studies in ecology, biology or environmental science should consider this outstanding opportunity.

For more information, please visit the MBL website.
Note: You must apply and be accepted through Dickinson before finishing and submitting a partner program application. Partner program providers make all final admissions decisions. 

Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)

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.

Scientists at the Ecosystems 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 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.

Founded in 1888, the MBL is an international center for research, education, and training in biology, biomedicine and ecology. It is arguably the world’s premier biological marine research institution. Since 1920, 54 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with the MBL as researchers, or as students or faculty in the MBL’s renowned summer courses for graduate students and young investigators. In many cases the essential work for which the Nobel was awarded was accomplished at the MBL.


The SES program emphasizes learning by doing -- students spend over 20 hours each week in the lab and field investigating forests, ponds and estuaries on Cape Cod. Virtually all ecosystems have been impacted by human activity, and so this is also a curriculum about how human-caused changes in the environment are affecting the globe. Courses and educational opportunities include core courses, electives focusing on a sub-discipline of ecosystems science, five-week-long projects, Distinguished Scientists seminars, and the Science Writing Seminar.


This Partner program requires students to have:

  • One year of college-level biology, chemistry, and calculus, or the equivalent
  • 3.3 GPA
  • Open to all majors.

All students must have a declared major at the time of application.

As a part of the review process students’ conduct records and account status are also reviewed. Students and their parents should note that the review process takes all elements of the student’s academic record into consideration and that even if a student has the required minimum GPA and language prerequisites, he or she may not be admitted.

Students who have questions about the review process or their particular candidacy for a program should come into the Center for Global Study and Engagement for advising.

Center staff will not discuss students’ applications with parents, friends or any other party without the student’s consent and presence in the conversation.

What areas of study are available?

Students on the MBL program will complete coursework applicable to ecology, environmental science, environmental studies, or biology majors.

What are the core courses?

Core course lectures cover both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems from the point of view of biogeochemistry and important ecological processes. Course research takes place in local ecosystems -- ponds and estuaries within the Waquoit Bay watershed adjacent to Vineyard Sound, West Falmouth Harbor on Buzzards Bay, and the town forest at the municipal sewage treatment plant.

What about elective options?

In addition to the Core Courses, SES students take one elective which meets twice a week. The elective is intended to deepen understanding in a specific sub-discipline of ecosystems science. Choose from Aquatic Chemistry, Ecosystems Dynamics, Global Ecology, Human-dominated Ecosystems, Mathematical Modeling, and Microbial Methods.

What are the seminars?

Distinguished Scientists Seminars

A number of distinguished scientists are invited to give lectures and meet with SES students each year. It is an opportunity for students to hear from some of the country's top practitioners and to find out about their research and current concerns. During the visit of each of these scientists, the SES students are able to question them closely about everything from basic science to environmental problems to the availability of graduate programs

Science Writing Seminar

SES students all take part in a seminar that introduces the art of science writing. This is taught by our writer-in-residence and several professional science journalists with the goal of illustrating how the results of scientific investigations can be transmitted to the larger reading audience in ways that catch their interest and educate. Students will write a profile of one of the distinguished scientists based on an interview. With this and other programs at the Marine Biological Laboratory, we hope to begin training a new generation of writers conversant in science who can communicate about critical environmental issues with the public.

What is the five-week project?

The structured laboratory experiences and techniques of the core courses and electives set the stage for the most rewarding part of the SES program, the projects. During the last five weeks of the course, students will be able to devote full time to a project of their choosing. The project gives students a chance to work independently, although they are supported by a main advisor, a principal investigator at the Ecosystems Center. Many students collaborate with their peers on their projects. Students have access to Ecosystems Center facilities and equipment. SES students present their projects in a formal symposium before their classmates and the center's scientific staff. This event is open to the public and represents the culmination of the students' work at SES.

Recent projects include:

Plant community structure and soil properties along stream corridors of cranberry bogs since discontinuation of agriculture

  • Contrasting nutrient dynamics of litter decomposition in a deciduous forest and pond ecosystem
  • Tracing anthropogenic nutrient inputs into Cape Cod coastal plain ponds using stable isotopes, nutrient analysis, and water budget modeling

How many credits will I earn?

Students earn 4 credits for the fall semester program.

Will the courses count towards my major?

Many courses taken through MBL can count towards your major. You should check with your academic advisor on campus prior to course selection.
Generally speaking, courses must have an equivalent at Dickinson. Exceptions include classes that focus on the culture and/or history of the country in which the student is studying. Transfer credit will not be awarded for coursework that duplicates what a student has already completed at Dickinson.

Will they count in my GPA?

Course will not count in your Dickinson GPA but will appear on your Dickinson transcript.

Students participate in a variety of field trips and events throughout the semester, including visits to Nantucket, Plum Island, the Provincetown Whale Watch, the New England Aquarium, and the SES Halloween Party and the Cape Cod Marathon.

What expenses are covered during excursions?

Group transportation to and from the excursion site, as well as group travel for all group activities will be covered. 

When will I find out where and when we’re travelling?

Specific dates for site visits and events in and around Woods Hole will be organized and announced during the semester.

Are excursions optional?

Not necessarily.  These excursions may be linked to your academic program and, in some cases, content delivered through the excursion will be relevant to a student’s studies and assessment.  All students should plan to participate in all excursions. 

Is there an orientation?

Yes, there is an orientation when you arrive at Woods Hole.

What are the program dates?

Tentative dates for the fall semester can be found here.

Is there a group flight?

No, students are responsible for arranging their own travel to and from Woods Hole.

What if my family wants to visit me?

If you have family or friends who are planning to visit you, please do not make travel plans until you arrive at the program and become familiar with your class schedule and program excursions.  It is not acceptable to skip class for personal travel.

When will I have time to travel?

Aside from program excursions, students may travel on their own during breaks when classes are not in session. It is not acceptable to skip class for personal travel.

Can I arrive early or stay after the program ends?

Students may arrive early or stay late if they wish to travel on their own when classes are not in session.  Please note that if you choose to arrive early or stay late, you will not be able to stay in your program housing. No student may arrive late for the start of the program.

How much does the program cost?

Students pay Dickinson comprehensive fees to attend this program. The cost includes all tuition, room, board, and local travel. However, travel to and from Woods Hole is not covered. See the budget sheet for more information.

What is included in the program fee?

The fee covers tuition and fees, room and board, scheduled program activities, and on-site orientation.

Are additional scholarships available?

As a Partner Program, students may use their Dickinson financial aid to cover the Dickinson comprehensive fees to attend this program. Additional scholarships may be available from SES and eligible students are encouraged to apply.

Do I need to be concerned about accessing my money?

The village of Woods Hole is located near the MBL and offers many small-town shops, restaurants, cultural activities, and typical businesses, such as post offices, a bank, and grocery stores, where you can purchase whatever you need and use ATMs, etc. The Woods Hole website provides a comprehensive collection of information and news about the village.

Will I receive a stipend?

No, you will not receive a stipend on the MBL program.

Falmouth Hospital is located approximately 5 miles from campus.

SES students reside in the Brick Apartment, located on the MBL campus in the immediate area of the classroom, laboratories, library, and dining hall. The Brick Apartments are accessed by ID cards by residents only. A short walk brings students into the heart of Woods Hole Village. There are two options for housing. Each apartment consists of two double rooms, a bathroom, living room and kitchen, as well as a screened porch. The alternative is a single room with shared bathroom. Dorm rooms are furnished with a bed, dresser, small desk, and chair. Closets provide additional storage space.

Where will I do laundry?

Coin-operated laundry room is available to students within the Brick Apartments building.

Will I have access to wireless internet?

SES students have wireless internet access in the MBL-WHOI library and in their dorm rooms. You can also use public computers at the Swope Center, located across the street from the Brick Apartments.

Where will I eat?

The Dining Hall is located in the Swope Center, across the street from the dorms and overlooking scenic Eel Pond. There is a private dining room for SES students. The meal plan offers three all-you-can-eat meals a day during the week, plus brunch and dinner on the weekends. Meals for vegetarian and other special diets are available.

Are internships available?

No, due to the intense workload, internships are not available.

Can I conduct research while at MBL?

The program includes a five-week research project to be conducted at the end of the semester. Students are encouraged to present their research at the International Research Symposium when they return to campus.

Do I need a visa?

International students studying on the MBL program must contact Marlee Meikrantz and Jackie Wong to discuss how you will remain in valid F-1 status during your studies.

Global Ambassadors

Global Ambassadors are returning study abroad students who serve as peer advisors for their program. Please feel free to contact them for a student perspective.

poisson mbl
Mairi Poisson

I am a Biology and Spanish double major, class of 2016. In the fall semester of 2014, I studied at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, one of Dickinson's partner programs. The program enabled me to learn more about the world of environmental science and ecology. The last six weeks of the program was dedicated to a student directed and conducted research project, an incredible experience for anyone interested in biological or environmental research.

For more information, contact:

Advisors (Please call for an appointment):

Center for Global Study and Engagement
Dickinson College

Professor Tony Pires
Department of Biology
Dickinson College
Tel: 717.245.1492

SES website:

This program is currently not accepting applications.