Jill Barrett Research Program in Biology Summer Opportunity

Established in 1998 by Richard and Elaine Barrett, the Jill Barrett Research Program in Biology funds summer research in the biological sciences for ambitious undergraduates. The award honors Jill Barrett, an alumna of the Mills College Biology Department, who worked as a conservation biologist in Greece. This award is a living testament to her passion for research and conservation.

This summer, the program will launch at both Northeastern University’s Mills College and Nahant campuses. As part of the award, students will participate in eight weeks of faculty-mentored, cutting-edge biology research. Students working with faculty members on the Mills College campus will receive an award of $4800, along with additional funding for housing, while those working in Nahant will receive an award of $5000. In addition to financial support, the awardees can expect to develop advanced research and scientific presentation skills. Students accepted into the program are expected to prepare for their summer research project during the spring semester.

To apply, please read the application procedure carefully on our website.

The three mentors from the Nahant campus who are participating this year are:

Jon Grabowski

Jon Grabowski, Professor, Marine and Environmental Sciences

The Grabowski lab’s research spans issues in ecology, fisheries and conservation biology, social-ecological coupling, environmental policy, and ecological economics. It uses a variety of estuarine (oyster reef, seagrass, salt marsh, mud bottom) and marine (kelp bed, cobble-ledge) systems to examine how resource availability, habitat heterogeneity and predation risk affect population dynamics, community structure, and ecosystem functioning. Much of this work focuses on economically important species, and consequently is relevant for fisheries and ecosystem management. The lab also focuses on how habitat degradation and restoration influence benthic community structure, population structure, and the transfer of energy to higher trophic levels. In addition, the lab is interested in how fisheries management initiatives impact fish population structure and fisheries productivity, essential fish habitat protection, community structure, and the social capital of stakeholders.

Much of the Grabowski lab’s research involves highly coupled social-ecological systems and integrates social and natural science approaches. We are also examining factors that influence coastal fishing communities’ perceptions of and trust in management to help improve their buy in and identify potential barriers. We are investigating how range expanding species are impacting local species such as the American lobster and its fishery. Finally, we are determining how factors such as urbanization and resource specialization influence the perceptions and values of coastal residents so that we can design more effective environmental policies around issues such as climate hazard preparedness and coastal habitat and resource management.

  • David Kimbro
  • Steve Vollmer

Information about the two potential faculty members at Mills College that students can apply to work with over the summer can be found below.

The participating research labs from the Northeastern University, Mills Campus, Oakland are:

Image of Sarah SwopeSarah Swope, Associate Professor, Biology
The Swope lab seeks to understand how small and isolated populations of rare plants persist despite significant ecological and evolutionary challenges. This is especially in the case of how population dynamics affect population genetics and vice versa, the conditions under which gene flow promotes adaptation (by increasing genetic diversity) or restricts it (by introducing maladapted alleles), and how this information can be used to improve conservation.

The Swope lab analyzes naturally rare plants adapted to stressful serpentine soils to explore these questions. This research utilizes a combination of observational and experimental approaches in the field and common garden, demographic and mathematical modeling, and molecular and genomic tools.

Conservation is at the core of the Swope lab, given the rapidly changing climate, habitat loss, and population fragmentation pose threats to the persistence of numerous species, perhaps especially those already living in small populations and/or in extreme environments (e.g., serpentine soil). The ability to predict how populations will respond to these threats – and the ability to intervene to reduce the risk of extinction – hinges on genuine collaboration between basic and applied scientists. To that end, the Swope lab collaborates closely with land managers to develop data collection protocols and high-impact management plans.

Image of Jared YoungJared Young, Associate Professor, Biology
The long-term goal of the Young lab’s research is to understand how information is processed and represented in the nervous system, using the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model.  C. elegans is a fascinating and powerful subject of study due to the simplicity of its nervous system (302 neurons), the ease of genetic and molecular analyses, and the wealth of information and resources available.  This worm presents an experimentally tractable system that enables an understanding of behavioral mechanisms that integrates neural circuits, individual neurons, and pathways and molecules within neurons. There are two main projects:

Mechanisms underlying response to electric shock: The first explores a novel behavior in worms in which alternating current applied to the agar plate on which the worms are living stimulates them to run. This behavior is of particular interest because it may represent a form of emotion that could be productively studied in this model organism. The lab is working on identifying and studying genes that mediate this response by mapping mutations of interest generated in a forward genetic screen, using a mapping by sequencing approach.

Mechanisms underlying response to cliffs: C. elegans will typically reverse when its head goes over a cliff. The lab is working on identifying the genes and neurons involved in this response using behavioral assays and genetic engineering. This work aims to provide insight into how sightless animals avoid cliffs.