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Field Museum Semester: Research in Natural History

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Photo © Field Museum / Photo by Lucy Hewett

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ACM’s Off-Campus Study Programs are currently paused and are not accepting applications for 2023 (learn more). Students can still apply directly to our affiliated programs.

Immerse yourself at a world-renowned museum.

The Field Museum Semester offers an intensive research and course-based experience at the Field Museum, a world-renowned natural history museum in Chicago. The program provides the opportunity for students to explore scientific research and the Field Museum collections through a substantive internship, a semester-long course taught by the Visiting Faculty Director, and a seminar led by Field Museum professional staff.

ACM and Field Museum Announce New Partnership
Photo © Field Museum / Photo by Lucy Hewett

Program Overview

The ACM Field Museum Semester is an intensive research and course-based experience for upper-level students interested in natural history research with a background in evolutionary biology, zoology, botany, anthropology, geology, and/or a related discipline. The program provides the opportunity for students to explore scientific research and the Field Museum collections through a substantive internship, a semester-long course taught by the Visiting Faculty Director, and a seminar led by Field Museum professional staff. Internships are funded by the Grainger Bioinformatics Center, which supports Field Museum scientists working on genomics and biodiversity informatics projects across research areas. Undergraduates from ACM colleges are eligible to apply.

Photo © Field Museum / Photo by Lucy Hewett

Application Process

This program is paused through 2023-2024 and is not currently accepting applications.

Applications must be submitted electronically. Applicants are required to submit a transcript, resume, faculty recommendations, responses to several short-answer questions, and an essay. Applications are reviewed by representatives from the ACM, the Visiting Faculty Director, and the Field Museum.

You must also have off-campus study approval from your home campus. Note: your college’s application process may involve additional application materials, and internal campus deadlines may be considerably earlier than ACM’s deadline. Be sure to check with your Off-Campus Study Office about your college’s application procedures and deadlines.

Schedule
This program is paused through 2023-2024.

Who can apply
Undergraduates from ACM colleges are eligible to apply.

Host institution
Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Living arrangements
Students live in furnished apartments in Chicago’s Gold Coast Neighborhood. For more information click here.

Courses & credits
Recommended credit is 16 semester credits or the equivalent.
Internship (8 credits)
Visiting Faculty Course (4 credits)
Seminar (4 credits)
For more information click here.

Language equirements/prerequisites
None

Resources

Video of Virtual Info Session (from November 8, 2021)

Application deadlines

This program is paused through 2023-2024 and is not currently accepting applications.

Academics

The ACM Field Museum Semester is an intensive research and class-based experience for upper-level students interested in natural history research with a background in evolutionary biology, zoology, botany, anthropology, geology, and/or a related discipline. The program provides the opportunity for students to explore scientific research and the Field Museum collections through a substantive internship, a semester-long course taught by the Visiting Faculty Director, and a seminar led by Field Museum professional staff. Undergraduates from ACM colleges are eligible to apply.

Courses & Credits

Internship (8 credits): Students will commit 25 to 30 hours per week to a high-level internship exposing them to the Museum’s extensive scientific collections, ongoing research projects, and the expertise of the Museum’s professional staff. Please click here to view a list of potential internship opportunities.

Students participating in the Field Museum Semester receive a stipend of $5,000.00. This stipend is paid over regular intervals throughout the semester. The stipend is considered income and is taxable. Internships are funded by the Grainger Bioinformatics Center, which supports Field Museum scientists working on genomics and biodiversity informatics projects across research areas.

Visiting Faculty Course (4 credits): Students take a course, taught by the Visiting Faculty Director, which cuts across different disciplines and links to the unique resources of the Field Museum. This course changes every year.

Seminar (4 credits): Led by Field Museum professional staff, the seminar will cover topics related to scientific communication, career development, and career preparation. Students gain in-depth exposure to the Museum’s diverse array of departments, are introduced to ongoing scientific research projects, and benefit from the unique expertise of Museum staff.

Learning Objectives & Outcomes

All ACM colleges are grounded in the liberal arts tradition, and this educational commitment extends to ACM off-campus study programs. By participating in one of these programs, you’ll benefit from studying in a new location that combines experiential, place-based learning with academic purpose similar to your home campus as you pursue the program’s learning goals.

In each program you’ll enjoy small class sizes, allowing you to work closely with faculty and other students. You’ll also live in housing and participate in activities that provide opportunities to connect course-based learning with the local community and culture.

You’ll find that the learning objectives and outcomes of each ACM program reflect these liberal arts educational values.

The Field Museum Semester: Research in Natural History program is designed to offer you the unique undergraduate experience of immersing yourself in research at the Field Museum, a world-renowned natural history museum. With a mentored internship, you will have the opportunity to pursue scientific questions in a museum setting as well as the opportunity to engage across scientific disciplines through the visiting faculty course and seminar. You will also become a member of the Field Museum community through your coursework and internship.

Program learning objectives:

  • Understand the functioning of a large, research, public-facing natural history museum, as related to mission.
  • Contribute significantly to ongoing activities of the museum while working closely with a supervisor.
  • Develop your skills as a member of a research community, interacting with other scientists and experts, sharing the results of your work, and engaging with your peers on the program.
  • Engage in an interdisciplinary course with an ACM faculty member and the full cohort of students on a topic connected to the work of the Field.
  • Develop your understanding of how your internship and specific tasks fit into a larger on-going project and make connections throughout the museum by actively participating in the seminar portion of the program.

While participating in the program, you will gain skills in conducting research, extend your knowledge, and learn how the scientific method and research discovery processes fit into larger projects; you will write about and discuss your internship through oral and visual presentations and written materials; and you will develop an understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of research being conducted at the Field Museum.

Internships

Students participating in the ACM Field Museum Semester will be placed in an internship in conjunction with their acceptance to the program. Students do not need to submit a separate internship application; ACM and Field Museum staff will use information from the students’ application materials to make placements. Acceptance into the ACM Field Museum Semester program is dependent upon successful placement with an internship at the Field Museum.

Below are examples of potential internship opportunities. Other examples may be added to this list and all examples are subject to change. Internships are funded by the Grainger Bioinformatics Center, which supports Field Museum scientists working on genomics and biodiversity informatics projects across research areas.

 

Title: Gene flow and local adaptation in a tropical avifauna

Mentor: Abhimanyu Lele, Scientific Affiliate, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: The evolutionary history of a species is fundamentally affected by the degree to which it adapts to varying conditions across its range. Local adaptation affects range boundaries responses to environmental change, and ecological speciation. It is thus of both theoretical and applied interest. Critical gaps remain in our understanding of local adaptation, particularly in tropical ecosystems, and among endotherms: in particular, the relationship between gene flow and local adaptation remains incompletely understood, with theoretical and empirical support for both negative and positive relationships between gene flow and local adaptation. We propose to investigate the relationship between intraspecies variation, local adaptation, and gene flow, using comparative methods to explore spatial variation in phenotypic and genotypic traits across a suite of species.

 

Title: The domestication and evolution of the coca crops part II: Genome resequencing of key clades

Mentor: Dawson White, Postdoc, Grainger Bioinformatics Center, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: This project aims to complete whole-genome shotgun sequencing for representative samples of key coca clades, new E. gracilipes samples from Peru and Colombia, and new Ecuador samples. Phylogeographic and demographic analyses will significantly improve our understanding of the locations, timing, and evolution of the coca crops. This project will sample Field Museum herbarium collections, use the DNA lab for genomic DNA isolation and library preparation, and utilize the Grainger computer servers for analyses. Interns might also be involved in collecting leaf hyperspectral reflectance scans.

 

Title: Whole genome sequencing of neglected coronavirus diversity recovered from Afrotropical bats

Mentor: Holly Lutz, Scripps Research; Scientific Affiliate, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: This proposed project will expand availability of publicly available coronavirus genomes from the underrepresented region of East Africa, which will be achieved by leveraging samples collected as part of the previously NSF-funded Bat Microbiome Project (BMP). As part of the BMP, rectal and oral swabs from ~450 bats were preserved in RNAlater for viral discovery. Preliminary analyses using RT-PCR and Sanger sequencing targeting the RdRp gene have identified four novel Alpha and Betacoronavirus lineages out of 50 randomly assorted individuals screened. Based on these results, we anticipate that given an ~8% rate of positive infections, we will identify approximately 36 novel CoV lineages upon completion of these initial screens.

 

Title: Grounding the evolution of the mammalian middle ear: morphological integration and the role of auditory bone-conduction in a major evolutionary transition

Mentor: Spencer Hellert, Scientific Affiliate, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: Over roughly 150 million years, mammalian middle ear bones changed their shape, location, and function, resulting in an iconic mammalian feature seen in no other tetrapods and a prime example of gradual evolution of complex systems. The unique functionality of the Definitive Mammalian Middle Ear (DMME) is made possible in large part by the incorporation of postdentary bones into the middle ear. Why the synapsid lineage was the only tetrapod clade to incorporate parts of the mandible into the middle ear remains virtually unstudied. In a first-of-its-kind study, we will use cutting-edge 3D imaging technology and innovative geometric morphometric (GMM) methods to investigate if mammal ancestors could “hear” by picking up vibrations in the ground through their jaw bones, which prompted the extraordinary evolution of the mammalian middle ear.

 

Title: Chromosome evolution & Recombination Landscape of Pyrrhura cruentata and Pyrrhura griseipectus

Mentor: Taylor Hains, Scientific Affiliate, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: The proposed project will quantify the differences in the recombination landscape of parrots in comparison to published data from passerines, confirm or reject the loss of PRDM9 in parrots, and study how the presence or absence of PRDM9 is affecting comparative recombination rates between parrots and Passeriforms. This will be done by generating chromosome-level genome assemblies using both linked-reads and chromatin-conformation capture data as well as long-read transcriptome data for two species of Pyrrhura with accessible sampled captive populations: Pyrrhura cruentata and Pyrrhura griseipectus.

 

Title: Where are these big lichens coming from and why? An investigation of the Parmotrema reticulatum invasion of the Chicagoland area

Mentor: Todd Widhelm, Collection Manager Fungi, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: Parmotrema reticulatum was not common in the Chicagoland area in the past. A 1998 checklist of the Palos Region of the Forest Preserves of Cook County did not report this species, but recent collections in Palos Region this summer found P. reticulatum to be fairly common there today. Where are these new colonizers coming from? P. reticulatum is found on every continent besides Antarctica and is known to contain cryptic lineages. Which cryptic genetic groups are colonizing the Chicagoland area? Identifying which lineages are present in Chicagoland will help to answer where the new colonizers are coming from.

 

Title: Who’s hanging out with who? Characterizing symbiotic interaction networks in lichens

Mentor: Matthew Nelsen, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: While lichens—symbiotic associations between fungi and algae—are classic models of symbiosis, our understanding of them is limited. DNA barcoding (Illumina MiSeq) will be used to characterize symbiont diversity, and understand the roles environment, traits and evolutionary history play in structuring fungal-algal associations—ultimately providing insight into their stability and potential responses to disturbances like climate change. This position will provide experience in DNA sequencing, scripting in R, lichen biology, and scientific communication.

 

Title: Accelerating the pace of scientific discovery: Uncovering hidden biodiversity using machine learning

Mentor: Matt Von Konrat, Ph.D., Head of Botanical Collections; Rick Ree, Curator of Flowering Plants and Head of Life Sciences;  Beth McDonald, MS, Machine Learning Engineer, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: Machine Learning (ML) is affecting all aspects of modern society with broad applications from banking to medicine. Only recently has this technology been applied to natural history collections achieving impressive performance on a variety of predictive tasks, e.g., species identification and plant species distribution. The study will apply this rapidly expanding technology using images rendered from large-scale digitization efforts. Broad hypotheses can be tested and have the potential for supporting biodiversity research and natural history collection management. Questions might include 1) Investigating the utility of ML to detect phenotypic structures, morphological landmarks, and reproductive structures in selected species; 2) testing taxonomic and evolutionary hypotheses regarding morphologically cryptic species. Skills acquired would include development of computer-aided tools, coding, digital microscopy, herbarium skills, morphometrics, plant systematics.

 

Title: Comparative Population Dynamics and Morphometrics of Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus) vs Squirrels across the Chicagoland Region to Understand Urban Species Adaptation

Mentor: Noé De La Sancha, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Chicago State University; Research Associate, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: We are currently in the middle of the fifth mass extinction on the planet, the Anthropocene. The main driver for this mass stems from the reshaping of natural environments into urban habitats and other highly anthropogenic landscapes, such as agriculture. The proposed study will answer the following questions: What makes some species better adapted to coexistence with humans in urban environments? How did urban adaptation shape the genomes of native and invasive urban species? How do native vs exotic species populations react to urbanization (i.e., population numbers)?

 

Title: Rapid Inventory biodiversity data from the Amazon: making data more accessible

Mentor: Michelle Thompson, Ph.D., Conservation Ecologist/Herpetologist, Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: Since 1999, the Field Museum Keller Science Action Center’s rapid inventory team has carried out 24 scientific expeditions to unexplored landscapes in South America’s Andes-Amazon region. These rapid inventories have had major conservation and scientific impacts. The intern will 1) work with conservation biologists to digitize, archive, and publish plant and animal observations collected from the Andes- Amazon, 2) along with their mentor, develop a research question and analysis using the biodiversity data. Potential research themes include aiming to better understand the patterns and processes of diversity in the Amazon or identifying gaps in biodiversity data and/or data accessibility.

 

Title: Evolutionary walks through ornamental phenotype space: Understanding constraint and innovation in diverse acoustic and visual phenotypes of kingfishers

Mentor: Chad M. Eliason, Ph.D., Field Museum of Natural History

Brief description: With diverse color patterns and vocal behaviors, kingfishers provide a powerful opportunity to study the genetic and physical mechanisms underpinning signal diversity. The proposed project combines genomic data with digitization of interior signaling structures to reveal how genetic constraints and mechanisms of signal production limit or enable the evolution of novel ornamental phenotypes. The internship will also engage in “virtual collection experiences” to train and communicate our science to diverse audiences.

Living Arrangements

Field Museum Semester students live in furnished apartments in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Typically, two students share each studio apartment (similar in size to a standard dorm room). Each apartment features a kitchenette, bathroom, and walk-in closet. The apartments are approximately 15′ x 18′ and are furnished with one or two chairs, tables, lamps, ovens, and compact refrigerators. Some apartments have Murphy beds; others have regular twin beds. It’s an ideal location for young people living in the city.

Field Museum Semester Students are housed in the same building as students participating in ACM’s Newberry Seminar. Public transit cards are provided to allow students to commute throughout the city. World-class theatres, museums, parks and conservatories, beautiful architecture, music venues, and festivals are easily accessible.

Health & Safety

The ACM prioritizes your well-being during your time in Chicago. While it is your responsibility to communicate your health and safety concerns to the program faculty and staff, you will be equipped with the proper resources to ensure that you have a safe off-campus semester, allowing you to thrive in your studies and beyond.

The following information provides an overview of some of the ACM policies and procedures for student health and safety. You will receive comprehensive information about health and safety procedures after being admitted to the program.

Health

Health insurance

All ACM Field Museum Semester students are required to carry their own health insurance.

Medications and other medical preparation 

If you take one or more prescription drugs regularly, you’ll need to speak with your physician prior to arriving in Chicago. You can decide with your physician which pharmacy to use for your prescription(s).

Special diets 

After your program acceptance, you will be prompted to notify the ACM if you have any dietary restrictions. The ACM will work to make appropriate accommodations for group meals.

Safety

The ACM is dedicated to ensuring your safety during your time off-campus while also encouraging your immersion in Chicago. ACM program staff are well acquainted with the city and will advise you on navigating Chicago safely. The program’s comprehensive orientation provides practical information and advice for personal safety while living in Chicago.

Cost

Cost Information for Field Museum Semester: Research in Natural History

Applying for an ACM program is free. Educational costs for your semester at the Field Museum will vary based on your individual financial aid package and your college’s procedures, as colleges may charge based on either the cost of the ACM program or the college’s tuition price. Additionally, some colleges may assess special fees for off-campus study.

Anticipated Costs for 2022-2023 Academic Year

(This program is paused through 2023-2024.)

ACM Price
Educational Costs* $18,000
Program Fee** $4,000
Campus tuition charges and/or fees*** Varies

Notes:

* Program-sponsored field trips and excursions are included in the educational costs.
** The program fee covers housing and local transportation. The $50 non-refundable deposit will be applied toward the program fee.
*** Many colleges assess additional fees or charge students full home college tuition instead of the ACM educational costs. This typically relates to expenses for academic support services and the awarding of academic credit and/or financial aid. Please consult your Financial Aid office or Off-Campus Study office for more details about your college’s policies, and to find out what you will be charged for the program.

To help you budget for additional out-of-pocket expenses in Chicago, see an estimate of what ACM students have spent in the past.

Sample Budget for a Semester in Chicago

Meals¹ $1,000
Travel to/from Chicago Varies
Cultural events/entertainment $300
Books $100
Miscellaneous² $200

¹ Depending on how often you cook in your apartment or purchase meals out.

² Includes personal travel and entertainment. See below for examples of common personal expenses.


Cost of Living in Chicago

The following chart includes cost estimates for common personal purchases in Chicago.

Chicago sales tax 10.25%
Newspaper $2
Bus ticket or El ticket $2.25
Taxi per mile $1.80
Movie ticket $15
Museum admission $15
Pint of beer $5
Cover charge at a bar $10
Gallon of milk $3.50
Load of laundry $6
Lunch takeout near the Field Museum $9
Cup of coffee $3.00
Box of cereal $4.50
Gallon of gas $2.75
Pizza delivery $25
Bagel $1.50
Bottle of Coca-Cola $1.50
Deodorant $3.50
Average cost of weekly groceries $75

This page was updated on June 12, 2020.


Paid Internships at the Field Museum

Students participating in the Field Museum Semester commit 25 to 30 hours per week to a high-level internship exposing them to the Field Museum’s extensive scientific collections, ongoing research projects, and the expertise of the Museum’s professional staff. Students receive a stipend of $5,000.00, paid over regular intervals throughout the semester. The stipend is considered income and is taxable.

Please click here to view examples of potential internship opportunities.

Program Faculty & Staff

Program Faculty 

The program is led by a different Visiting Faculty Director each year.

Program Staff

Michael VertovecAssistant Program Manager
180 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2020, Chicago, IL 60601
312.561.5934 / mvertovec@acm.edu

Faculty Advisors & Contacts

Faculty Advisors

How do ACM’s courses and credits fit with your academic plan? 

Talk to the program faculty advisor on your campus to learn more.

Beloit College

Jay Zambito zambitoj@beloit.edu

Knox College

Nicholas Gidmark njgidmark@knox.edu

Carleton College

Mark McKone mmckone@carleton.edu

Lawrence University

Israel Del Toro israel.deltoro@lawrence.edu

Coe College

Angela Ziskowski aziskowski@coe.edu

Luther College

Erick Baack baacer01@luther.edu

Colorado College

Amy Kohout akohout@coloradocollege.edu

Macalester College

Scott Legge slegge@macalester.edu

Cornell College

Misha Quill mquill@cornellcollege.edu

Monmouth College

James Godde jgodde@monmouthcollege.edu

Grinnell College

Andrew Graham grahaman@grinnell.edu

St. Olaf College

Steven Freedberg freedber@stolaf.edu

 

Faculty Research & Teaching

The Field Museum Semester offers opportunities to faculty at ACM member institutions.

Teaching on the Program

Each fall, a visiting faculty member is on-site for the entire semester. Faculty members from ACM colleges are eligible to apply and have the opportunity to lead the semester while teaching one course for an interdisciplinary group of students. Additionally, the visiting faculty member will be able to conduct independent research at the Field Museum. For additional information, please see the application information or email ocs@acm.edu.

Research at the Field Museum

Modest travel grants that can be applied to your lodging are available from the ACM, if you are interested in preparing a visiting faculty application. See the Faculty Travel Grants webpage for information about applying for a grant.

Do you know students interested in applying to the Field Museum Semester?

Please send us the names of your students who would benefit from participation in the Field Museum Semester. It is an intensive program designed to challenge upper-level undergraduate students interested in natural history research with a background in evolutionary biology, anthropology, geology, and/or a related discipline at ACM institutions. Contact ocs@acm.edu with the names of potential participants.

Michael Vertovec

Questions?

Michael Vertovec, Assistant Program Manager
180 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2020, Chicago, IL 60601
312.561.5934 / mvertovec@acm.edu

Off-Campus Study Resources

Please consult our Off-Campus Study Policies and Procedures for detailed guidance, including resources for parents and guardians, information about costs and financial assistance, and much more.

Browse ACM Off-Campus Study Opportunities: Field Museum Semester | Newberry Seminar | Oak Ridge Science Semester | Japan Study | River Semester | Carleton Global Engagement

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