River Basins Research Initiative
Summer Research Program

The research program

RBRI 2008 ONLINE Application | RBRI 2008 PDF Application

The River Basins Research Initiative ( RBRI ) summer research program is an intensive 10-week research experience for undergraduates. The RBRI is integral to the research of an interdisciplinary team of faculty members from Earth and Environmental Sciences, Biology, and Chemistry, with students working with these faculty members every day of the summer as part of a collaborative team. Our goal is to transform you from a student to a colleague and produce publishable results.

Typically the first two weeks involve training in the field and laboratory techniques we use in our research along with faculty and student teams working to develop testable research plans that will guide the student's work throughout the remainder of the summer. All field and laboratory work is done by the students with faculty assistance so all students get intensive hands-on research experience. Research is done in teams working on a specific problem, such as determining the source of nitrates in urban headwaters or determining the impact of urban land cover on fish health. Our extensive experience working with over 200 undergraduate students indicates that by mid-summer, you will have experienced growth and increased confidence in your ability to do field work and laboratory analyses. About this time, most students take control of the research, moving from asking "what should I do?" to asking "can we talk about an idea I have?" The second half of the summer program puts greater emphasis on analyzing and interpreting results, though field and laboratory work continues. Typically, the last two weeks of the summer focus on interpretation of results and preparation of a draft abstract that will be submitted to a professional meeting.

During the summer you will also get practice in public communication. We have journal clubs that meet each Friday in which each student presents at least one paper during the summer. Your research team will also present a mid-summer report and a final presentation of results to the entire research group and guests.

Most students continue working on the research upon return to their home institution. Abstract deadlines are typically in December for the Southeastern Sectional Meeting of the Geological Society of America and the Annual Meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists, the two meetings at which most of our students present. You are free to use the data for a senior thesis or honors project as well. Nearly all of our 200 plus students have presented their work at professional meetings, usually with one or more student co-authors. A list of all abstracts and papers published by RBRI is located here.

The participants

The RBRI is funded by multiple sources. Typically, undergraduate students from Furman University are supported by grants from Furman, other external grants, with a few funded by the NSF-REU program. Undergraduate students from universities other than Furman are typically supported through the NSF-REU grant. Occasionally, students from the Associated Colleges of the South are supported through grants from that organization. Since 1999, students from over 50 different colleges and universities have participated in our RBRI program, ranging from large public institutions such as Appalachian State University to small liberal arts colleges such as Pomona College. Typically, about 20 students participate each summer, with about half from Furman University and half from other colleges and universities. Through a unique agreement with Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at least four of their undergraduate students participate in our program each summer.

Student research projects

An important distinction in the RBRI program is that we do not distinguish between student and faculty research. We engage in research as colleagues, certainly with the faculty teaching a lot in the beginning! As a participant, you will become part of a decade long research program focusing on the impact of urbanization on stream systems. Often, our research topics for the summer are broadly defined by the funding we have at the moment, but there is great latitude for students to develop their own line of inquiry. Student/faculty teams develop a research strategy to address the research problem they are studying. Most often, faculty are on more than one research team, and more than one team works on a research project from different perspectives. In the summer of 2008, we will continue our work on the impact of urbanization on the biogeochemistry of nitrogen and carbon, the biodiversity of fish, and stream geomorphology and hydrology in the context of a large EPA grant acquired by a local environmental organization called Upstate Forever!

Additionally, we are working with the Nature Conservancy to study the streams in the Blue Wall Preserve north of Furman University in the Blue Ridge Mountains to better understand how forested watersheds in the region function.

Stipend and Housing

Stipends for the summer research are $3500 per student. On-campus apartments are provided by Furman University as part of the program. All students from the program room together in the apartments and the apartments are usually grouped together to maintain a research community.

Ethics Program

Students also engage in an ethics program consisting of four meetings during the summer. The ethics sessions focus on scientific integrity, both in research and professional life. Sessions consist of role-playing scenarios, short lectures, and group discussions lasting about an hour. After the session, the students and faculty (and sometimes faculty families) share a meal together.

Extracurricular Activities

Furman University is located near Greenville, SC with its beautiful downtown and spectacular parks, minor league baseball, and restaurants galore. Because all the students in the program live together, spontaneous outings are frequent. The campus is located less than 3 hours from the Smoky Mountain National Park and about 4 hours from Charleston, SC and the Atlantic coast. So, there is plenty to do on weekends. Additionally, faculty host two to three dinners at their homes and we try to go out to lunch as a group about once per week. We typically also organize either a canoe or rafting trip and a trip to a Greenville Drive baseball game during the summer.

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