Preparing for Winter 2015 course


We are a little more than a month away from the start of the OTS winter grad course in tropical ecology! Andrea and I are busy finalizing logistics and planning for an amazing month in Costa Rica.

Before the course:

In the first 3 days of the course, we are going to be doing a crash course on experimental design and analyses – a “no so scary introduction to R and stats”.  You will need to install R ( before getting to Costa Rica.

Whether you are using a windows or Mac machine, download both R and Rstudio.  Rstudio ( is a great editor for R that will allow you to see your script, the console, the variables stored in memory and your figures all in one.  Note that you should install R first, and then Rstudio.

If you are using a mac (great choice!), download R ( and make sure that you are downloading the right version for your OS (snow leopard, mavericks or whatever you are using).  You can also download Rstudio (, but  the default editor for macs to be awesome and there is rarely the need to use Rstudio in macs.

If you are using linux (kudos!) you can install R relatively easy, here is some help on how to install it for ubuntu (  Install Rstudio also (


Along with learning about tropical ecosystems and honing our research skills, we are also going to be focusing on science communication, writing blogs, recording podcasts, and making a short film. There are some truly wonderful science shows and podcasts that you should check out before you come. Below are links to just a few:

Radiolab (the gold standard of science podcasting, in my opinion).

This America Life and here’s Ira Glass on what makes Radio lab amazing: and on excellence in general

Science…Sort Of – a science podcast that is part of a network of podcasts (and Ryan Haupt, one of the creaters, will be joining us on the course!!)

NPR’s Planet Money – fun stories about the economy, from every angle

Serial – a spin-off from This American Life, amazingly addictive

99% Invisible – a show about design that often touches on the science behind design but is also a great example of how to tell a relatively short story about a specific thing or topic

Sawbones – medical history show, controversial but fun.

Along with podcasts, there are also some really great science blogs. There’s no right or wrong way to do a blog, its a personal thing, but here are some examples of science blogs that work well and are popular:

As you prepare for the grad course, look through past course books for project ideas and familiarize yourself with the type of research you will be doing, as well as the type of research reports we will be expecting from you.

If you are interested in doing bat projects or handling bats, you need to get your rabies shots. For more information, check this CDC webpage and plan ahead.

Finally, you will be shooting your own short films about your research projects. The video communication workshop will be taught my two great filmmakers and science communicators, Biff Farrell and Morgan Heim, and Biff has put together a web resource for you to familiarize yourself with before you come on the course:

In addition, the instructional videos below will help you prepare for the technical aspects of the video projects: