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The Science Exchange

About

Sea Turtle Internships for College Credit!

The Science Exchange is the only non-profit organization that creates affordable, customized, field-based research internship packages for college and graduate students from around the world. Our Mission is to train the next generation to become scientifically literate, international team players through our two-month STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) research internships in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Founded
2006
Headquarters

The Ocean Foundation
1320 19th St NW, 5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Reviews

Default avatar
Allie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I spent a summer in Akumal, Mexico with The Science Exchange studying the effects of climate change on sea turtle nests. Katherine was a great mentor and available whenever I had questions or problems. The host organization in Akumal, Centro Ecologico Akumal, had a great staff and lots of fun volunteers from all over the world. The dorms had air conditioning and a shared kitchen. Just a two minute walk to the beach. At night we would patrol the beaches for nesting turtles and making sure the nests were protected. We took tourists out for a small donation fee and showed them the nesting process of the turtles, which was awesome for practicing my Spanish. It was one of the best summers of my life. Upon return to the US, Katherine was a great advisor and help during the final stages of the project, paper, and presentation. I highly recommend this program for anyone that wants to explore another part of the world and get out of their comfort zone while working towards a common goal of sea turtle conservation. It's a lot of work and up to the student to collect the research data. This internship is really great for a highly motivated individual, since TSE isn't present during the research. It's up to the student! As a 20 year old, I felt like I was able to grow into a more motivated, prepared, and organized student.

Thanks again for everything The Science Exchange has given me!

What would you improve about this program?
Nothing I can think of!
Default avatar
Laura
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I was a college student looking to do something meaningful with my summer, and randomly stumbled upon The Science Exchange's website. The professional atmosphere of the website and other reviews I read lead me to believe this was a very legitimate program. I applied a little later than most interns but TSE welcomed me with open arms and accepted me to the Bahamas Internship.

A few Skype calls with my soon-to-be-supervisors and some Facebook messages with the fellow interns started my journey, and from the first second I felt like I was at home. We were given scholarship opportunities, an extensive amount of documents and materials to review about life in the Bahamas, where we would be staying, emergency plans, and just about every risk you could ever encounter while traveling internationally. The preparation for this trip was immaculate.

If you're new to field work, a huge component of it is rolling with the punches. Not everything goes exactly as planned because you might have a huge fish that ate all your bait, or the winds have been fighting you and the crew for a few weeks so you can't access a good site, or you get a little homesick.. any problem encountered is one that makes you grow as a scientist and the support system that TSE provided me allowed me to conquer any and all obstacles.

I went into this program expecting a cool resume booster and some awesome pictures. Little did I know, a year later, I am in the process of publishing my own paper on a project I spearheaded during my time in the Bahamas. Whether it was meeting locals and conversing about their way of life, connecting with National Geographic Fellows staying at our research station, working with kids on the island, or hunting down the best conch salad ever, the experience was beyond incredible. I have presented my research, gained lifelong friends, made important connections in the Marine Science field, and overall expanded my horizons and possibilities for myself in this career. I am forever grateful for this program, and I wish I could go back every summer!

What would you improve about this program?
Adding more places to explore!
Response from The Science Exchange

You really excelled when given the opportunity and we are so proud of you!

Liberty Boyd Sea Turtle The Science Exchange
Liberty
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The Science Exchange Program has been paramount to my collegiate experience as an undergraduate marine biology major. By fully immersing myself into field work and a new culture, I was able to test my limits and gain a better understanding of not only the marine science field, but of myself as a person.

When first applying to the program, I was impressed by the timely and thoughtful responses from TSE staff, Katherine Comer-Santos and Elizabeth Whitman. These amazing women were able to place me in the best internship for me, which happened to be in Abaco, Bahamas. This was close to home as I am currently living in South Florida and it fit my research interests of in-water sea turtle biology.

At first the cost of the internship was daunting and made me not want to go through with it, but thankfully I was able to get a scholarship through TSE, as well as through my university. With those combined, 80% of the cost was covered and I only had to pay for my plane ticket! Having known what I know now about the internship, I would have gladly paid for it full out of pocket.

During the internship, I learned an astronomical amount of practical skills, including data collection techniques, data software, and statistical analyses. The most rewarding part of the internship was the ability to conduct my own research project. This allowed me to gain the experience of completing a project from start to finish.

The days were long during the internship and I definitely gained a lot of muscle. This internship is definitely hard core and requires a lot of physical work and sweat, but the outcomes made it all worth while. Being able to handle sea turtles and observe them in their natural environment was a dream come true!

We were able to have fun on the side too, like going out to restaurants, exploring the islands, and getting to know some of the locals. At times it almost felt like I was on vacation!

By the end of the internship, I can definitely say I grew both as a scientist and a person. I made life long friendships along with some unforgettable memories. To this day I have been utilizing the connections I have made through networking with other interns and people on the island.

Even after the internship was over, I still was able to participate in various things that would have never happened without this experience. I was able to present a poster on my project at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in Las Vegas. I also traveled to the North American Echinoderm Conference in Massachusetts to give an oral presentation on my project.

This opportunity is truly like no other. I can guarantee that if you whole heartedly take advantage of this internship, you will gain more than you could possibly imagine. I am so thankful for the friendships I have made as well as the knowledge I gained during my time in the Bahamas. I implore you to apply to this program while you can and don't waste your time looking for something better because you won't be able to find it!

What would you improve about this program?
The only way this program could be improved is offering a larger variety of internship locations and opportunities.
Response from The Science Exchange

I am so glad our program helped your career and inspired you to continue research by applying to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Default avatar
Ryley
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The Science Exchange internship program, was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I was with the first group to go to Abaco, Bahamas instead of latin america for this internship. This internship taught me so much about what it truly means to be a scientist and a marine biologist. From experimental design, turtle tagging, seagrass surveys, drone abundance surveys, baited underwater shark cameras to cultural immersion. I went to Abaco, Bahamas for 3 months helping the WONDERFUL Elizabeth Whitman with her PhD research on juvenile green sea turtles and their interaction with sharks and seagrass.

I loved it so much that I volunteered to go back with her the following summer for 5 weeks. Everyone at TSE was always very helpful and knowledgable if I ever had any questions about anything and Katherine Comer Santos, The director, is truly amazing. She set me up with this internship and I will forever be grateful for that.

I have met friends that will last a lifetime, I have learned skills that continue to help me advance my career and I have made a second home in the Bahamas. What I love about TSE is that it is real science, meaning you are gaining field work experience that looks great on a resume. Yes, that means sometimes things don't go as planned but then you get to problem solve how to fix it which is what actually happens in real life science.

For anyone who is considering an internship with TSE I know it is a heavy price tag, but honestly I would pay ten times that in a heart beat to be able to partake in an internship again. If you are on the fence about it, DO IT!! I promise it will be worth it in the end.

After my first year in Abaco, I went on to present my personal project at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in Las Vegas!! I gave an oral presentation on my work that I myself had come up with while interning in the Bahamas. That in itself made every penny worth it.

I will never forget the very first sea turtle I caught "Bahamian Style" there is no way to describe it, so come find out for yourself, chances are I'll see you there!!

What would you improve about this program?
The only thing I would suggest is that people who have not done field work before, don't know exactly what to expect. Detailed explanations of what you will be doing/talking to previous interns would be a great way to relay information.
Response from The Science Exchange

Your oral presentation at the conference was so professional and moving. I cried! Beth really depended on you and your positive attitude and field skills. I hope you do go back and help her next year!

Default avatar
Shelli
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this program! Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about sea turtles and the global conservation issues that impact them, but also I had the cultural experiences of living and working in a tropical fishing village, practicing Spanish daily and understanding the cultural traditions that have shaped thinking about conservation issues. Upon returning home, many of my friends and family have commented that they notice a difference in me. I am calmer, clearer, happier, and generally more grounded in my purpose and personal mission. Furthermore, as a direct result of my participation with The Science Exchange Internship Program, I am better equipped to conduct and publish my own research as part of my continued education.

What I observed is the students who arrive with an open mind, participate fully, and see it through to the end can have “life-changing” impact and transformative results from their experiences. This certainly was true for me!!

What would you improve about this program?
Feedback has been provided that setting clearer expectations of students before they arrive in country may be beneficial for some people. This could be done through a series of videos or some other short documentation.

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Gabriela Ponce

What originally inspired you to intern with The Science Exchange?

Gabriela: My original inspiration to intern with the science exchange was the opportunity to get more research experience as well as work with such an amazing animal as the sea turtle.

Describe your typical day.

Gabriela: My day to day activities as an intern included eating an early breakfast and then heading out to collect data on the beach such as sand specimens and measurements of the shoreline. Then we came back in time for lunch after which we would take as down time until after dinner where we would set up the patrolling schedule in two shifts: early and late according to the tide.

On the patrols we would scout the beach for sea turtle nests and for nesting female sea turtles. When we would find a nest we would dig it up, take a couple data points (eg. Number of eggs, width of the mothers tracks, tide, sand samples and sector of beach where nest was found) and bring the eggs back to the hatchery so they will be safe from predation.

When we would cross paths with a turtle nesting we would take her measurements, tag her with an identification number, collect her eggs and then take them to the hatchery. The next day with the sand samples we would cook the sand to get measurements of the water content and then sift the sand to measure the grain size.

Gabriela helping conserve a nest of turtle eggs

How has this experience impacted your future?

Gabriela: This experience has helped me understand more about myself than any other experience I have had to date. I personally grew quite a bit in the fact that I was responsible for a project bigger than myself which led me to be more responsible. Also, traveling with only my research partner in a foreign country made me more resourceful making me be more willing to ask other for help.

Professionally it has been a help with trying to apply to other internships and has helped with choosing what sector of biology I could focus in on.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Katherine Comer Santos

Job Title
Director
Katherine founded and directs The Science Exchange. She is an Adjunct Research Associate at San Diego State University’s Biology Department where she earned her master’s degree. Other international exchanges include a FIPSE-and Phi Beta Delta-sponsored internship with the University of Barcelona studying avian distributions, 2.5 years of volunteer work in sustainable agriculture with the Peace Corps, and living with a host family during a study abroad program in Granada, Spain. Her personal interests are sea turtles, travel, surfing, and capoeira.
turtle research

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Katherine: We are a non-profit, and intern enrichment is the most important thing to us. Enrichment means:

  • Personal – a heightened sense of identity, greater self confidence, better relationship building skills, higher tolerance, a broader world view;
  • Cultural exchange – learning and teaching new ways of speaking, living, learning and working;
  • Academic – if the intern has not used the scientific method to reach conclusions about their research data we have not done our job;
  • Giving back – our interns usually have the goal of helping save sea turtles or other marine animals. Although we cannot guarantee the animals will be present during their internship, we make sure all interns research and/or help improve the animals’ habitat and most of the time our interns interact with wild animals as well! If we provide enrichment for our interns, they may give back to the non-profit through future donations, marketing, referrals, etc. But most importantly, they will give back to our communities and the planet.
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Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

Katherine: For me, it was a struggle to learn Spanish, and took me 10 years of studying and 4 months of living in Spain to “get it”. But being fluent has changed my life completely. I now live, work, and dream in Spanish, and some of my best friends speak Spanish.

Generation Y is the future, the planet is in their hands, and they must learn to be good global citizens. Although more people are learning English in other countries, we must learn and respect foreign cultural and work norms to solve our global conservation problems.

Therefore, it is imperative that every young person take that trek and immerse themselves in a foreign environment, and at least try to learn the host language. The internet has made it very easy to stay in touch so it is not as scarey anymore to leave behind your friends and family.

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What does the future hold for The Science Exchange - any exciting new programs to share?

Katherine: Our next step is to provide internships for local college students in Latin America so that the English-speaking intern can practice more one-on-one cultural exchange, and learn science and conservation from a different perspective. Also we need the local Generation Y to be scientific experts and conservationists in their own communities, because they are the stewards.

To that end we will be fundraising for local scholarships, and creating a training center in Mexico where all interns will work closely with our bilingual staff on performing the literature review, forming research questions, writing methods, and practice collecting data.

Then they will spend about 6 weeks in the field, and return to the center for a final week to analyze the data and write results, conclusions, and recommendations. And, of course, share stories of their adventures. We hope to publish many more scientific papers with our Latin American and domestic interns as co-authors.