Shore at Bellair's Research Institute in Barbados

Applied Tropical Ecology

About the Course

Bellairs Research Institute, Barbados
Friday, May 3rd - Friday, May 17th, 2024

Important Dates

Information Session

Monday, November 6th, 2023 @ 5:30-6:30pm in Stewart Bio N7/1 or on zoom (register here to attend on Zoom)

PowerPoint from Information Session will be available on Nov 6th

What To Expect

The course begins with one day for orientation to Bellairs, the course, and the adjacent reef and terrestrial environments. The remaining time is divided into three components:

1. Three one-day instructional modules providing background on relevant research approaches and techniques
2. Brainstorming and planning for research projects
3. Group research projects

For the instruction modules, students are divided into three groups of up to 7 individuals who rotate among three modules. These modules focus on research methods related to tropical ecology, including studies of coral reef and sea grass ecosystems, biological oceanography, and molecular ecology. Each module lasts one day.

In the next phase of the course, students reflect on the concepts and tools covered in the modules, think of interesting research questions, form research groups, and draft a research proposal. This work takes place over two days, and includes visits to other sites of ecological interest on the island, time for group discussion, and project-design support from the instructors.

During the second week of the course, students will focus on carrying out their collaborative research project under the direction of one or more of the professors. After an intense period of data collection, students write up their results and then present their study to the class in an end-of course mini-symposium. Given the short timeline to accomplish this work, students are expected to devote all waking hours to course activities.

With permission of the Course Coordinator and the Biology Graduate Coordinator, graduate students may take the Applied Tropical Ecology course at the graduate (600) level. This will involve an additional week-long independent research project with a written report.


An ecology course (either BIOL 215 or ENVB 305 or equivalent or both ENVR 200 and 202) and an organismal laboratory course (BIOL 206 or AEBI 210/AEBI 211 or equivalent) and permission of the fred.guichard [at] (Course Coordinator).


Students must complete a set of preliminary readings that will be available in February 2024. This material will be the subject of a take-home examination that students will complete by the end of March. Course evaluation will be based on 1) the take-home exam (30%), 2) participation during the modules and field trips (35%) and 3) the project completed during the final module (35%).

The course instructors are Prof. Frederic Guichard (Course Coordinator  - Marine Ecology), Prof. Laura Nilson (Molecular Ecology) and Prof. Henri Valles, University of West Indies (Coral Reef Ecology). 

Note that this course is completed in the Summer term. Graduating students who take the course will not receive their diploma until the November convocation. However, following successful completion of the course, the University can provide confirmation that graduation requirements have been met for those who may be starting jobs or academic programs in September requiring the completion of their degree

Registration and Fees

Space is limited to 21 students, and the course will be held only if 12 or more students enroll. Students from outside Biology or outside McGill are welcome if space is available.

Registration & Application Form

Interested individuals should fill out the application form and email it as an attachment to fred.guichard [at] (Prof. Frederic Guichard). The application deadline is November 30, 2023 (see “Important Dates”).

If the class is not full by end of November, applications will be accepted until January 10, 2024, or until the class is full. If there are more applications than space available, participants will be selected from among those who submitted applications by the deadline on the basis of their preparation and academic need for the course; students who will complete their degree requirements before January 2025 will be given preference over students who will have the chance to take the course in future years.

Students accepted into the course, and those on the waiting list, will be notified during the first week of December. If space becomes available, students on the waiting list will be offered a position in the course according to their position on the list.


The course is partially subsidized by the Biology Department, so the fees are kept as low as possible. The course fee for 2024 is $1,847.31. This fee covers room and board at Bellairs and all other expenses during the course. It does not cover tuition, airfare, flight insurance, airport taxes and transfers, meals in transit, or the cost of supplementary health insurance. 

Students will make their own travel arrangements. Tickets for this time of year are normally about $600-$800. Fuel surcharges are highly variable but could be expected to add $50-$100 per ticket. The airport taxes are about CA$30 in Barbados. Participants are advised to keep alert for discounts and seat sales. A taxi from the airport to Bellairs costs about $60, but often enough participants are arriving on the same flight, allowing us to share a larger vehicle and substantially lower the cost.

Supplementary health insurance costs vary considerably depending on what sort of health coverage you have already. For Canadians less than 25 years of age, who already have provincial health coverage, it will probably be around $35. All participants are required to have adequate health coverage. The above prices are based on last year, are subject to change and should be checked out individually.

Once You Are Accepted

Complete instructions for registration will be emailed to participating students, but an important first step is to pay the required deposit.

  1. Transfer the deposit ($500) into your Student Account
  2. Email Student Accounts (student.accounts [at] using “Deposit Biology BIOL 334” in the subject line.
  3. Inform Student Accounts that $500 has been deposited into your account, earmarked for BIOL 334D1/D2.
  4. Make sure you include your ID number and email address.

The final cost of the course will be presented at the information session in November. All students must be able to provide proof of adequate health insurance. Students permitted to enroll must register for the course before the end of the Winter 2024 Add/Drop period (Tuesday January 16, 2024).

Each individual is responsible for ensuring that they have the appropriate documents to enter Barbados. Citizens of Canada or the U.S.A. require a passport, and it would be advisable to apply soon if you do not already have one. Citizens of most other countries will require visas, which require an application to the Barbados High Commission in Ottawa (allow at least two months). Individuals who have been in a yellow fever zone will require proof of immunization.

Preparations & Precautions

Students who have already decided to take the course should consult the Government of Canada Guidelines for advice on travel to Barbados. The McGill Pre-Travel and Vaccination Clinic is also a useful resource. When planning, keep in mind that some vaccinations, such as those for hepatitis A and B early, take six months to confer full immunity.

Students must be able to swim because the modules involve snorkeling. Opportunities to practice snorkeling will be provided during the first-day orientation, but students with no prior experience are encouraged to practice on their own before the beginning of the course.

We will have most of our meals at Bellairs, and the cooking staff can accommodate certain special dietary needs. If you require such an accommodation, you should contact the course coordinator to find out about possible arrangements.

The course will involve considerable physical demands but will not be beyond the capabilities of anyone in good health. Students who have not had a recent physical examination should have one before departure. Students will be required to inform the course coordinator of any physical or mental health issues that may affect the health and security of themselves, as well as that of other students and the professors, during an intense course away from home. All such information will be kept strictly confidential, and students will not be required to share medical information directly with the course instructors.

Students will be required to sign a waiver form that confirms that they recognize their responsibilities in taking a field course outside Canada. Those with any doubts concerning the advisability of taking the course should consult Prof. Neil Price before signing up.

Important Dates

November 6, 2023 Information Session: 5:30-6:30pm in Stewart Bio N7/1
View PowerPoint from Information Session
November 30, 2023 Deadline for submitting application form to fred.guichard [at] (Prof. Frederic Guichard) 
Mid December, 2023 Notification of acceptance - waiting list created
January  10, 2024 Deadline for submitting an Application Form for a spot on the waiting list
January 16, 2024 Add/Drop deadline. Accepted students must be registered for the course by this date.
TBA Take-home exam available
TBA Take home exam due.
Compulsory planning meeting for all participants will be scheduled
May 3rd, 2024 Course starts at 17:00 in Barbados
May 17th, 2024 Course ends in the morning at Barbados

Additional Work at Bellairs

The course is too time-consuming for a relaxed experience of Barbados. Therefore, students who would like to visit Barbados for a short time, before or after the course, are permitted to stay on at Bellairs at a reasonable cost, providing there is space available.

Sometimes, researchers using the Bellairs Research Institute are interested in hiring students who have taken Applied Tropical Ecology as research assistants. More frequently, there are opportunities to volunteer for various research projects, usually in exchange for room and board. In previous years, volunteers were needed in projects associated with marine turtle conservation, bird behaviour, mongoose ecology and reef fish studies. Airfare is sometimes higher for stays longer than 3 or 4 weeks.

Professors with research activities in Barbados or research interests that could be pursued in Barbados are sometimes willing to act as supervisors for students who would collect data for an Independent Studies Project after completion of the Applied Tropical Ecology course. Usually, students remain in Barbados to collect their data and analyze and write up the results during the following academic year. Students who are interested in pursuing these options are advised to contact potential supervisors as soon as possible. See the list of Faculty members.

Students who are Canadian citizens or landed immigrants and have excellent grades may apply for NSERC Summer Undergraduate Research Awards program ( in the fall. This award funds research that could be carried out in Barbados. All undergraduates, including graduating students, are eligible for these awards. NSERC provides a stipend, but, since students are being paid, the research cannot also be used for Independent Studies credit. Students must make their own arrangements for completing independent projects and holding summer awards with individual professors. Students (or their supervisors) will be responsible for the additional room and board costs of any additional time in Barbados.

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