A group of students from the 2023 class pose together on Agate Beach.

Applications for the Summer of 2024 are open now and are due February 4, 2024.

Since 1995, the California Academy of Sciences' Summer Systematics Institute (SSI), with support from NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program and the Academy's Robert T. Wallace endowment, has addressed critical topics including; worldwide threats to biodiversity, the origins and diversification of life, phylogenetic systematics, and evolutionary biology.

SSI is a ten-week paid (nine weeks in person) research internship at our state-of-the-art research facility and museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This world-renowned venue offers undergraduates important insights into the contributions that museum-based research can make to issues facing society today by providing them the opportunity to do museum-based research for the summer. The program accommodates up to 10 undergraduate students. This internship is made possible by the National Science Foundation and the Robert T. Wallace Endowment for Undergraduate Education. 

Program Curriculum

Participants will conduct research with their chosen advisor on a project relating to the discipline of the advisor and student. The program begins with a week-long field trip to the University of California Point Reyes Field Station where students will participate in workshops on natural history field methods and science communication and participate in the annual Snapshot Cal Coast Bioblitz.

Throughout the program, participants also take part in a museum-based curriculum that includes lectures and lab exercises on phylogenetics and systematics, molecular techniques, biodiversity, evolutionary biology, global change, and other contemporary issues in the natural sciences. Other activities include collections tours, popular writing, and science communication workshops, and time out on the museum floor directly communicating with the public.

The program culminates with a research symposium, where participants have an opportunity to communicate their summer research findings with the Academy community. Following their summer internship, participants are also invited (and encouraged) to attend a scientific meeting to present their findings in the form of a talk or poster.


Duration & Location


The Summer Systematics Institute is a full-time program (40 hours/week) for ten weeks, nine of which are in person from May 28th - July 26th, 2024. The program's first in-person week will be spent at the University of California Point Reyes Field Station with the remainder of the time spent in San Francisco at the California Academy of Sciences.

If your quarter or semester ends in early June, after the start date, please apply and if you are accepted we will work out your schedule. 


How to Apply

  1. The application process is entirely online. You will need to complete this application.

  2. The online form will ask you to prepare a statement of interest in working at the Academy.

  3. Complete the advisor selection portion of the application form after reading the list of advisors and projects listed at the bottom of this page.

  4. You do not need to provide letters of recommendation. You will need to find two references and provide their contact information. At least one must be a science professor or academic professional (such as an instructor or teaching assistant) who knows your school work well enough to talk with us about you as a student if we contact them. Your other reference can be someone who knows you from working with you at any job, volunteer work, or community work. They just need to be able to talk about you as a person and as a learner. You should speak to these people before submitting their information to be sure they are willing to receive emails or phone calls and answer questions about you.

Deadline: February 4, 2024. Applications received after midnight on February 4, 2024, will not be reviewed.



Applicants will be notified by email sometime in early March 2024. Due to the volume of applicants, we cannot give additional confirmation that we have received application materials received beyond the confirmation screen when the application is submitted.  



Any U.S. citizen or resident alien (green card) who is an undergraduate student, and who will not have graduated before the start of the fall semester or quarter of 2024, is welcome to apply. That is, you must be enrolled in an undergraduate program at the time of the internship


Housing & Stipend

A $6,250 ($625/week) stipend will be awarded to each intern. Travel to and from San Francisco will be provided. Housing will be provided in dormitories in San Francisco (within walking distance and easy public transportation to the Academy), with details to be provided upon the selection of interns. Personal stipends may be subject to federal and/or state income taxes.



2024 Advisors

Click the + next to each advisor's name to learn more.


Laurel Allen - Science Communication, Digital Engagement


Laurel Allen is Director of Digital Engagement at the Academy, where she leads a team of science-communicators and storytellers responsible for digital content and strategy for the institution as a whole, and for each of its three global initiatives. Her work is particularly focused on expanding public perceptions of who and what a scientist is, telling stories from the field, and identifying ways to support emerging scientists and science-communicators. She began her career as a journalist and science writer (with work appearing in Fast Company, Gizmodo, Indefinitely Wild, Modern Farmer, Alert Diver, and more), and additionally serves as a Research Affiliate with the Field Museum, a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and a member and judge with the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.

2024 Project

The ability to effectively communicate science—and to help the public engage with it in compelling ways—is a critical skill whether it’s the focus of an eventual career, or just one aspect of your work. The student in this role will work directly with the Academy’s award-winning Digital-Engagement team across a wide range of formats (from social media to livestreamed events), gaining experience in areas such as writing and editing, interviewing, storyboarding, filming, narrative structures, and more. A wide range of sci-comm interests are welcome (e.g. journalism, creative writing, visual storytelling), and final projects will be informed by the student’s area of focus. In addition to completing a final project, sci-comm interns commit to attending science seminars and other SSI activities alongside their peers, and creating regular coverage of the SSI program that both hones their own communications skills and provides a platform for SSI-peers to practice their own.

Dr. Rayna Bell and Dr. Michael Yuan- Herpetology


Dr. Rayna Bell studies the ecology and evolution of amphibians and reptiles with an emphasis on island biogeography, hybrid zones and coloration phenotypes. Much of her work in based on a group of diverse and colorful frogs, the hyperoliid reed frogs, which are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and the Gulf of Guinea islands. More recently, Rayna has started studying the diversity and evolution of the frog visual system, a research direction that stems from her interests in understanding the ecology and evolution of coloration in frogs.

Additional information on Dr. Bell’s research can be found at: http://www.raynacbell.com.


Dr. Michael Yuan is an evolutionary ecologist and herpetologist working with the Islands 2030 initiative as a postdoctoral researcher. His research is focused on understanding how environmental differences lead to the formation, maintenance, or loss of genetic and phenotypic diversity. He studies these processes at both ancient and contemporary timescales. His research primarily centers on Anolis, a diverse genus of >400 species of neotropical lizards, but also includes other amphibians and reptiles throughout the southeastern United States and the Caribbean. Recent projects include studying adaptation to climatic gradients in generalist species and how species respond to novel communities.

2024 Project

Cryptogenic species are those whose native versus introduced ranges are unknown. Over the course of human history and migration across the planet, many types of plants and animals have intentionally or accidentally been moved around the world, and this has rendered their status cryptogenic. This incomplete knowledge regarding the origin and native habitat of a species poses challenges for conservation management. Fortunately, we can use genetic tools to help determine the native versus introduced range of a species based on patterns of genetic diversity and geographic structure. The goal of this project will be to determine the status of Eleutherodactylus rain frogs on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. The intern will be sequencing DNA and learning population genetic and phylogenetic analysis methods. The outcomes of this project will be communicated to our partners in conservation and environmental management in Antigua and Barbuda.

Dr. Lauren Esposito - Arachnology


Dr. Lauren Esposito is the Curator and Schlinger Chair of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences. Lauren’s current research investigates the patterns and processes of evolution in spiders, scorpions, with a focus on tropical islands. Originally from the US-Mexico borderlands, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at El Paso, and went on to obtain an MS and PhD from the American Museum of Natural History in collaboration with the City University of New York. Lauren is the co-founder/director of a science, education, and conservation non-profit called Islands & Seas, and the co-creator of 500 Queer Scientists, a visibility campaign for LGBTQ+ people working in STEM careers.

Learn more about Lauren here.

2024 Project

Sawfinger scorpions in the genus Serradigitus are abundant throughout California, where there are currently eight species. Named for their blade-like claws, the evolutionary relationships of these small scorpions have not been investigated in detail, and recent work indicates there are more species to be described. This project offers an opportunity to generate and work with molecular and morphological data to delineate species boundaries in the genus, contributing to our knowledge and understanding of arachnid biodiversity in California.

Dr. Terry Gosliner-Invertebrate Zoology, Nudibranchs


In his tenure at the Academy, Dr. Terry Gosliner has served as Provost and was responsible for coordinating the design and implementation of our programmatic transformation during the rebuilding of the Academy's facilities. He has also overseen the scientific research programs, as Dean of Science and Director of Research. His research focuses on the evolutionary history of nudibranchs (the colorful group also known as sea slugs), and he has published more than 250 scientific papers and five books. Dr. Gosliner utilizes integrative phylogenetic techniques to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of major groups of heterobranch snails and slugs. These phylogenies are used to study adaptive radiation, evolution of color patterns and implications to conservation biology. Fundamental studies of heterobranchs also focus on documenting biodiversity in the Coral Triangle of the western Pacific. Approximately 40-60% of the species have been collected from tropical regions are undescribed species and currently members of his lab are describing many of these species within systematic revisions. With the advent of molecular phylogenies integrated with morphological studies novel evolutionary relationships have been discovered and new understandings of evolutionary processes have been revealed. He has focused my research on the nudibranch fauna of the reefs of the Philippines, documenting the most diverse marine ecosystems of the world. He has worked to strengthen ties with Bay Area Filipino communities and to build strong partnerships with colleagues in the Philippines. A major aspect of his work is to build new tools to empower local communities to develop sustainable management and conservation of the rich reefs of the Philippines. Dr. Gosliner actively works to democratize science, foster inclusion and diversity, and promote community science.

2024 Project

My research focuses on the evolution and adaptive radiation of heterobranch mollusks, especially nudibranchs or sea slugs. I utilize phylogenetic techniques, both morphological and molecular to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of major groups of opisthobranchs. With these phylogenies he studies adaptive radiation, evolution of color patterns and implications to conservation biology. Most of my work focuses on the systematics of heterobranchs from the tropical Indo-Pacific waters and includes the documentation and description of many new species that we have discovered from the Philippines and other tropical and temperate regions of the world's oceans.

Dr. Avery Hill and Dr. Natalie Low- Center for Biodiversity and Community Science

ahill@calacademy.org and nlow@calacademy.org

Dr. Avery Hill is a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Biodiversity and Community Science, where they leverage vast amounts of community science data to model ecological patterns across myriad landscapes. Their research is most broadly motivated by the need to understand the biological and ethical drivers of Anthropocene biogeography.

Dr. Natalie Low is a Biodiversity Data Specialist in the Center for Biodiversity and Community Science. At the Academy, they integrate community science data with climate change projections to model changes in species ranges across the California Coast, and develop an “Early Warning and Forecasting System” for coastal managers and communities.

2024 Project

Crowdsourced biodiversity datasets generated by community scientists through the use of tools like iNaturalist are growing rapidly. The involvement of increasing numbers of community volunteers allows for biodiversity data to be collected at spatial and temporal scales difficult to achieve by other means.

In addition, the Academy is currently in the progress of rapidly digitizing our biodiversity collections, making large amounts of historical biodiversity data accessible.

These datasets are incredibly useful for understanding patterns in California biodiversity, how these patterns are changing, and ultimately how to steward ecosystems towards a thriving future.

The SSI intern for this project will use the R platform to develop data analyses and visualizations from digitized museum specimens and community science observations, in order to address biodiversity data needs/desires for different audiences, including: Academy researchers, land and coastal managers, and/or community members. The precise geographic or taxonomic focus will be co-developed with the intern.


Dr. Anna Holmquist - Center for Comparative Genomics, Entomology



Dr. Anna Holmquist is a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Comparative Genomics (CCG). Anna's research focuses on the influence of geological and ecological processes in shaping patterns of spider diversity across elevational gradients on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. In addition, She is interested in the processes of community assembly and how different drivers of assembly influence the way modern biotic communities respond to anthropogenic disturbance. She has studied arthropod communities affected by wildfire, deforestation, urbanization, and invasive species to better understand community response and resilience.


2024 Project

Insect diversity is declining at an alarming speed. California is a biodiversity hotspot, with numerous ecologically important and unique insect species. The Insecta Barcode Initiative (IBI) is a project that aims to create a comprehensive "DNA barcode" reference library of insects found in California. The entomology collection at the California Academy of Sciences houses unique and irreplaceable specimens. Sequencing specimens in our natural history collections is at the core of the IBI's efforts.

The SSI intern will contribute to the ongoing project by participating in DNA extraction, barcode sequencing, and analysis. This will help to enhance our understanding of insect diversity in California and advance this important research initiative.

Dr. Athena Lam- Center for Comparative Genomics, Entomology



Dr. Athena Lam is the Director of the Center for Comparative Genomics (CCG). Athena’s research focuses on the historical as well as current processes that contribute to the patterns of diversity observed in beetles and other groups of organisms. In addition, she is deeply interested in developing cutting-edge molecular techniques and adapting them to study various non-model organisms.

2024 Project

Insect diversity is declining at an alarming speed. California is a biodiversity hotspot, with numerous ecologically important and unique insect species. The Insecta Barcode Initiative (IBI) is a project that aims to create a comprehensive "DNA barcode" reference library of insects found in California. The entomology collection at the California Academy of Sciences houses unique and irreplaceable specimens. Sequencing specimens in our natural history collections is at the core of the IBI's efforts.

The SSI intern will contribute to the ongoing project by participating in DNA extraction, barcode sequencing, and analysis. This will help to enhance our understanding of insect diversity in California and advance this important research initiative.

Dr. Isaac Lichter Marck - Botany 


Dr. Issac Lichter Marck is a NSF Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences. He is a plant taxonomist, biogeographer, and evolutionary ecologist fascinated with diverse, ecologically specialized groups of organisms, especially flowering plants in the sunflower and daisy family (Compositae). He uses museum specimens, genetic sequences, and fieldwork to decode evolutionary relationships, build improved classifications, and study the ‘mystery of mysteries’ of where biodiversity comes from. He is also fascinated by plants that grow on cliffs.

2024 Project

During SSI 2024 we will focus on describing the diversity of rock daisies found on isolated mountain ranges in the Death Valley region of California. Rock daisies (Laphamia spp.) are cliff-dwelling plants in the sunflower family (Compositae) that are rare and only grow on difficult to access cliff faces. I have identified an anomolous population of rock daisies on one particular mountain range that likely constitute an undescribed species to western science. Interns will assist with morphological description of the new species and SEM photography, as well as analysis of existing sequence data, in support of a species description. There will be some opportunities for field work to collect specimens and ecological data during the summer. Although not essential, this could be a nice project for someone with interest/experience in scientific illustration.

Dr. Edward Myers- Herpetology


Dr. Edward Myers is a research scientist at the California Academy of Sciences in the Department of Herpetology. His research focuses on addressing what generates and maintains biodiversity. To address this overarching question in evolutionary biology he draws from numerous fields, spanning from population genetics, phylogenomics, and comparative genomics. He is interested in the diversification of reptiles and amphibians globally, with a particular focus on the snakes of the Western Hemisphere.

2024 Project:

The forces that drive population genetic divergence and ultimately influence the process of speciation are numerous and include historical isolation of populations and local adaptation. These factors can be identified by analyzing genetic data collected across the geographic distribution of a species using population genetic and phylogenetic approaches. Baja California has a complex geological history and a range of climate gradients, both of which are expected to influence genetic diversity within species. This project will focus on identifying population structure and the factors that have influenced this structure in the Baja California Coachwhip (Masticophis fuliginosus) by generating sequence data from samples collected throughout the peninsula.

Dr. Shannon Tushingham- Anthropology


Dr. Shannon Tushingham is the Associate Curator and Irvine Chair of Anthropology in the Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability Science. She is an anthropological archaeologist with research broadly centered on understanding human autonomy, health, and well-being, and global understandings of the past. She employs archaeological science, historical ecology, and evolutionary model frameworks to explore deep time-scale human-environmental relationships, and complex food systems among hunter-gatherer-fishers. Current projects center on niche construction dynamics, storage diversity, ancestral food systems and modern health, the evolution of psychoactive plant use, and equity and multivocality in STEM.

2024 Project

In a rapidly changing world, where ecological systems are under increasing threat, there is a growing recognition of the need to integrate diverse knowledge systems for effective conservation and restoration efforts. This project investigates the vital intersection of science and indigenous knowledge in the context of collaborative historical ecology. Students will engage in diverse field, laboratory, and collections research. Students will work on a project that draws upon data collected during archaeological and ecological fieldwork and explore concepts of “two-eyed seeing”, where indigenous knowledge holders and scientists engage in mutual learning and collaboration. Collaborative fieldwork will provide students with career-building skills in archaeology and cultural resource management (CRM), and provide insights relevant to maintaining community autonomy, healthy human-environmental systems, and persistent ecological and cultural heritage. Project possibilities involve investigations of deep-time histories of indigenous food and storage systems, genomic study of key plant or animal species, and research into the ecological consequences of human and other built environments and the dynamics that connect these processes.

Dr. Gary Williams - Invertebrate Zoology, Corals


Dr. Gary Williams studies the systematics, evolutionary biology, and biogeography of octocorals, a group of corals found worldwide and at all latitudes, on coral reefs as well as in the deep-sea. His work involves coral communities from various parts of the world from shallow water tropical coral reefs to ocean depths exceeding 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). Octocorals include some of the most beautiful and morphologically diverse animals in the world’s oceans – these are the soft corals, sea fans, and sea pens. They are a group of corals that represent two-thirds of all living coral species and are characterized by having eight feathery tentacles surrounding the mouth of each polyp.

Additional information on Dr. Williams’s research can be found here, here, and here.

2024 Project

The project goal will be to produce a phylogenetic tree of deep-sea or coral reef corals (soft corals, sea fans, and sea pens), using the Scanning Electron Microscope for skeletal morphology and our Comparative Genomics Lab for molecular analysis

Potential Projects:

Molecular phylogenetics of Pacific Basin octocorals – from deep-sea California to Indo-Pacific coral reefs

Morphological diversity and molecular phylogenetics of mesophotic and deep-sea octocorals from the eastern Pacific

If you have questions regarding our undergraduate internships, please email us. No phone calls, please.

These internships are made possible by the National Science Foundation and a generous gift from the Robert T. Wallace Endowment for undergraduate research experiences.