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Prof, students take classroom to the tropics

Williams examines Barbadian reefs

For Dudley Williams, zoology and environmental science professor, and his tropical marine biology students, reading week means a class trip to Barbados - but they don’t leave their books behind.

Although some students would love to soak up the tropical sun, these students are examining live plankton and collecting data on rocky shore samples.

"Students are surprised at how much work it is. It's not a ‘bird course’," says Williams.

His course began at the University of Toronto Scarborough 20 years ago in lecture format, but his students wanted the course to have a practical component. Williams, who started his career as a marine biologist, decided he would try taking students on an optional field trip during reading week in February. Due to the month’s typically cold temperatures, he thought a warm place like Barbados would be an ideal location for students to carry out research.

Students register one year in advance for the 15 seats available in Williams’ class.

Of those 15 seats, five are reserved for non-University of Toronto students because few marine biology courses are offered at universities in Ontario.   The students pay their own travel fees, which vary from year to year. 

Williams recommends that those interested in taking the course contact him before registering due to the limited number of spaces available and physical demands of the field study.

"I want to make clear to students what's involved and steer them in the right direction.”

Catherine Febria, a former student of Williams, took the course because she was interested in the topic.  Now, she is one of his teaching assistants.

“What better way to learn about marine biology, coral reefs and marine ecology than to see it yourself?"  Febria says. "The course is fun and Barbados is beautiful. There are so many reasons to take this course. You learn so much."

Williams says students enjoy the trip because they can do independent research.  “Although the natural coral reefs are severely damaged, the students are usually impressed by them,” he says.

His research focuses on the ways fresh water ecosystems work; particularly invertebrate communities and their importance in indicating water quality.  Williams is currently working in several areas including Southwestern Ontario, the United Kingdom, New Brunswick, and the tropics. He is also starting a project with a PhD student in Panama.

For more information about the tropical marine biology course, contact:

Professor D. Dudley Williams, williamsdd@utsc.utoronto.ca




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