PSL398H - Research Excursion Program

RESEARCH EXCURSION PROGRAM SUMMER 2017 – PSL398H (.50 FCE) - Application Deadline: Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Research Excursions Program provides an opportunity for Arts & Science degree students (St. George) beginning their third year (i.e., after completing at least 9 but not more than 14 credits) to participate in a practical or experiential activity under the supervision of a faculty member. The practical, experiential component can take the form of research/learning in archives, laboratories, libraries, or in a field camp, etc.—but not in a classroom at another university (that is covered by the Faculty’s summer abroad and exchange programs). The projects run within the May-August period, when both Faculty and students would be able to make the time commitments necessary. Regular tuition fees apply. The Faculty of Arts & Science will cover travel expenses.

Continued Pilot Project for 2017-18: To accommodate both the needs of the students and the supervisor, for 2017-18 we will allow students with up to 16 FCE (fourth year) to participate. REPs must include a majority of students having between 9 and 14 FCE. The faculty supervisors will choose the students in much the same way as they do for the 299Ys. Students’ eligibility will be verified prior to enrolment. 

Each 398H0/Y0 has a program-specific designator, such as ANT, CLA, CSB, VIC, etc., and would be eligible to count towards program completion if the program sponsor (Chair or Director) so chooses. A limited number of 398H0/Y0 courses are available each year. In an effort to provide as many international opportunities as possible for Arts and Science students, priority is given to students who have not participated in Faculty of Arts and Science off-campus funding opportunities (Internationalized Course Module (ICM) another 398, Dean’s International Initiatives Program (DIIF) or Germany Europe Fund (GEF)). Faculty supervisors propose the projects and choose the students who apply. Students must also attend a mandatory Pre-Departure Orientation through the office of Safety Abroad no later than four weeks prior to travel.

Part I- Supervisor & Course Information

Name & Title: Carin Wittnich (Professor)

Department/Program: Physiology


Phone: 416-978-7744

Course title & weight: PSL 398H - The effects of contaminants on marine animal physiology in the Bay of Fundy

Number of students: 4

Off-campus location: Comeauville, Nova Scotia

Total duration of course: 4 weeks – May 22 - June 20, 2017

Duration of off-campus component: between 14 - 16 days

Part II- Research excursion details

1) A description of the research project and how the students will be involved in the project and benefit from the off-campus component.

Dr. Wittnich is funded through a 5 year renewable program grant (2011-2016; 2016-2021) to study contaminant levels and their effects in marine species found in the Bay of Fundy region. The research program investigates whether the concentration and types of contaminants is increasing within natural marine environment (Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia) that may physiologically affect aquatic animals in that area.

Dr. Wittnich will explore the prey species (such as herring, halibut, cod, mackerel, squid & octopus to name a few) consumed by both humans and apex marine animal predators (seals, cetaceans, sharks) found in this region. The focus for this REP in 2016 is on the growth and development correlated with age in 4 key organ systems and heavy metal concentrations in prey species consumed by both humans and apex predators of the region. The species that will form the basis for the work during this course, are easily available as they are routinely caught by local fishers and readily available for this course from numerous (5 - 7) processing plants and local fishers along St Mary's Bay that Dr. Wittnich works with each summer.

During this field excursion, under Dr. Wittnich's guidance and supervision, the students will do the following:

  1. perform general morphometric assessments (measurement of size/weight) of the various prey species and their organs (heart, liver, kidney, reproductive); as well as determine their age (ear bone assessment technique) - to quantify baseline values, note any changes in growth and development vs age and conduct gross examination of the organs,
  2. take tissue biopsies to measure the amounts of contaminants in relevant organs and tissues (after preparation, samples assayed at government certified laboratory),
  3. conduct basic histology, using locally available equipment, to see if there are any structural changes within the tissues. Each student selects a specific system to study (cardiovascular, hepatic, renal, reproductive) and with Dr Wittnich's guidance, will collect the specimens and perform the above listed measurements.

Dr Wittnich's field research is based at the Comeauville Marine Institute (CMI), a local field research station located on the Bay of Fundy, she has used for over 4 years in the conduct of her grant funded research work. This facility has a fully operational laboratory with capacity for tissue histology, biochemistry as well as walk in freezers and autopsy facilities to accommodate even large marine species. This permits the morphemetric and basic laboratory portions of the work which cannot be done in the field, to be done there. They also employ a full time PhD marine biologist with expertise in this area and have linkages with local Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and other researchers.  The CMI has hosted other local school and college groups and can easily accommodate the PSL398H REP students.

Students participating in the REP will have the opportunity to benefit from valuable experiences such as:

  • in the field hands-on gathering of organs/tissue,
  • developing a research project and data collection,
  • analyzing and presenting their data,
  • performing basic field laboratory techniques in the preparation of tissue for examination including aging of fish.

2) What are the learning objectives of the course and the research skills to be taught?

The learning objectives of the course are for the students to gain practical field research experience and the skills necessary in not only completing this course but to also realize what is involved with future graduate work that would have a field excursion component. The students will become skillful in:

  • setting up and preparing for their project (rational/hypothesis generation, literature review, equipment preparation, etc)
  • gathering tissue and data in the field (the pitfalls of working in the field, working as a team, etc)
  • basic laboratory techniques to collect morphometric data, aging of fish; simple tissue prep and staining for histology
  • analyzing their data (proper analysis, essentials of gathering the right data, limitations of different analytical programs, etc)
  • learning the physiological effects of contaminants from the cellular level to the complete organ
  • the importance of being able to communicate their findings in a logical well understood manner
  • self directed learning

3) Describe the details of the course structure, including calendar and location.

The students will spend the first week of the course in Toronto during which they will have meetings/lectures where orientations will take place including: course outline and requirements and marking scheme; project assignments given and explained. Specifically, the students will design their projects, perform the necessary literature review, and meet with Dr. Wittnich to review and solidify their projects. This will then be followed by the field excursion to Nova Scotia via air and ferry to Nova Scotia - accompanying Dr. Wittnich to the rural setting where she annually conducts her field work (Comeauville). There, group living style accommodations with local cuisine are provided; as such significant dietary restrictions cannot be accommodated. In addition, daily field work could involve mild inclement weather conditions.

Course runs from: May 22 - June 20, 2017

Toronto: orientation, project assignment, literature review, prep for field work
Nova Scotia: Field work where students will
- gather tissue/organs; measurements; data collection
- prepare the tissue for heavy metal assays; conduct basic microscopic examination of the specific organ tissue collected for their project; etc.
Toronto: presentations & handing in required field/data books; final report

4) Describe the course evaluation procedures and marking scheme.

Students will be given guidelines on how to perform morphometric measurements, obtaining the samples, how to prepare various organ tissue for histological evaluation, and collection of data. Students will be responsible for maintaining all of their data within a data book (given to students), and prepare an oral presentation presenting their data at the end. They will also be responsible for keeping a detailed daily/field activity log so that a clear progression of performance can be maintained.

Participation: 20%

Data book & quality of data collected: 30%

Daily performance: 25%

Oral Presentation: 25%

5) List any prerequisites, background preparation or specific abilities that will be required.

(Please specify the background or abilities students need to have, given the particulars of the project or location.)

  • the students must be physically fit, able to negotiate and work in areas that are hazardous (ie rocky beaches, working around piers/boats, etc.), and able to lift 20 kilos
  • students must have a mature attitude and able to follow instructions
  • ideally it would be helpful for the student to have basic animal physiology and an understanding of physiological processes (ie pre-requisite PSL 280 or equivalent from CSB or EEB)
  • work within a team orientated environment but also work well by themselves


Depart Toronto via air to St John, ferry to Digby
- Arriving at Comeauville Facility (CMI) via shuttle
Welcome and brief orientation
Comeauville, Nova Scotia
- Introduction to laboratory and research staff
Safety and rules of Facility; field excursion
Maviellette Beach, Nova Scotia
- Daily field excursions for collection of specimens
Morphometrics etc
Claire municipality, Nova Scotia
- Work on tissue preparation for assays, histology, lab work etc
Field station (CMI), Comeauville, Nova Scotia
- Depart Comeauville via shuttle for Digby ferry to St John, St John airport flight to Toronto.
Comeauville, Nova Scotia

Microsoft Office document icon2017_ResearchExcursion_Application.doc (43 KB)PDF icon2017 PSL_398_Wittnich.pdf (2.03 MB)

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