GEM Class of 2018 at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies (photo: Shannon McFadden).

Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) Summer Course

Applications for the 2021 course are now closed.

You are mainly microbe – much like Earth’s biodiversity. Microbes are everywhere (in our guts, in the deep seafloor, and everywhere in between) and we are still learning about who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

The Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) course is an introductory, aquatic microbiology course for early career undergraduates who are contemplating a career in scientific research. Taught by Drs. John Heidelberg and Eric Webb of the University of Southern California, the 2021 course will be three weeks in length.

The Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) is a Science and Technology Center funded by the National Science Foundation started in 2010 with the mission to explore life (microbes!) beneath the seafloor and make transformative discoveries that advance science, benefit society, and inspire people of all ages and origins.

Summer 2021: We are happy to be able to offer the Global Environmental Microbiology course in summer 2021. Our plan is to host this course in-person at the University of Southern California (University Park Campus) and on Santa Catalina Island from Sunday, June 13 through Friday, July 2. However, if we cannot host the course in-person, we will offer a highly modified version of the course online from Monday, June 14 through Friday, July 2. We hope to know in mid-spring 2021 if it will be possible to hold the program in-person. On the application form, you will have the opportunity to let us know if you would like to be considered for the online course if we need to switch to that plan.

Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) – in-person

The course combines classroom learning with hands-on activities. Students attend lectures and discussions about aquatic microbiology, learn to use laboratory equipment and how to collect samples from the environment, practice their presentation skills, collaborate with fellow classmates, and talk to graduate students and professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to explore career options.

Students will spend the first few days of the course at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles, California and the remaining time at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island. Although activities are scheduled every day of the three-week program, the course schedule includes opportunities to hike, swim, snorkel, kayak, play volleyball, etc.

Course expenses, travel, room, and board are paid for by C-DEBI, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Summer OnLine Interactive/Discussion Global Environmental Microbiology (SOLID-GEM) – online, partly synchronous

This online course will include some parts of the GEM program, but we would not be able to work on lab bench or fieldwork skills. This version of the course includes lectures and discussions about aquatic microbiology, oceanography, and molecular biology as well as computer-based labs to help develop skills working with data. We will host a variety of researchers to talk about their own lab and fieldwork. Students will be able to practice creating and giving individual and group science presentations in a supportive setting. Another important part of the course is helping you meet and talk to graduate students and professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to explore career options.

There will be about 3 hours of live, synchronous sessions through Zoom each weekday with some work to do on your own each day and over the weekends. There will be no cost to participants.

For both versions of the course

C-DEBI seeks to recruit participants that reflect the diversity of students at the community college and university level with varied science-learning and life experiences. We encourage students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields as well as first generation college students to apply. We are committed to improving access and support for members of underrepresented and marginalized groups to be able to succeed in STEM fields.

Ideal candidates are:

  • Interested in a science (or STEM field) career
  • Scientifically curious and willing to explore scientific research
  • Open to new experiences
  • Dedicated learners
  • Able to commit to attending the entire three-week course (including weekends)
  • U.S. citizens or permanent residents
  • Enrolled in college, early career undergraduates (ideally first or second year students)
  • Have completed at least one semester/quarter-long science course at a 2 or 4-year college/university (biology, chemistry, physics, geology, etc.)
  • Must be at least 18 years of age before the first day of the course

Application Instructions:

  1. Read and complete the online application form.
  2. Submit an unofficial transcript to Gwen Noda (
  3. Provide one letter of recommendation, preferably from a professor or instructor. Please ask that your letter be emailed directly to Gwen Noda at Please see online application for more information and recommendations for the contents of the letter.

Applications were due Thursday, February 25, 2021 by 5:00pm Pacific Standard Time.

Meet our GEM participants:
2017 GEM Course All-Stars
2018 GEM Course All-Stars
2019 GEM Course All-Stars