The course was comprised of lectures, laboratory work, evening colloquia, and a series of three focused symposia. Perhaps the most important component of the course was based at sea: students led and participated in 10 day research cruises in the open ocean waters of the subtropical North Pacific Ocean. Prior to embarking on the cruise, students gained exposure to techniques used by oceanographers. The cruise then allowed students to apply these skills to address one or more aspects of the central theme of the course.
Lectures came from a variety of instructors, permanent and visiting faculty, and covered a broad range of topics. All of the lectures related to the role of microbes in shaping the ecology and biogeochemistry of the oceans. Some of the lectures described microbially-mediated physiological and metabolic processes, others emphasized the roles microbes play in global biogeochemical cycles, and still others addressed how the diversity of microbial genomes ultimately drives the fundamental underpinnings of Earth’s climate system.
Students were expected to read selected publications that are shaping the development of microbial oceanography. In addition, students gained understanding of marine ecosystem models and how developments in computer sciences are aiding bioinformatics approaches to understanding marine diversity. The research cruise provided students with an opportunity to conduct in situ measurements and analyses on microbially-mediated processes occurring in various ocean habitats.
The laboratory work was integrative; the intent was to explore and discover microbial processes and diversity in an effort to better understand how microbial activity shapes the ocean as a growth environment. Research themes were designed to educate students about current techniques in marine microbial oceanography; students conducted research in small teams with faculty oversight.
The course required complete student participation in all aspects of the program for the full duration of the course. Course work began early in the morning and often ran late into the evening. The intensity of the field, lab, and classroom work led to long-standing collaborations among the students and instructors alike.