Rick Keil ~ Citizens' Scientist


Delivering a World-Class Experience

"We try to give the students a world-class experience in this course. It pays off when they're looking for a job - it shows they can do fundamental thinking in a core discipline while also thinking broadly about the ocean."

The University of Washington's Oceanography 443/444 course - also known as the Senior Capstone Course - has been around almost as long as the school's undergraduate department of oceanography. The department - the first undergraduate department of oceanography in the nation - was established 55 years ago.

Capstone course
The Capstone Course is the culmination of a student's undergraduate years. Taught by several professors, the course is two quarters long and requires intensive research work on project ideas developed by the students themselves and vetted by faculty. Students design, plan, carry out, analyze, and present original scientific research. These projects cover the diverse fields of biology, chemistry, physics and geology.

The class also conducts group field research. In Spring 2010, the class research headquarters moved to the Bamfield Marine Station on Vancouver Island. "The group research aspect is unique, because they form their own community," says Rick. "They peer review each other's documents, support each other and build the level of their science up."

Rick is only the fourth or fifth lead instructor for this course, stretching over 50 years. "Many of us get really attached to it," he says. "It's a great experience to see the students fulfill in their research what they've learned through books over the past four years." As lead instructor, Rick's largest role is to manage the course. "Managing is the challenge," says Rick. "The actual interactions with the students are amazing."

On average, 15 percent of the students publish their papers in peer reviewed journals. After graduation, the department offers a placement service that can help interested students find jobs. "That's changed over the years," says Rick. "Twenty-five years ago most students went to graduate school. Now many students go into consulting, working at a lab doing analyses. A wide variety of environmentally focused jobs are available to oceanography majors from UW."

Read the 2010 Capstone Course Student Cruise Blog. View all photos here.