The Urban Ecology Field Lab trains the next generation of environmental leaders in social and ecological methods so that they can engage with local communities for the betterment of both people and nature.

College-age students work together to document samples, one on the left side stands and others sit around a picnic table in an outdoor setting.

This program is held at the Field Museum in Chicago and is led by anthropologists, ecologists, biologists, and conservation scientists from the Museum and surrounding Chicago-based universities who are at the cutting-edge of their fields.

The Urban Ecology Field Lab is open to undergraduates or beginning graduate students. It may also interest those who are taking a gap year. Your field of study is less important as a background to the course than your passion for science and human communities. You'll work with teams of students from different backgrounds and institutions who share this passion. You'll complement, educate, and inspire one another, as you address problems of common concern about nature and culture in the big city.

Together, you will learn about the biological and cultural diversity that occurs in the Chicago region, explore anthropological and ecological approaches to the challenges presented by urban conservation, and develop skills that will enable you to conduct your own research projects. 

Course Structure

The course will meet from 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday, for the first 5 weeks. During weeks 6, 7, and 8 you will be independently conducting your research, although we will have a weekly check-in and lunch.

Methods Training and Research         

You will learn anthropological methods such as ethnography, asset-mapping, and participatory action research, as well as ecological methods including soil and water testing and plant and wildlife monitoring. You will be partnered with community organizations and land management agencies to collaboratively design and carry out a research project that helps support on-the-ground-efforts of local institutions, and that have a real-world impact. 

Active Learning and Immersive Field Experiences

Throughout the program, you will visit local urban natural areas and green spaces, including community gardens, oak savannas, wetlands, and prairies. Additionally, you will participate in two overnight immersive experiences—one at the Indiana Dunes State Park and one at a Chicago Park District site—where you will learn about the conservation challenges facing these areas and participate in dynamic activities that will strengthen your relationships with your team.

Tuition and Credit

To earn credit for this course, you will need to work with your academic advisor at your home institution to arrange an independent study over the summer, but Urban Ecology Field Lab coordinators will be available to aid in the process. The course will cover approximately 180 total hours of academic work (roughly equivalent to three credit hours at a number of institutions.) Whether working for credit at a home institution or not, all students will be evaluated based on participation (20%), a short research paper (40%), and an oral presentation (40%).

Tuition for the Urban Ecology Field Lab is $1,500 per student. Tuition covers the immersive field experiences, transportation to local natural areas, lunch once a week, coffee and tea twice a week, and equipment associated with methods training. Tuition does not cover lodging or additional food while you are in Chicago. Additionally, you will be responsible for your own transportation to your study site when conducting your research project.

Application Process

Students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds are eligible. 

Important Dates

To be determined.


We anticipate that tuition scholarships may become available. These scholarships will not cover the cost of credits through the home institution or for lodging and food while in Chicago. Please indicate interest in a scholarship in your email to Dr. Pickren requesting more information..


For additional information, contact Dr. Pickren at