Graduate Studies

Puerto Rico Center for Environmental Neuroscience (PRCEN) Graduate Research Fellowships

We are accepting applications for the 2015-2016 academic year for studies in environmental neurscience. Priority will be given to those studying: (1) coral calcification mechanisms; (2) human impacts on estuarine habitats; (3) effects of urbanization on Puerto Rican rivers and its aquatic fauna; and (4) the role of epigenetics in neuronal adaptation to environmental stressors and the consequences of environmental stress on synaptic growth, function and plasticity.

<< Application deadline has been extended to March 24,2015 >>

See below for application instructions.

For current PRCEN fellows, click HERE for the annual report form. The annual report is due March 24, 2015.

Click HERE for the graduate research fellow agreement form.

The Center has forged strong partnerships with leading institutions across the country that will greatly expand research and training opportunities for our students. Strategic partners include the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, the Research in Science and Engineering program at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, CA, University of Washington, California State University Northridge, University of Guam, and Texas Tech. MBL, for example, has committed to train one Center student per year in one of their famous summer courses (Neurobiology, Neurosystems & Behavior (NS&B), Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics & Survival (SPINES), Methods in Computational Neurobiology (MCN), Neuroinformatics, and Zebrafish Development and Genetics) and have identified 10 highly compatible laboratories at the MBL that have agreed to accept rotation students from the Center.  All of the partners have committed to faculty and student exchanges to foster future collaborations.


Project Descriptions:

(1) Coral calcification mechanisms

Corals create reefs by depositing calcium carbonate. Remarkably, little is known about the mechanism of the calcification process. One of the aims of this project is to better understand calcification on a molecular level. Our goals are to identify transporters that move calcium and bicarbonate to the site of calcification, and to understand how they are susceptible to environmental pressures. This will require a highly integrated approach, coupling neurophysiological techniques with ecology, environmental science and transcriptomics. Puerto Rico is one of the most densely populated islands in the world, providing a unique opportunity to study anthropogenic influences on the tropical biosphere on a small spatial scale. Our team includes collaborators from multiple disciplines and institutions across the nation. Interested students should contact the project leader, Dr. Joshua Rosenthal (


(2) Human impacts on estuarine habitats

Estuaries receive water inflow that is high in nutrients from both marine and freshwater sources, making them among the most productive natural habitats on earth.  As nearly 60% of mankind lives in the immediate vicinity of estuaries, they provide an important interface for assessing the impact of human activities on the biosphere.  In 1992, the San Juan Bay Estuary (SJBE) was designated an estuary of “national significance” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The SJBE was the first, and remains the only, tropical estuary system to be included in the EPA’s National Estuary Program (NEP).  The studies comprising this subproject focus on a major crustacean inhabitant of the SJBE, the blue crab Callinectes sapidus, as an experimental model for assessing effects of anthropogenic factors on nervous system function.  Our team includes collaborators from multiple UPR campuses and from several mainland universities and research institutions. Interested students should contact the project leader, Dr. Mark Miller (

(3) The effects of urbanization on Puerto Rican rivers and its aquatic fauna.

We will analyze three representative rivers in which we will identify and quantify extraneous chemicals. Four animal models, zebrafish, mosquitofish, and two types of prawn, will be exposed to pollutants found in the three rivers followed by monitoring of their fast-start escape response and associated behaviors and assessment of the integrity of the underlying neural networks. Individual types of experiments within these objectives include collecting water/sediment samples from each river and measuring the levels of various types of contaminants, assessing the escape response before and after exposure to one each contaminant in each fish and prawn species, assessing aggressive behavior before and after exposure to each contaminant in prawn, looking at changes in the neuromast cells of the zebrafish lateral line in response to the contaminants, doing the immunohistochemistry for a transmitter or receptor type or the neural tract tracing in response to exposure to the contaminants in the CNS of each species, etc. Interested students may contact the project leader Dr. Maria Sosa (

(4) Research in:  the role of epigenetics in neuronal adaptation to environmental stressors and the consequences of environmental stress on synaptic growth, function and plasticity.

You will join a multidisciplinary team with expertise in Drosophila genetics, synaptic growth and plasticity, RNA editing, and the terrestrial ecology of Puerto Rico.

Changes in the environment can generate considerable challenges in the nervous system. The long-term goal of this research is to characterize the physiological and molecular consequences of environmental change on the nervous system of wild Drosophila melanogaster. Over the past fifty years,Drosophila melanogaster has been the model of choice to uncover essential processes in developmental biology, cell biology, and neuroscience. We propose to study mechanisms of plasticity that have broad impacts on nervous system function, and by consequence have obvious potential for environmental adaptation.  Interested students should contact the project leader Dr. Bruno Marie( for more information.

Fellowship applications require a brief statement of interest, curriculum vitae, two letters of recommendation, and official academic transcripts. Please have application materials sent to the Education Coordinator by email at Official transcripts should be delivered to the Education Coordinator in the Department of Environmental Science office in CN C-225. Please indicate your subproject of interest or collaborative partner you wish to work with and your proposed plan of research. For information regarding the graduate program application process, please visit the department website: PRCEN Fellowship benefits include an annual stipend of $20,000 plus tuition, an additional $2,000 travel allowance and $2,000 in research supplies and materials. For additional information please contact the Education Coordinator by phone at 787-764-0000 ext. 1-2713 or by email at



Funding provided by NSF CREST (Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology)