Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA)

GRA Overview

 The Guam EPSCoR program at the University of Guam is funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program for the Stimulation of Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The program aims to develop a research program that helps ensure the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems in the face of environmental change. Guam EPSCoR aims to situate Guam as a premier research and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education hub bolstering sustainability, economic development, and informed decision-making by engaging communities in 21st-century science. 

In addition to its research goals, Guam EPSCoR seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who choose STEM careers by engaging students in its Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) program. 

The GRA program is a three-year long program open to select graduate students with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Environmental Science, or related field applying/enrolled in UOG master’s program seeking research opportunities with Guam EPSCoR faculty. Student research training and tasks may include field work to investigate coral reefs, utilize oceanographic instruments in studies of coastal systems, conduct research in genetics and genomics, or document and investigate patterns of regional biodiversity. Ideal candidates are self-motivated, well organized, and have research interests related to the objectives of the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans. 

Selected students will benefit from a tuition waiver of up to 12 credits per semester for the pursuit of a master’s degree, research training, faculty mentorship, possible travel opportunities, and an $18,000 annual stipend ($1,500 per month).

Selected applicants will choose to specialize from the following disciplines: Ecology, Genomics, and/or Oceanography. Depending on chosen specialization, students may learn about DNA extraction and sequencing and/or how to read and analyze data to characterize marine environments. The program may involve hands-on fieldwork to investigate coral reefs or to deploy and retrieve oceanographic instruments while working at the UOG Marine Laboratory. Graduate students will also receive support for their individual thesis defenses. 

The University of Guam and Research Corporation of the University of Guam are Equal Opportunity Employers that have received NSF funding to broaden the participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields. As such, the GRA Program remains open to all qualified students, but women, minorities, and students with disabilities are particularly encouraged to apply. 

GRA Program Eligibility and Requirements

  • Must be a U.S. citizen and/or permanent resident of Guam; or non-immigrant alien admitted into Guam under the Compacts of Free Association 
  • Cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 in undergraduate studies or 3.25 in master’s program 
  • Enrolled, accepted, or pending acceptance into the UOG master’s program
  • Bachelors of Science in Biology, Environmental Science, or related field
  • Research experience and training 
  • Faculty/Researcher mentoring 
  • Annual stipend of up to $18,000
  • Tuition waiver of up to twelve (12) credits per semester for the pursuit of a master’s degree. (Not to exceed thirty-six (36) credits over a period of three (3) years.)
  • Thesis defense support
  • Potential travel opportunities
  • Guam Green Growth Circular Economy Makerspace and Innovation Hub Membership
  • Dr. Bastian Bentlage
  • Dr. Robert Lasley
  • Dr. Diego Vaz

Application Process

Graduate students that meet the eligibility requirements and have an interest in EPSCoR Research should apply following the steps listed below:

  1. Educate yourself about the University of Guam and Guam EPSCoR. Please ensure you meet the eligibility requirements.
  2. Begin communicating with faculty mentors regarding assistantships. Contact information for faculty mentors are linked in the mentor section above. Contacting mentors prior to applying is highly encouraged to ensure the alignment of research goals.
  3. If you intend to apply, begin the application process into the University of Guam Graduate Program in Biology or Environmental Science. (Applications to the University of Guam and Guam EPSCoR GRA Program are separate applications)
      • Ensure you meet the pre-requisites for the Biology Program here or Environmental Science Program (
      • Communicate with the graduate degree program
      • Begin the application process to UOG here
  4. Apply to be an EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant!
      • Complete the online form linked below
      • Submit documentation to
          1. Unofficial transcripts (graduate transfers or graduate students at UOG should submit both undergraduate and graduate transcripts) 
          2. Personal statement
      • Two (2) letter of references sent directly from academic or professional references to
          • The UOG Graduate Program requests for three (3) letters of reference. You may have two (2) of these letters used for EPSCoR, as well. Please request reference person to address one (1) to UOG and one (1) to EPSCoR.
          • Letter of reference must be submitted by the application deadline for consideration.
      • All email submissions should have a clear subject line:
        • “NSF EPSCoR GECCO Application Documents – Last Name, First Name”  
        • “Guam EPSCoR GRA Application Letter of Reference for  Last Name, First Name”
  5. Once you have completed the application and document submission process, you may be asked to schedule an interview with a faculty mentor.  In the meantime, feel free to follow up on the status of your application or continue communicating with mentors.

*EPSCoR does not provide financial support for any costs associated with moving to Guam*

Key Dates

Application Opens: October 24, 2022

Applications Close: February 24, 2023

Selection Notification: April 1, 2023

Program Start Date: August 16, 2023

*Upon notification of acceptance, applicants will have 1 week to confirm acceptance.

For more information, contact:

Guam EPSCoR Student Programs at  or

For specific questions regarding programming or research experience, please contact:

Emily Wendte, EPSCoR GECCO Education and Workforce Development Program Associate



Tropical coral reefs are under many threats due to a rapidly changing climate that affects reef health. The reliance of humans on reef ecosystems that are at risk of collapse requires understanding the mechanisms of reef resilience. Guam EPSCoR addresses fundamental questions of how the response of coral-reef organisms to disturbance is regulated, how resilience is affected by local and regional demography, and how reef communities change over time. Tracking and understanding responses of reef-building organisms to disturbances allows predicting both the taxonomic composition and ecosystem services that reefs may provide in coming decades, and to develop mitigation solutions to address the loss of ecological functions and stability. 

Premier Location and Impact

The University of Guam (UOG) is strategically located in a U.S. jurisdiction in the tropical western Pacific. Guam harbors corals and coral-associated taxa, the diversity of which far exceeds those of the heavily studied Caribbean and Hawaiian Islands. These reefs are under threat from climate change, specifically ocean warming, that promotes coral bleaching, and land-based threats, including sedimentation and other stressors. Knowledge generated by understanding and tracking responses of reef-building organisms to climatic disturbances and other anthropogenic stressors enables predictions of both taxonomic composition and ecosystem services for reefs and associated systems. Changes to these systems will affect patterns of local and regional biodiversity, which impacts natural ecosystems and the services they provide to the people and economy of Guam. 

EPSCoR Faculty Mentors and Research

Interested applicants should indicate a preference for advisors and research areas. An integral part of the application process is contacting possible mentors to ensure that research goals allign. 

headshot terry donaldson

Terry Donaldson, Ph.D.


Professor of Ichthyology. EPSCoR Project Director.

Portrait Lemer SARAH LEMER e1633655877548

Sarah Lemer, Ph.D.

Invertabrate Genomics

Assistant Professor of Marine Invertebrate Genomics

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David Combosch, Ph.D.

Coral genomics

Associate Professor of Population Genetics

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Tom Schills, Ph.D.

Red Algae Ecology

Professor of Marine Biology / Phycology

Atsushi Fujimura, Ph.D.

Coastal Oceanography

Associate Professor of Oceanography

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Heloise Rouze, Ph.D.

Science Phenomes

Senior Research Associate | Marine Microbiologist

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Ciemon Caballes, Ph.D.

Science Phenomes

Senior Research Associate | Marine Ecophysiology

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Robert Lasley, Ph.D.

Crustacean Biology

headshot bastian bentlage

Bastian Bentlage, Ph.D.

Molecular Ecology

Co-Principal Investigator - Research. Associate Professor of Bioinformatics.

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Diego Vaz, Ph.D.

Vertebrate Morphology

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Laurie Raymundo, Ph.D.

Coral Ecology

Director Marine Laboratory / Professor of Marine Biology / Science Co-Lead Phenomes - Reef Ecology



Advisor: Terry Donaldson, Ph.D.

Students assigned to the Biorepository function essentially as curatorial assistants. In this role they will participate in the collection and curation of specimens, following iDigBio protocols, tissue preservation, whole organism preservation, photographic documentation, 2-D and 3-D scanning for digitization of images of whole organisms or structures, data base utilization and maintenance, analysis of data, assistance with manuscript preparation and maintenance of collections.

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Advisor: Sarah Lemer, Ph.D.

Species and population resilience to changing environments depend on genetic diversity and connectivity. Connectivity between islands and archipelagos can facilitate population maintenance and re-population following severe disturbances. In this objective, we will apply seascape genomics approaches to reef-associated invertebrates with different life histories, pelagic larval durations, and habitat preferences across Micronesia.

We will correlate population genomic data (RAD-Seq and Genome re-sequencing) with experimental manipulations (RNA-Seq) and ocean current patterns to derive models of migration and better understand the impacts of climate change on invertebrate distribution in Micronesia. 

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Advisor:  David Combosch, Ph.D.

The Island Evolution Lab (IEL) is interested in basic and applied evolutionary questions in island settings. We are using genetic and genomic approaches (RAD-Seq, RNA-Seq and Genome re-sequencing) in combination with field work, observations, collections, and experimental manipulations to address original questions in population genetics, phylogenetics, phylogeography and molecular ecology to inform conservation, management and restoration. Within the EPSCoR GECCO framework, we are responsible for all things Coral Population Genomics, with a particular focus on local adaptations and regional connectivity. 

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Advisor: Tom Schils, Ph.D. 

Seaweeds are some of the most abundant and ecologically important organisms on tropical reefs. Crustose calcifying red algae (CCRA) are a group of seaweeds that deposit limestone just like stony corals. Certain CCRA are indicators for healthy reef systems as they are important ecosystem engineers and provide essential recruitment substrates for various invertebrate organisms. Other CCRA are protagonists of ecosystem transitions related to reef degradation. We use an integrated approach to study the diversity, ecology, and population genetic structure of CCRA communities in Guam and Micronesia.

Fujimura GOPR0972


Advisor: Atsushi Fujimura, Ph.D.

Marine organisms and their environment interact in many ways. The research is twofold: describing environmental variables and investigating physiological response to the environment. Research methods include but not limited to: in-situ physical/chemical oceanographic observation, remote sensing, numerical modeling, benthic survey, in-situ and laboratory biological experiment, and measurement of biological parameters. 


Advisor: Heloise Rouze, Ph.D.

Microbiome communities of the emerging coral model systems will be characterized along environmental gradients to infer microbiome diversity and function. Reciprocal transplant experiments will be used to test how flexible the microbiomes are in adapting to local conditions and their role in coral health. Combining detailed environmental characterizations of micro-habitats with genomic characterizations of coral microbiome communities will allow insights into the role of microbiomes in coral resilience.


Advisor: Ciemon Caballes, Ph.D.

Functional physiological traits of corals will be investigated in controlled lab and field experiments to understand their role in coral health and resilience. For example, the modulating effects of water flow on coral gene expression, symbiont photophysiology, and harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and build-up in coral tissues will be studied to quantify the effect of habitat on the coral response to stress. Our aim is to identify the environmental drivers that modulate differences in coral host and symbiont resilience to elevated rising sea surface temperatures.

Bentlage FieldPhoto


Advisor: Bastian Bentlage, Ph.D. 

Corals represent complex organisms comprised of a host, photosynthetic symbiont’s, and a complex community of bacterial and fungal micro-organisms that all interact with each other in determining the response of corals to environmental change. Understanding these interactions involves characterizing the diversity of this symbiotic community and understanding their physiological responses to environmental stimuli. Students will rely on field and wet-lab experiments to investigate how the coral host-symbiont community is affected by environmental change. Metabarcoding and genomics as well as gene expression studies will be used to generate datasets that will be analyzed using data intensive bio-informatics approaches. 

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Advisor: Laurie Raymundo, Ph.D.

Globally, corals are experiencing environmental change and anthropogenic impacts faster than ever before in their evolutionary history. My work centers on developing coral restoration techniques for Guam’s coral reefs that optimize success. This involves understanding both environmental and genetic factors impacting both ocean nursery culture and out-planting survival and reestablishment. These factors include water quality, depth and flow, temperature, disease, recruitment, interactions with other organisms, and population-level genetic diversity. 

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Advisor: Bastian Bentlage, Ph.D.

My research focuses on diverse native aquatic taxa that show one of three diadromous life history patterns (catadromy, anadromy or amphidromy) which demand that they spend part of their life stages in both fresh and marine waters with abilities to disperse long distances at sea. They are represented by teleost fishes, decapod shrimp and nerite snails that spend part of their life in the streams of southern Guam and other regional high islands. We will be collecting from various watersheds on Guam and elsewhere to elicit population structure and biogeographical patterns using various genetic techniques with a range of specificities depending on species. 


Advisor: Robert Lasley, Ph.D.

Despite hundreds of years of exploration, most of the world’s marine invertebrate fauna remains unknown. For many groups of organisms, even the most fundamental knowledge—i.e., “what is it?”—has not been studied. Documenting this baseline data is imperative, especially given the current biodiversity crisis. We focus on discovering, documenting, and disseminating data on Guam’s diverse crustacean fauna. We do field collections, curation, and biodiversity research. Students will conduct field surveys (SCUBA, intertidal, snorkel, etc.) to build a list of crustaceans in Guam and/or conduct taxonomic, phylogenetic, or biogeographic research on their favorite marine species.


Advisor: Diego Vaz, Ph.D.

Fishes are the most diverse group of vertebrate animals, accounting for more than 35 thousand species, more than half of all vertebrate diversity. Fishes are present in almost every aquatic environment and display a wide variety of adaptations that enabled them to explore almost every niche available. Recognizing which morphological features allow adaptation of a species to a particular location is an essential task to infer how these organisms can react to a constantly changing environment, particularly caused by climate change. The understanding of morphological variation also enables inferences on evolutionary relationships among different groups of fish, the identification of current fish diversity, and the recognition of new species to science. Students will learn and use multiple techniques, from manual dissections to high technological computed tomography (CT-scan), to investigate these multiple morphological aspects of coral-reef fishes. Students will also have the opportunity to learn and use genetic tools to complement their investigations.

Near Peer Mentorship

EPSCoR GRA’s will receive mentorship from post-graduate research associates and post-doctoral researchers in addition to their respective faculty mentors. GRA’s will also have the opportunity to mentor undergraduate research students from the SRE Program. 

STEM Conferences

Graduate Assistants are expected to participate in STEM Conferences! Students will have the opportunity to network with like-minded people! EPSCoR also encourages students to be involved in sustainability initiatives! EPSCoR Faculty Mentors may also have specialized conferences related to your research. 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number OIA-1946352.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


University of Guam
Unibetsedȧt Guahan
UOG Station
Mangilao, Guam 96923
Tel: (671) 735-0301

© 2021 Guam EPSCoR. All rights reserved.

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