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Landels Hill Big Creek Reserve
Zen and the art of marine biology.

Natural History, Marine Biology, and Research

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Monterey is home to the nation’s largest marine sanctuary and also home to Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. This course, based at Hopkins, explores the spectacular biology of the central coast and Monterey Bay and the cultural, artistic and political history of the region. Our location at the entry point to the Big Sur Coast of California provides a unique outdoor laboratory in which to study the biology of the bay and the adjacent coastal lands. It is also an area with a deep cultural, literary and artistic history. We will use John Steinbeck’s writings as a foundation, and meet local writers, artists, biologists and a crew of creative people who are very much involved in the forces and fluxes that steer our modern lives. This rich experience will give you a platform to reflect on your relationship to nature, culture, and your own individual goals. Our intention is to form a close and sharing group in an atmosphere of trust, adventure and exploration.

The course emphasizes interactions and discussions. We will be together all of the time (24/7), either at our base in Pacific Grove, or hiking and camping in Big Sur’s pristine Big Creek Reserve on the rocky coast and traveling to the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center in the Ventana wilderness for several days.  This is not an ordinary academic experience, instead it is an adventure of a personal, intellectual, spiritual and physical kind. We welcome people with wide interests; artists, poets, writers, engineers, scientists, musicians and magicians.  Mostly we invite people with a beginner’s  mind and a taste for adventure. 

Summer reading materials will be provided by way of introduction to the area. Everyone is expected to become a team expert in an area like plant identification, bird identification, poetry, photography, history, ethnography, etc. The course requires an individual research project of your choice on a topic related to the general theme. Final reports will be presented at the last meeting of the group and may involve any medium, including written, oral, performance, art, and music.

We will be on the road a lot, but will use our apartment house near Hopkins when we are in town. All of your needs will be elegantly addressed, including meals and transportation to our travel destinations. Stanford will arrange for your travel from the campus and back. I look forward to meeting you on the bay.

Important Logistics

This course will be held at the Hopkins Marine Station in the Monterey region (COVID permitting), and housing will be provided nearby. Students will arrive at Stanford on Monday, September 4 (Labor Day) the same as on-campus students, and will be transported to Monterey as a group after dinner on campus. Return transportation to campus from the Belden House in Pacific Grove will be provided on the Saturday before autumn classes begin, one day later than SoCo officially ends.  Do NOT bring everything you need for the year to Soco! Additional storage will NOT be available on-campus or at the Belden House to accommodate your fall belongings. Plan to have your fall belongings shipped or delivered to you after the class returns from Monterey. 

Meet the Instructor(s)

Stuart Thompson

Professor of Biology (Hopkins Marine Station)

Stuart Thompson

Stuart Thompson received his doctoral degree from the joint program for Zoology and Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington. He came to Stanford as a postdoctoral fellow and then joined the faculty of the Department of Biology. His current research concerns the flow of information at synapses between neurons, intracellular signal transduction and Ca2+ homeostasis in neurons, and the physiology of neural stem cells.