Want to improve undergraduate thesis writing? Engage students and their faculty readers in scientific peer review.

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2011-01

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Abstract

One of the best opportunities that undergraduates have to learn to write like a scientist is to write a thesis after participating in faculty-mentored undergraduate research. But developing writing skills doesn't happen automatically, and there are significant challenges associated with offering writing courses and with individualized mentoring. We present a hybrid model in which students have the structural support of a course plus the personalized benefits of working one-on-one with faculty. To optimize these one-on-one interactions, the course uses BioTAP, the Biology Thesis Assessment Protocol, to structure engagement in scientific peer review. By assessing theses written by students who took this course and comparable students who did not, we found that our approach not only improved student writing but also helped faculty members across the department--not only those teaching the course--to work more effectively and efficiently with student writers. Students who enrolled in this course were more likely to earn highest honors than students who only worked one-on-one with faculty. Further, students in the course scored significantly better on all higher-order writing and critical-thinking skills assessed.

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10.1187/cbe.10-10-0127

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Reynolds, Julie A, and Robert J Thompson (2011). Want to improve undergraduate thesis writing? Engage students and their faculty readers in scientific peer review. CBE life sciences education, 10(2). pp. 209–215. 10.1187/cbe.10-10-0127 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20444.

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Reynolds

Julie Reynolds

Associate Professor of the Practice of the Department of Biology

Julie Reynolds has a Ph.D. in biology but, through a series of unexpected events, became an expert in writing pedagogies. She spent 5 years learning to teach writing as a postdoctoral fellow in Duke University’s first-year writing program before transitioning to the biology department where she has taught science writing and writing-intensive courses to thousands of undergraduates and graduate students. With over a decade of funding from the National Science Foundation, her disciplinary-based education research has focused on how writing assignments can promote deep, conceptual learning, especially in large science courses. Dr. Reynolds is also a writing coach and has helped hundreds of scientists across the country to increase their productivity while reducing stress associated with writing.

Thompson

Robert J. Thompson

Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience

My research and teaching interests include how biological and psychosocial processes act together in human development and learning. One area of focus has been on the adaptation of children and their families to developmental problems and chronic illnesses, including sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis. Another area of focus is enhancing undergraduate education through scholarship on teaching and learning and fostering the development of empathy and identity.


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