Scientific Communication (BS469)



Walton Jones
Office: E6-3, Room 5210


14:30-16:00, T/Th


E6-3, Room 2203

Course Description

This course, which is designed for senior-level undergraduates, will primarily follow a journal club format. Students will learn how to critically evaluate primary research papers and present their evaluations in a group setting. These skills will be valuable for students planning to enter a graduate program in the biological sciences.

Optional Textbook

The Craft of Scientific Presentations by Michael Alley (Springer Press)

Assignments and Grading

  1. Student presentations — 60% (15% + 20% + 25%)

    • Students will select three primary research articles from well-known journals (e.g. Science, Nature, Cell, etc.) for presentation to the class. Articles are subject to instructor approval.
    • Each student must submit their articles as a PDF via email at least one week before their in-class presentation.
    • Students will give three presentations each on these primary research articles.
    • Students will be evaluated on their level of preparation and on their presentation skills.
    • These presentations should include necessary background material to indicate the context and significance of the research.
    • A grading rubric will be distributed to assist in preparation.
  2. Writing assignments — 25%

    • For each presentation, non-presenters will practice writing short summaries of the paper being presented.
    • Some of these will be in the form of an abstract, some in the form of a “Research Highlights” piece.
  3. Participation — 15%

    • For each class, all students will be expected to have read the papers being presented that day before class.
    • Students should spend a minimum of 1 hour per paper and must come prepared for a discussion.
    • In-class peer evaluation forms will count toward the participation grade.
  4. Small group sessions

    • Students are required to meet outside of class in small groups (3-5 students per group) before each group members’ in-class presentation.
    • Small groups serve three primary purposes: amelioration of stage fright during the in-class presentations, improvement of presentation content, and as peer-editing groups for the final paper project.
    • Meeting times and locations for these sessions are at the students’ discretion, but they need to happen early enough for improvements to be made.
    • Please remember to give only constructive criticism.
  5. In-class participation points also will be awarded as follows:

    • -2 pts — Unexcused absence (If you have to be absent, let me know in advance.)
    • -1 pt — Late for class or other disrespectful behavior
    • +0 pts — Excused absence
    • +1 pt — On time for class, but no contribution to the discussion.
    • +2 pts — Contribution to the discussion (question, comment, etc.)
    • +3 pts — Significant or especially insightful contribution to the discussion
    • +4 pts — Outstanding participation (multiple insightful questions or comments)