BIO 203-S Research Methods in the Biological Sciences Fall 2008

Course Syllabus



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Instructor: Dr. James B. Ferrari

112 Munroe Science Center                                                                     

Office Phone: 757-5227                                                                    

Home Phone: 757-0293

Office  hours:             Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 1 - 2 PM           

                                    Tuesday, Thursday, 10 - 11 AM           

                                    Or by appointment



Meeting Time, Place:            Periods 3-4 (MWF 10:00-11:50 AM), Munroe 109

 Textbooks:     A Handbook of Biological Investigation (7th ed.) by H.W. Ambrose, III, K.P.

                        Ambrose, D.J. Emlen, and K.L. Bright.  2007.  Hunter Textbooks, Winston-

Salem, NC.  ISBN: 0-88725-331-8


A Short Guide to Writing About Biology (6th ed.) by Jan A. Pechenik.  2007. Benjamin Cummings Publishers, NY.  ISBN: 0-32151-716-4


Additional Readings:  Supplementary readings will be handed out at least two days

before the appropriate class session.


Course  Description and Goals:  


Research Methods in the Natural Sciences is designed to provide the student with extensive, hands-on experience in applying the scientific method in a research environment.  This course is a prerequisite for most upper-level Biology courses, and fulfills the general education requirement for a speech intensive (S) course.  A major emphasis in this course is the development of clear, concise, and effective oral and written presentation skills.  During the course of the semester you will:


1)         1)         Develop and refine your ability to utilize the scientific method and the techniques of modern science.

2)         Develop written communication skills to present and discuss research results;

specifically, you will practice a variety of different formats, including poster

presentations, formal research reports, and scientific article reviews.

3)         Enhance and refine your verbal communication skills through oral presentations of

      research results and scientific article reviews.

4)         Make extensive use of library materials and world wide web resources for information


5)         Become familiar with data analysis and presentation methods.

6)         Become acquainted with the specific laboratory resources and opportunities available to

            you at Wesleyan College.


Course  Format:   The class meets for two hours, three times a week.  Initial class sessions are designed to increase awareness of and competence in the practice of science.  Six kinds of things will happen during these sessions:

 1.      Class discussions related to the practice of science and the scientific method. A mixture of lecture and discussion will be used to increase your awareness of how science is done. Topics will include preparation of background information, hypothesis formulation, experimental design, data analysis, scientific communication and professional standards and practices.  Your participation in discussions is essential, as science involves a great deal of communication; part of your grade will derive from your participation (see below).

 2.      Resource practicums are designed to assist in the development of skills or to familiarize you with important departmental or college resources. These may include visits to such places as the library and the College Arboretum, as well as a tour of laboratory facilities in the Munroe Science Center.  Some of these practicums will involve assignments or presentations which will be graded (see below).

 3.      Short laboratory practicums which will be conducted by Biology faculty. These will involve exercises or experiments designed to increase proficiency in the use of specific instrumentation and techniques which are unique to the faculty member’s discipline and may be followed by one or more simple experiments.  Each of these practicums will be of approximately one week duration, and you will be responsible for all material presented, so good note-taking will be extremely important. At the end of these practicums, there will be an exam which represents 10% of the total grade for the course.

 4.      Data collection and analysis exercises.  Common statistical methods will be discussed, data will be generated, and students will be responsible for appropriate analysis and graphical presentation of data. Three statistics worksheets will be completed by each student, representing 15% of the total grade.

 5.      Independent research project. Following the data collection and analysis section of the course, you will design and conduct original, independent research ("IRP").  For this experiment you may work in pairs, but each person must have a distinct and specific role in the experimental design and execution. This activity will represent approximately 35% of the course grade.

 6.      Literature reviews.  Critical reading of the literature is essential in science; therefore, throughout the course there will be "journal club" exercises, wherein select papers will be assigned for reading and discussion.  Students will write one-page summaries and deliver oral presentations about the papers.  In some instances the students may be asked to select the papers for discussion.  This activity will represent approximately 15% of the final grade.

 Lab Notebook:

Part of successfully conducting any laboratory research project is keeping clear, current records of what you have done.  For this course you will be required to keep a laboratory notebook, which you will turn in periodically during the semester.  Although your notebook will be graded each time you turn it in (see below), the main point of this is to give the instructor some objective way of monitoring your progress on each research project.

Grading:    The semester grade will be computed on the following basis:  

             Written Assignments:

                        Library/WWW exercise                                    5%

                        Statistics Worksheets (I, II, and III)                  15%

                        Lab Notebook                                                 5%

             Oral Presentations:                               

Betta Fish (group)                                             5%

Journal Club (article reviews & discussion)        15%

                        Fun With Bait (group poster)                             5%      

             Independent Research Project

Proposal                                                           5%

Oral presentation                                              15%

                        Research Paper                                                15%

             Lab Practical Exam                                                      10%

            Class Participation/Attendance                                       5%


            TOTAL                                                                       100%


Late Penalty:   It is important that you get in the habit of turning in assignments on time.  The only fair way for me to treat assignment deadlines is to take them seriously, and apply them equally to all students.  If an assignment is handed in late, I will therefore use the following penalty system: the assignment will be graded normally and then the equivalent of one letter grade will be taken off for each day (including weekends!) the assignment is late.

Attendance:   Each student is expected to attend classes regularly.  Although I will not be formally taking role, I will be keeping track of who is present.  Excessive unexcused absences (more than 4) from class will be reported to the Dean in accordance with college policy.  If missing a session is unavoidable, please try to contact me before the absence.  Keep in mind that missing a session will often mean letting down the group of students with whom you are currently working.  In addition, several sessions will be devoted to oral presentations.  If you miss one of these sessions, your grade for the oral presentation will be an F. 

Class Preparation and Participation:   It is important that you read through the assigned readings for each week at least once before the first (Monday) session for that week.  This will prepare you for that week’s discussions and practicum.  You should also go back and reread the appropriate sections of the text in much more detail as you work on each project and prepare for each oral presentation.  These are both excellent reference texts which should serve as practical guides to library research, experimental design, data analysis, scientific writing, and speaking. 

Citation of Information:   We will be discussing what constitutes scientific plagiarism early on in the course and adhering strictly to the college policy on plagiarism (e.g. overt copying of material from published books or articles, or from other students) for written assignments.  Incidents of overt plagiarism will be dealt with through the Wesleyan Honor Council.  (See below for further policies on plagiarism).  On the other hand, you may make some honest and innocent mistakes early on with scientific citation style, which I, as your instructor, will tactfully correct.  In general, when using the words, ideas, opinions, graphical materials, statistics, diagrams, etc. of someone else, the source of information needs to be properly cited.  In our class discussions on the proper methods for writing scientific papers and presenting oral reports, we will specifically address the use of other people’s ideas and data and the correct way to cite such information.  You will be responsible for the proper citation of materials in all written and oral reports. 

Oral Presentations:   This course is designated as a speech-intensive course and meets that general education requirement.  As such, there will be a strong emphasis throughout the course on clarity and precision of verbal expression.  Both the instructor and the class will evaluate the presentations to determine the grade points.  Grading criteria will be distributed well in advance of the presentations.

Laboratory Etiquette and Safety:   Basically, keep in mind that laboratories can have hazardous stuff in them and act accordingly.  We will be distributing a guide to laboratory safety which you are expected to read and follow and a statement that you are expected to read and sign.  In terms of lab etiquette, please turn off your cell phone before coming to class and do not use the lab computers for checking e-mail or for other personal use during class time.

Class  Schedule:   An outline of the discussion topics  and a schedule of topics, practicums, research projects, and assignment due dates is attached.  As you should have gathered by now, this is not a traditionally designed course.  An essential part of the design is the flexibility to alter the schedule as we go, to accommodate our needs as a class.  The schedule below will give you an idea of the content, depth, and flavor of the course.   

Final Note:     The complicated structure of this course can be rather intimidating when you are used to classes with a fixed, repetitive format.  Try to bear with it, and if you are at all uncertain about what you should be doing at any time or what is expected of you, be sure to ask.  As the instructor I will be making every effort to give you as much direction or flexibility as you need.  I think that you will find this an exciting and challenging course, during which you will learn a lot about the practical conduct of science.

Wesleyan College Department of Biology Policy on the Honor Code:  All students of Wesleyan College have agreed to abide by the Wesleyan College Honor Code and strict enforcement of the Honor Code will be practiced by all Biology faculty. Any violation of the Honor Code including plagiarism or cheating on exams, quizzes or any assignment will not be tolerated and will be reported to the Wesleyan College Honor Court. Cheating (giving or receiving any unauthorized information or supplying information from any source other than your memory) on any exam will result in a course semester grade of  F.  Plagiarism and/or improper citation on any assignment will be dealt with on a case by case basis, but also may result in an F grade for the assignment or the course. If a student is unclear about violation of the Honor Code for any assignment, she should contact the instructor before handing in the assignment.

Fall 2008 Class Schedule: BIO 203-S


Note:  This schedule may be subject to change as the course proceeds


Week       Date        Topic                                                                                      Readings*                               Assignment Due                                  


Scientific Inquiry

1              8/13         Introduction, Lab safety                                                           lab safety handout

                8/15         Scientific Method                                                                    A1


2              8/18         Observation & Scientific Questions: Betta Fish                        A5

                8/20         Betta fish group presentations; lab tours                                                                                   Group presentations


Scientific Communication

                8/22         Scientific Literature; Library tour and exercise                         A8-9, P2

3              8/25         Avoiding Plagiarism; Writing a Paper summary                       A10-12, P2

                8/27         Scientific Writing, Publishing, How to Cite Literature                              P4, P6

                8/29         Posters and Scientific Oral Presentations; Professional Societies              P7                                           Library/WWW exercise


4              9/1           Labor Day Holiday: no class

                9/3           Journal Club I                                                                           P9                                            Article Summary


Data Collection and Analysis

                9/5           Data and Variables; Intro to Tree Leaf exercise                        A2                                            


5              9/8           Tree Leaf Practicum                                              

                9/10         Descriptive Statistics; analysis of leaf data                               A3-5                                                                      

                9/12         Inferential Statistics;                 ANOVA                                 A6-7, P5                                                                 


6              9/15         Regression Analysis                                                                  A7                                           Stats I

                9/17         Chi-squared t-test; representing data graphically                       A7                                                                         

                9/19         Stats Review                                                                                              


Techniques in Modern Science

7              9/22         Basic Chemistry Practicum                                                                                    

                9/24         Basic Chemistry Practicum;                                                                                                     Stats II

                9/26         Intro to Fun with Bait                                                                                                                            


8              9/29         Journal Club II (Fun with Bait)                                                                                                 Article Summary     

                10/1         Molecular Bio Practicum                                                                                                         Stats III   

                10/3         Molecular Bio Practicum                                                                                                          Fun with Bait Proposal


9              10/6-7      Fall Break: no class             

                10/8         Ecology Practicum                                                                                                 

                10/10       Ecology Practicum                                                                                                                  


10            10/13       Journal Club III (Ecology)                                                                                                        Article Summary

                10/15       Ecology Practicum                  

                10/17       Intro to IRP                                                                                            


11            10/20       Animal Behavior Practicum                                                                   

                10/22       Fun With Bait Poster Presentations                                                                                         Group Presentations

                10/24       Animal Behavior Practicum; Journal Club IV (Behavior)                                                          Article Summary


12            10/27       Physiology Practicum                                                                                                                             IRP Proposal          

                10/29       Physiology Practicum                                                                                              

                10/31       Practical Exam and Catch-up Day                                                                            Practical Exam; Lab Notebooks


Independent Research Project (IRP)

 13           11/3                                                       

                11/5         “IRP”                                                                                                                                    IRP Bibliography



14            11/10      

                11/12         “IRP”                                                                                                                                    IRP Intro/Methods



15            11/17       IRP Data Analysis Workshop

                11/19       Science Careers and CVs

                11/21       Research Ethics                                                                                                                        IRP paper due (1st draft)


16            11/24       Science and Pseudoscience                                                                                                       

                11/26-28  Thanksgiving Holiday: no class               


17            12/1         IRP Presentations                                                                                                                    IRP Oral presentations

                12/3         IRP Presentations                                                                                                                    IRP Oral presentations

                12/5         IRP Presentations                                                                                                                    IRP Oral presentations


18            12/8 (Monday)         Final Draft of IRP research paper due at 12 noon (2 copies)                                           IRP research paper



                                                                                                                * READINGS:  A = Ambrose et al.; P =Pechenik





Home Page


Major and Minor


BIO 203-S

Home Page

Web Resources


BIO 203-S

Lab Manual