THE STUDENT EXPERIENCE
This section aims to illustrate how the course unfolds throughout the semester and includes examples of the following: project and writing assignments, materials designed to help students get started with their research process, feedback documents on student writing assignments and presentations, and an actual student final paper.
INTRODUCTION: Launching into the Student Projects "Hit the ground, running..."
At the beginning of the course, students are presented with a list of projects and are asked to choose a subset of those that interest them from the list. In order to have a diverse set of projects per term, Dr. Lessard makes the final project assignments based on initial student interest.
Dr. Lessard: In the past, criteria students have used to make their initial project selections included random selection, a desire to try something new or desire to avoid, at all costs, a specific topic, or to work on something they are familiar with.
Students work in groups of two on a selected project to foster the spirit of collaboration in the group investigative effort while sharing laboratory work and responsibilities with others in the class. While choosing project assignments, a flowchart is provided as a general description of how the project may unfold as the semester progresses.
Dr. Lessard: Part of the richness and uniqueness of this course is that many students will find that their project will evolve quite differently than what was originally projected.
Alongside laboratory work, students are required to gain a command of their research area by reading journal articles found from literature searches using the vast array of scientific and medical library resources on the web. To provide a frame of reference for a selected topic, the teaching staff prepares a suggested list of terms for each student's initial literature search effort.
Dr. Lessard: Given that most students have no prior experience to overcome the activation energy of getting started on a new research project, we provide each group with suggested keywords to use in their literature searches, as a way to get their foot in the door.
Each group meets individually with the teaching staff in order to learn the relevant hands-on laboratory details involved as well as the overall mission and significance of their project. During this session, students also discuss and plan a strategy and have their specific questions about the project answered.
Student groups who are waiting for their individual session with the teaching staff are provided with a lab TO DO list that helps them get started with their laboratory work.
Dr. Lessard: The outcome of this meeting which takes about half an hour or so is that the students should feel comfortable in pursuing their research goals. The lab TO DO list is another jumpstart suggestions guide to help students get started with their projects. For example, this list would tell students which strains they need to culture and which reagents they need to prepare in anticipation of the first actual experiments. The purpose of the strains and reagents will be clear once they have had this meeting with the teaching staff. The bulk of the laboratory work for the rest of the semester is set by each student group's pace.
AS THE SEMESTER PROGRESSES: Laboratory and Communication "Setting the pace..."
Although a greater part of the student's time is spent in the laboratory, students also practice and develop their communications skills throughout the semester.
Early on in the term, a workshop is given on how to give Oral Presentations. Students are asked to present a review of articles extracted from their literature searches in a journal club forum with the class.
Towards the end of the term, each student group gives a progress report presentation describing the goals of their research, data, and current interpretations of the data to the class.
After each oral presentation, the teaching staff provides explicit and personalized feedback to each student as to how they can improve their speaking skills.
Dr. Melvold gives a tutorial on the components of the scientific paper, also early on in the term. The three interim writing assignments that are given thereafter and throughout the term, focus on the style and content of each specific section of a scientific research paper. They include the Introduction, Materials & Methods, Results, and Discussion sections.
After students hand in their writing assignments, Dr. Lessard and Dr. Melvold conduct a writing workshop using student samples to illustrate common themes and issues that students struggle with in their writing.
Dr. Lessard: We make extensive, individualized comments on each student's paper for their specific benefit. Then, in the writing workshop, we address some of the more common problems that many students encounter in their papers.
Instructions for Viewing the Writing Workshop Material: The writing workshop material is an interactive PowerPoint show document with a *.pps file extension.
The final paper is the culmination of the three writing assignments students have worked on over the course of the semester. Since their projects will have evolved quite a bit, major revisions of the initial written work are to be expected as students tailor their final paper. These are expected to be in a format suitable for publication in international scientific journals.
Dr. Lessard: It's not as simple as a cut and paste of the three writing assignments into the final paper. Often the focus or experiments change over the course of the research process. For example, some students throw out their initial introductions and write entirely new ones by the time the semester ends.