Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 1 session / week, 1.5 hours / session

The Goal

This seminar is intended to help MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program students develop a broader perspective on their thesis research by considering some aspects of science in the large. Topics to include - What are the goals and what are the limits of natural science? Is there a method of scientific research? What constitutes an explanation? and, What ethics are scientists expected to follow in dealings with their colleagues and the public? These questions do not allow a single, concise answer, in part because there are many varieties of science. Our aim will be to develop a thoughtful view towards these questions that we can use as part of our research process, and that will help us articulate research findings. This overview of science and research will require a little more than the first half of the semester.

The second half of the semester will emphasize a theme - science as a social process - and the important roles of written and oral communication. Most good research reports are organized as stories in three parts: a beginning, which poses a problem and sets the context for its solution; a middle, which describes the methods used to arrive at the solution; and the end, where we learn what the author thinks the solution may mean for his or her field. By far the greatest fraction of our graduate education is directed at the middle part of this process, problem solving, the prerequisite for making a research report. To contribute to science, research results must be conveyed into the public record in an effective way, i.e., we aren't done until we teach our colleagues what we have learned. The specific goal of this seminar is to help participants learn to communicate more effectively by developing the beginning and the end of their research story.

To summarize, this seminar

  • is not likely to change the ways in which you carry out your thesis research,
  • may change how you think about the goals and the interpretation of your research,
  • should help you learn to communicate research results more effectively.


No formal grades are given in this course.


This seminar is open to all Joint Program students. It is desirable (not mandatory) that participants have defined a thesis problem that they can develop as a model of research and science. Class size will be limited to about ten, and preference will be given to post-generals students.

Preparation for Class Meetings

The first ten meetings will be conducted as discussions of the questions that are listed in the course calendar. The reading assignments provide one plausible view to consider, and are an essential common basis for this discussion. These discussions will be stimulating and valuable only to the extent that we all come to class prepared to offer a critique of the reading assignment, to offer our own views, and to ask new questions. The aim is not necessarily to come to a closed solution, but to develop a working understanding of the issues as they relate to our research.