In the biochemistry lab course I’m teaching, I’m trying to incorporate more scientific communication skills. The basic structure of this lab involves cloning a gene for recombinant protein expression, purifying the protein using affinity chromatography and analyzing the hell out of its kinetics with different substrates and inhibitors. This overall context gives the students insights into the larger scope of a research project instead of discrete, unconnected experiments for each class. It’s challenging enough to make sure the students understand the theory behind all of the techniques and learn some good lab practices along the way. This semester I’m including an extra challenge in terms of scientific writing. Their results will not be confined to their lab notebooks, but will be turned into a manuscript in the style of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
As part of their lab notebook grade, the students must answer questions related to the experiment of the day. Many of these have been designed to get them to work on their manuscript in a piecemeal fashion throughout the semester (i.e. make this figure, write these methods, etc), so they get feedback from the TAs and myself on all sections before they are assembled into the final manuscript format. It may sound quite organized on paper, but I’ve definitely underestimated the amount of guidance novice authors need to produce quality work. So, I’m trying to come up with a better way of teaching all the things that I’ve learned informally about manuscript-writing over the last decade. I’ll be posting my various tutorials on this blog as a way to further crowdsource useful pro-tips and topics I may not have thought to address. I know many people may have strong opinions on this, so feel free to comment or offer other useful links in the comments section.
Here are the topics/posts/tutorials I’ve got in mind so far…
General Science Writing and Manuscript Preparation
Literature Searching and Reading
Citations and Reference Management
Figures and Figure Legends
Writing Materials and Methods
Writing the Results Section
Writing the Conclusions/Discussion Section
Writing the Introduction
Writing the Abstract
Peer Review and Revisions
My students are mostly seniors on the verge of graduating and moving on to medical and graduate schools or other employment in a health/science field. While they may not all go on to regularly prepare scientific manuscripts, at least they will have a greater appreciation of what it takes. As an exercise, they will get some experience with the process, but I’m not following all of the real life rules. If I did, then the first of my groups to submit would get an A, maybe the second group would get a C and the rest would just fail. And those graded groups would only earn their A or C after an exhausting revision process. For those students choosing to pursue a research career, they’ll learn those harder lessons eventually. As an educational bonus, I’m hoping that working on a manuscript from the side of an author will also allow them to be critical consumers of scientific literature. We should all expect high quality communication of research.
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