WHAT ARE UFIs? Inspired by Dewitt Wallace, founder of Reader's Digest and the primary benefactor of Macalester College, I have created a number of one to two page "digests of information" on a variety of topics. These Useful Flyers of Information were created for the benefit of Macalester students.
Return to Main Menu
LIST OF UFIs
SENIOR PRESENTATIONS AND HONORS PROJECTS
WHAT ARE THEY?
HOW ARE THEY SIMILAR? HOW ARE THEY DIFFERENT?
All biology majors must complete a Senior Presentation. However, this requirement can be met by completing an Honors Project. What is the difference between the two?
SIMILARITIES. Both the Honors Project and Senior Presentation require students to write a formal scientific research or review paper, a process that takes several months and involves multiple drafts. During this process, students receive feedback on their drafts from their faculty sponsor, and sometimes from others as well, including other faculty members and students. In addition, students deliver an oral presentation on their topic in both instances. Both the Honors Project and Senior Presentation serve as a capstone experience for Biology majors, and all seniors, whether doing an Honors Project or Senior Presentation, must somplete two semesters of Bio 89 Senior Seminar. Both enable students to explore in depth a particular biological topic of interest to them, and both give students the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge and various skills they have acquired as a biology major. Both represent final biology projects and can be referred to as such in applications to graduate schools and employers. And, students can graduate with Latin Honors by completing either an Honors Project or Senior Presentation. So, what is the difference?
DIFFERENCES. The Honors Project is normally based on independent biological research by the student, although in certain cases it can involve research of a different type on a biological topic, e.g., historical or philosophical research. On the other hand, a Senior Presentation can be based on almost any biological topic in which a student is interested. This could include a topic the student encountered in a course, on an off campus study program, on an internship or in some other context. Like an Honors Project, the Senior Presentation also can be based on actual research that a student has conducted. The department holds high expectations for Senior Presentations, and satisfactory completion of a Senior Presentation requires a minimum of several months of hard work on the part of students. The department expects students undertaking an Honors Project to make a major commitment of time and energy, one that normally extends as long as a year or more, including time spent developing and conducting the research, analyzing results, reviewing the literature, and writing the actual thesis.
EXPECTATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR HONORS PROJECTS. Students undertaking an honors project are required to have a GPA of at least 3.4 in their biology courses (and 3.3 overall), and normally are expected to have completed a significant portion of their bench or field research by the start of their Senior year. This research can be conducted during the junior year, e.g., in a faculty member's lab or on a study away program, and/or during the summer following the junior year. During their senior year, honors students are expected to commit the equivalent of at least one course per semester to working on the thesis. Typically, this commitment involves registering for an independent during one semester and enrolling in only three courses during the other semester. In addition, all honors students are required to register for a two credit January independent during their senior year and are normally expected to be on campus during this time working on their honors project. At the end of January, honors students are required to submit a first draft of their literature review to the department for approval. Only those students whose literature reviews are approved by the department will be permitted to proceed with their Honors Project.
The purpose of the literature review is for the student to demonstrate their understanding of how their particular topic relates to the larger questions and issues facing the biological sub-discipline in which they are specializing. The difference between the review in an Honors Project and a Senior Presentation is that the former is expected to be substantially more comprehensive and detailed. A student doing an Honors project is expected to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the major findings and theories of the field that provide the context for their own study. Thus, an Honors Thesis normally cites a much larger body of literature and provides more detailed analysis of the literature than does a Senior Presentation. As a result, literature reviews in Honors Theses typically range from 20-40 pages in length compared to 8-10 pages in typical Senior Presentations. In cases when the Honors Project or Senior Presentation is based on independent research, the analysis and discussion of the results in an Honors Project are likewise expected to be more thorough and detailed than in a Senior Presentation. While there are no page requirements for either the Senior Presentation or Honors Theses, the latter normally range from 40-60 pages in length (excluding figures, tables and bibliography), while Senior Presentations typically range in length from 18-25 pages.
ORAL PRESENTATIONS. Honors Projects and Senior Presentations also differ in their requirements for the oral presentation. Students doing a Senior Presentation are required to present a 15 to 20 minute oral presentation on their topic during the Biology Department Spring Symposium. Students who have based their Senior Presentation on independent research are also encouraged to present their findings at the Undergraduate Winchell Symposium, part of the spring meeting of the Minnesota Academy of Science. Honors students are required to present a 30-60 minute department seminar on their research. In addition, Honors students are expected to present their findings at the Winchell Symposium and/or some other professional meeting, and also to make a presentation at the Biology Department Spring Symposium.
EVALUATION. The last difference between Honors Projects and Senior Presentations involves the final decision on whether the student has met the respective requirements. When a student does a Senior Presentation, the student's faculty sponsor decides alone whether the Senior Presentation paper satisfactorily meets the department requirement. However, Honors Projects are read by a committee of faculty members, usually three and often including faculty or other experts from outside Macalester. This committee then meets with the student for about an hour during which time they ask the student various questions about the paper and about the student's research experience. Following the hour discussion with the student, the committee decides as a group whether the paper merits an Honors designation.
SUMMARY. In conclusion, an Honors Project is all that a Senior Presentation is, and much more. Students should consider undertaking an Honors Project only if they have a very strong interest in pursuing a research experience in considerable depth and are willing to organize their senior year around the demands of the Honors Project. Since a major portion of the research for Honors Projects is normally completed by the start of the senior year, students interested in undertaking an Honors Project should discuss their ideas with a faculty member during their sophomore or junior year. Additional written information about Honors Projects, including the application process, is available from the department. Students with additional questions about either the Honors Project or the Senior Presentation should see any biology faculty member.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO WRITE A SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH PAPER
Scientific research is not a solitary endeavor. Rather, science is a communal effort. Scientists use findings and ideas of other scientists as the basis for their own studies, and in turn report their findings back to the scientific community. Thus, communication of findings is part of the scientific process. In fact, only by writing papers, presenting seminars, or reporting findings in some other way, does one become a full participant in the scientific research community. In other words, a good scientist is also a good communicator.
A scientific research paper normally follows a standard format (described below). A common problem in many scientific papers is that the author does not put material into the right sections. Thus, pay close attention to the functions of the different sections described below.
TITLE. The title of your paper should be a clear and concise description of the paper's content. When trying to think of a title, do not try to be clever, witty or impress the reader with technical jargon. Remember, your goal is to communicate information. A simple, direct title is best.
ABSTRACT. The abstract summarizes the essentials of the paper. It briefly describes the project's purpose, methodology, and key results. Abstracts are often limited to a few hundred words, so you need to be concise. Often, the abstract is written after a paper is completed. (For more information on writing a good abstract, see the Abstract Flier.)
INTRODUCTION. Good scientific papers explain how the specific study being described is related to other research and ideas on the same topic. Good papers not only report on the specific details of a particular project but also help illuminate larger issues of interest to readers of the discipline. The introduction is where the author helps the reader see the larger context for the specific study. This is accomplished by briefly reviewing some of the relevant literature and explaining how the current project is related to the existing body of work. This is also the time to describe the goals and objectives of the study, e.g., to test certain hypotheses or answer a set of questions.
METHODOLOGY. The methodology section, sometimes called "Materials and Methods", is where the author describes how the study was conducted. The description should be complete enough so that the reader can evaluate the appropriateness of the methods to answer the questions or test the hypotheses presented in the Introduction. If you employed some methods that others have used, you should cite the publications in which the methods are described. In some cases, you might want to include a subsection (or a separate section) in which you describe your study site. If you performed some statistical analyses on your data, you should describe in the Methodology section what sorts of analyses you performed.
RESULTS. In the Results section, you should report, but not discuss, your results. In other words, "Just the facts, please". In most papers, a verbal report of the results is supplemented with some tables and/or figures (graphs, diagrams, photographs, etc.). Remember, it is not the reader's job to figure out what the different tables and figures are trying to illustrate. The author needs to summarize the key findings verbally first and then refer the reader to relevant tables and figures for more a more detailed or graphic representation of the results. Figures and tables should be numbered so that you can refer the reader to them, e.g., ‘The results showed a strong correlation between rainfall and primary productivity (Fig. 1)'. All tables should have a title, and you should provide a legend for each figure. The legend should include the title of the figure and any other information that will help the reader understand the what is being illustrated.
DISCUSSION. The discussion is where the author describes what the results mean. Were the original hypotheses supported, or questions answered? How do you explain some unexpected results? Do the findings support or contradict findings from similar studies? These are some of the sorts of questions you might address in the discussion. Most of the discussion should confine itself to the specific results of your study. However, it is usually appropriate to comment briefly on the larger significance and ramifications of your findings.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. Most scientific articles include a brief section in which the authors thank various people who have contributed in some way to the article. These contributions could be in helping to form the original hypotheses, collecting data, helping to analyze the data, or reviewing an earlier draft.
LITERATURE CITED (SOMETIMES CALLED BIBLIOGRAPHY). You need to provide full citations for all works mentioned in the body of the paper, and you should only cite works mentioned in the paper.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS. Contrary to what most students have been taught, there is no hard and fast rule about the use of active vs passive voice in scientific articles. Likewise, there is no standard format for citing other sources or for citation style in the Literature Cited section. This means you need to consult with the editor or professor ahead of time to find out the specific instructions for the paper you are writing.
Above all strive to be direct and clear. Ultimately, you are trying to persuade the readers about the significance of your findings. Only in very rare circumstances do results speak for themselves. In most cases they need an ardent and articulate advocate--you!
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO READ A SCIENTIFIC PAPER
Since you know how to read, you probably think you know how to read an article in the primary scientific literature. You start at the beginning and read until you finish the article. Right? Wrong. Reading scientific articles effectively requires a very different approach.
First, read the name of the author, or authors, along with their institutional affiliation. Then, note the name of the journal and the date of publication. Ok, you can glance at the title first, but pay more attention to the author's name and the date of publication. Scientists seldom remember actual journal titles, and virtually never refer to articles by the titles. In conversation with other scientists, they might say, "did you see the article by Janzen that came out in Science last summer?" Paying attention to the institutional affiliation can, over time, help you recognize which are the leading institutions in certain types of research. This can be helpful to you as a student since it can help you identify good graduate schools.
Next, read the Abstract, if one is included in the paper. The abstract is a summary of all the key aspects of the paper, including objectives, methods, results, and implications of the study. The abstract will give you a conceptual framework with which to read the article in more detail, if you are still interested after reading the abstract. Think of it as a kind of road map that you want to consult before beginning your journey through the article. If the article does not have an abstract, skip immediately to the end of the paper. Articles without abstracts usually end with a summary paragraph or paragraphs that provide a similar overview of the paper. After reading the abstract (or summary), you might decide the paper's topic doesn't interest you. In this case, you are done reading the article, unless, of course, it is an assignment for a class. Then you have to read it anyway.
Next, read the Introduction. The introduction is where the author sets the paper's topic in a larger scientific context. Basically, the author tries to persuade you that the topic and the paper are worthy of your interest and continued reading. This is usually also where the author spells out the goals of the research being reported. Introductions are very important sections to read.
Next, skip the Methods and Results section and go directly to the Discussion. Well, you might want to take a minute and look at some of the graphs and tables that the author included to illustrate some of the key findings. But skip the text of the methods and results for now. A good discussion will begin with a recap of the research's major findings and then go on to discuss the implications of the research. A good discussion will pick up on some of the ideas presented in the Introduction and show how the results of the study bear on these ideas. Since you have just finished reading the Introduction, this should all be familiar material.
Next, if you want know more details about the findings and about the specific methodology used, go back and read the Methods and Results sections. These sections are written primarily for other scientists who specialize in similar research and these sections are often quite detailed and technical. Focus on the parts of the Methods and Results that interest you. If you are interested in the details, you will probably find that you will end up rereading the Methods and Results sections several times. Once you have obtained the information you want from these sections, you might want to reread sections of the Discussion again to see if you would have drawn the same conclusions and interpretations as the author.
Next, read the Acknowledgments. This can be very illuminating actually since this is where the author tells you who provided assistance with the paper. Once you begin to get to know an area of research, you become aware of the different camps and allegiances that develop among scientists. It is interesting to see who the author consulted with in writing the paper, and this information sometimes can you give you some insight as to why the paper was written in the way that it was. This is also where the author will list the sources of financial support for the research. This is interesting in that this information begins to give you an understanding of the scientific infrastructure of this and other countries, i.e., what groups or agencies are funding what types of research.
Next, skim through the Bibliography or Literature Cited Section. This also can be surprisingly interesting since you will see who the author decided to cite, and if you are familiar with the field, who the author did not cite. Omissions are sometimes as illuminating as inclusions. The other value in perusing this section is that you might discover sources that you had not known about, but probably should have. Jot them down and check them out.
Other minutia that can be interesting: Look to see if the author's current address is different than his/her address when the research was conducted, and if it has changed if the person is affiliated with a college or university. A change often indicates the author was a graduate student when the research was conducted, and the current address can tell you if the person was able to get an academic job after obtaining their degree. Yes, scientific articles can have a bit of human interest in them. Look to see when the paper was first received for review, when the revision was returned, and when it was accepted for publication. This will give you an idea of how long it actually takes to get something published. This can be depressing.
Good Luck. Reading scientific articles effectively requires some experience. You will get better with practice. If you are reading a particularly good article, pause for a moment and try to determine what the author has done to write an effective article. Once you figure out what you like about the article, remember it the next time you write one.
Note: Many of the ideas included in this UFI came from Michael Palmer, who in turn borrowed from James Thompson.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO GIVE AN ORAL PRESENTATION
There are few abilities that will benefit you more than good communication skills. Being able to give an effective oral presentation will be a tremendous asset for you no matter what you do following graduation from Macalester.
To some extent oral communication skills reflect an individual's personality. While it is helpful to pay attention to how others present themselves orally, it is usually not a good idea to try to copy someone else's style. What works for someone else, may not work for you. Nevertheless, although there is no single surefire method to give an effective oral presentation, there are a few guiding principles that one should follow.
Know Your Audience. Know your audience! Know your audience! Know your audience! Did you get that? Without a doubt, the most important thing to keep in mind when preparing an oral presentation is who will be listening to it. Will it be a group of peers, a class of high school students, your church congregation, experts in the field? For you to be effective, you need to target your talk to your audience. How much will they already know about your subject? What aspects of your subject will they be most interested in? If you talk over the audience's head, you will lose them. If you tell them what they already know, you will lose them. If you focus your talk on things in which they are not interested, you will lose them. There are lots of ways to lose your audience. If you do not consider your audience when you are preparing your presentation, you will almost certainly find one of those ways.
Generate Momentum. Nothing will lose an audience quicker than a talk that does not seem to be going anywhere. A listener needs to feel some momentum when listening to a presentation. A presentation should have a clear start, a middle, and an ending, and the listener should always feel that progress is being made along this path. It is not always necessary to describe your path explicitly to the listener (e.g., ‘first I will explain this, then I will compare this, and finally...'). However, you need to provide the listener with periodic road signs. Examples of road signs are comments such as: ‘To answer these questions, we conducted the following experiment', ‘We have several interpretations of our findings', ‘In conclusion'. Such comments indicate to the listener that the talk is about to move another step along the path. Moreover, they actually tell the listener what the next section of the talk is going to be about.
Be Animated. As speaker, it is your job to create a sense of energy in the room. If you are not interested or excited in what you are talking about, at least pretend that you are. You can be sure that few in the audience will pay you much attention if you seem bored by your own presentation. Without a doubt, an animated speaker will have an easier time capturing and holding the audience's attention. Vary your inflection, the loudness of your voice, the length of your pauses. A relentless monotone is a sure to promote daydreaming among your audience.
Also, some dos: speak clearly, keep an eye on the clock, practice your talk ahead of time, be responsive to the audience (if you sense they are starting to lose interest, move along quickly to the next section), and some don'ts: don't read your talk (although referring to notes is fine), don't talk too fast, don't speak too softly or tentatively. And finally, try to have fun. Yes, believe it or not, engaging an audience with some new information, a new perspective, perhaps with a few jokes interspersed, can be a very enjoyable experience. Good luck!!
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO LEAD A DISCUSSION
Know the Purpose of the Discussion. Leading a discussion, and doing it well, is not as easy as it looks. It requires quite a bit of planning and an understanding of group dynamics. The first thing a discussion leader needs to know is the purpose of the discussion. Although discussions in different classes may differ in their specific objectives, most classroom discussions strive to enhance students' understanding of the subject matter. Thus, class discussions are a learning tool used by the instructor to complement other learning tools such as lectures, labs, field trips, papers, and presentations. If you are a leader of a class discussion, you need to know, or decide on, what the class should learn as a result of participating in the discussion. Class members may learn many other things during the course of the discussion as well, but having learning goals is what distinguishes an academic class discussion from a ‘bull session' back in the dorm.
Preparation. If you will be leading a discussion along with one or more students, you should get together with the other students ahead of time so that you can agree on the learning goals of the discussion. Examples of learning goals include: increasing understanding of specific principles, processes, or ideas; evaluating or reevaluating certain arguments or perspectives; and increasing self-awareness. At this meeting, you should develop a list of questions or statements you can use to promote discussion. By getting together with the other discussion leaders you will also be able to decide how you will share responsibility during the discussion. For example, you might decide that each of you will assume primary responsibility for a specific portion of the discussion.
Initiating Discussion. The primary mistake made by novice discussion leaders is that they talk too much. Remember, your job is not to make an oral presentation but to promote discussion by others. Generally, you will initiate discussion by asking a question, or making a statement and asking for a response. If you are lucky, someone in the class will respond promptly to your questions. But sometimes your question will be met with a long and uncomfortable silence. In fact, this is usually what happens at the outset of the discussion when members do not yet feel at ease. What you do in response to this silence is crucial. Above all, do not answer your own question or begin a presentation of the material. This simply informs the class that they need not respond since you will do that for them. Wait ‘em out! They are uncomfortable too and eventually someone will say something to start the discussion.
Managing the Discussion. Once the discussion is going, you are faced with the delicate but extremely important task of providing periodic direction to the discussion while still giving it considerable autonomy. Discussions rapidly take on a life of their own and it is important that you give the discussion freedom to grow and evolve in its own way. Students will rapidly lose interest in participating if it becomes clear that only certain types of responses are acceptable. At the same time, you need to keep an eye on your learning objectives and prevent the discussion from veering too far away from the subject at hand. Remember, this is an academic class discussion and not an extracurricular bull session. If the discussion has strayed too far afield, or if you need to move on due to time constraints, simply interrupt the discussion and announce that you want to bring the focus back to the original topic, or that you need to take up the next issue.
Ending the Discussion. At the end of the discussion, take a minute or two to make a few summary comments regarding the discussion. This is also an excellent time to reemphasize certain points associated with the discussion's learning goals.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO WRITE AN ABSTRACT
Scientists often need to write abstracts of their papers or presentations. The purpose of the abstract is to provide the reader with an overview of the essential aspects of the paper or presentation. Readers often decide whether to listen to a talk or to read an article on the basis of the abstract. Thus, being able to write a good abstract is an important skill to have. Writing an abstract is often a challenge because one is often limited to just a few hundred words. These constraints can be helpful though, since they force the writer to identify the fundamental aspects of the research or presentation. Basically, an abstract provides a very brief overview of the four major parts of a scientific paper--introduction, methods, results, and discussion. (Abstracts of other types of presentations, e.g., review papers, will have a somewhat different organization.) The following guidelines are intended for abstracts with 150-250 word restrictions. This is a typical length restriction for most papers presented at scientific meetings.
The first one or two sentences of an abstract should provide a context for the specific study being presented. A good approach is to briefly describe the larger scientific issues or questions that are motivating scientists to conduct research of this type? Following a one or two sentence introduction, one should clearly and explicitly state the purpose of the study. This can be done in a variety of ways, e.g., "The purpose of this study was...", "This study attempted to answer the following two questions/to test the following two hypotheses", "This study had two objectives....". Following the statement of purpose, the general methodological approach should be described (one or two sentences). For field studies, the study site should be stated as well. Major results should be summarized in one or two sentences. The abstract should conclude with a final sentence or two in which the significance or ramifications of the findings are briefly stated. These final sentences should connect the findings with one or more of the larger ideas stated in the opening two sentences.
A good abstract is not hard to write once you know the key elements to include. In many cases, it will be possible to lift entire sentences out of your paper to include in your abstract. Conversely, after writing a good abstract, in which you have distilled your ideas into a few clear and compelling sentences, you might want to lift a few sentences out of your abstract and include them in your paper!
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO EVALUATE FIRST DRAFTS OF PAPERS
The purpose of first drafts is to get ideas on paper and to try out a plan of organization for those ideas. Thus, much of the efforts of a first draft is experimental. For example, when writing first drafts yourself, you should error on including, rather than excluding, information and ideas. That is, the first draft is the time to see if an idea or approach works or not. If you leave it out, neither you nor another reader will be able to evaluate that idea.
As a reviewer, you should concentrate on the larger and more general issues of the paper. Is there a natural progression of sections and ideas in the paper, or would an alternative organization work better? Is the topic so broad that ideas are treated only superficially? Do some sections or aspects of the paper work much better than other sections? Has the topic been adequately researched? Is the writing style clear and readable? What aspect of the paper is strongest? Weakest? These are examples of the types of questions you should address when providing feedback on a first draft. You should not focus on spelling, grammar, and sentence construction. These nuts and bolt issues are important in the final draft but not in the first draft. If the first draft is filled with a large number of typos and spelling and grammatical errors, a simple comment to this effect is all that is needed.
You should provide feedback to the author using global comments in the form of a memo, as opposed to detailed comments throughout the text. That is, on the back of the paper, the cover page if there is room, on a separate sheet of paper, you should address a memo to the author. In this memo, you should select only a few aspects of the paper to address. Concentrate on emphasizing what is working well and what most needs to be changed to improve the paper. In most cases, the rewrite will be better if the author is focusing on a couple of key aspects of the paper, rather than trying to respond to a long and detailed list of inadequacies. Like all memos, your comments should be in the form of a letter, starting with the author's name and ending with your name. You may include a limited amount of comments in the text of the paper itself, but do not mark up the paper excessively. Again, emphasis on the small details of the paper at this point may actually undermine the attention that needs to be given to the larger scale issues of organization and presentation.
When giving your own first draft to a reviewer, consider providing the reviewer with some guidance. For example, if you tried to take a particular approach, ask the reviewer to specifically address that point. If you are having difficulty with a particular section, ask the reviewer for his or her assessment of what is needed in that section. If used effectively, a good reviewer can play a vital role in the development of a paper.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO SELECT THE
STUDY AWAY PROGRAM
(In the area of Ecology and Environmental Studies)
Study Away--It Can Change Your Life. For many students, their study away experience is one of the highlights of their undergraduate education. For some students, it is the beginning of a series of experiences leading to an eventual career. For example, as a result of their positive experience, some students enroll in the Peace Corps following graduation from Macalester and then enter graduate school in ecology of environmental studies when they return from the Peace Corps. In any case, your study away experience will likely change you in important ways. It is worth the time and effort to select the program that will be best for you. (Note: students majoring in Biology should note that they have the opportunity to major in Biology with an International Studies Emphasis.)
Study Away at Macalester. The purpose of study away programs at Macalester is to give students an opportunity pursue their primary academic interests in another region of the world. Study away is not intended to be an introduction to a discipline. Instead, it is expected that students will build on knowledge and perspective they have already gained through their course work at Macalester. In almost all instances, students need to demonstrate in their application how the study away program they have selected will enhance their studies in their major. Since the study away program will be an integral part of your curriculum, it is important that you discuss your plans with your academic adviser. Students can find more information about specific programs from the International Center.
Selecting the Best Program for Yourself. Ecological and environmental issues always have a geographical component to them. For example, the ecology of Minnesota forests is different than the ecology of the forests of Costa Rica. And the environmental problems of St. Paul are not the same as the environmental problems of rural Kenya. The only way to study an ecological or environmental issue directly (as opposed to reading about it) is to travel to the site of interest. This is why students interested in ecology and/or environmental studies often choose to study off campus for a semester. Fortunately, there are a large number of study away programs in the area of ecology and environmental studies. While this gives students considerable choice, it may also make the decision more difficult. You can make this process easier for yourself by answering the following questions. The more questions you can answer, the fewer the number of programs you will need to review and the greater the chance that you will select the best program for yourself.
Is there a particular region or country of the world that interests you? For example, do you want to study in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Australia, the Caribbean, the United States? Narrowing your search of programs to a particular country or region of the world will make your selection process much smaller.
Are you more interested in studying in an urban or rural setting? Some programs are based in cities, often with a focus on urban ecology or environmental issues while others are based in rural areas such as national parks and focus more on the ecology of natural systems and the impact of humans on these systems. Most programs located in cities are based in universities while those in rural areas tend to be based at a field site (see next question). Do you want to study in a university or a field site? Some study away programs in the areas of ecology and environmental studies are based in universities. In these programs, students enroll in courses much like they would at Macalester. Through field trips, students on these programs usually have the opportunity to visit different sites or even to conduct some field research, althought the extent of this opportunity varies substantially from program to program. Students studying at a university often find it easy to interact with students of that country, especially when they are taking courses together. Study away programs based at field sites usually consist only of the American students enrolling in the program and the instructors. Depending on the program, students studying at field sites sometimes travel to a number of sites throughout the country. Computer and scientific equipment are usually less available on these programs than programs based in a university. Students on field site programs normally spend extensive times in the field and almost always conduct a significant independent project of some kind.
Do you want to focus on field biology or are you more interested in a multi-disciplinary program? Programs with a clearly defined ecological focus are usually better equipped to give students a more in depth scientific experience. These programs primarily attract biology majors and usually tend to be more scientifically rigorous. Programs committed to a multi-disciplinary approach often address both ecological and cultural issues and are better able to give students a more wholistic overview of the regions. These programs tend to attract a more diverse group of students with a more heterogenous academic background. While this diversity brings with it some benefits, it usually means that the level of instruction is more elementary than in the strictly biologically focused programs.
Do you want to study terrestrial or aquatic systems? Although most programs focus on terrestrial systems (temperate or tropical forests, savannas and grasslands, urban areas), some study away programs focus on aquatic systems, particularly marine environments, e.g., in the South Pacific, the Caribbean, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. Students can study freshwater ecology and issues at the ACM Wilderness Field Station in Ely, Minnesota.
Would you like to conduct an independent research project? An independent field research project is part of virtually all field based study away programs and in some university based programs. These independent projects are usually several weeks to a month long and are usually done individually or with a partner. Most students completing an independent research project on a study away program use that project as the basis for their Biology Senior Presentation or Honors Project. In some cases, internships, rather than independents, are available to students on university based programs.
How important to you is a language and cultural component of the program? While most programs have some sort of a language and/or cultural component, programs differ substantially in the emphasis of these aspects. Programs differ in the amount of language ability required to participate in the program. In some programs, all courses are taught in English while in others, some or even all the courses are taught in the language of the host country. Some programs have a several week to a month homestay for students. Living with a family, as opposed to other American students, will give a student a deeper understanding of the local culture as well as significantly improve a student's language skills.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
HOW TO SELECT AN ACADEMIC ADVISER
Although students may consult with many faculty members on academic matters, each student at Macalester has only one formal academic adviser. The academic adviser is the faculty member who must approve a student's various academic plans, such as course registrations and study away proposals. Students are assigned an academic adviser when they enter Macalester. In most cases, a student's first adviser will be the instructor of the student's first year seminar. In other instances, the adviser will have been assigned on the basis of the student's declared academic interests at the time of admission. In any case, this assignment should not be interpreted as an unbreachable contract. It is expected that many students will change advisers at some point during college. Although changing advisers is an easy thing to do, it is normally not a good idea to switch advisers frequently. Your relationship with your adviser is just that, ‘a relationship', and like all relationships, it takes time to develop fully. The most effective (and enjoyable) student/adviser relationships usually develop over several years. When considering a change in advisers, students often have a number of questions.
Do I need to change advisers? Of course, you do not have to change advisers. If you were assigned an adviser whom you like and who is in your major department or program (see below), stay with that faculty member.
What should I consider when selecting a new adviser? Although not required, it is highly recommended that a student select as an adviser a faculty member in his/her major field. If a student has more than one major, the student will need to choose a faculty member in just one of the majors to be the formal academic adviser. However, students pursuing more than one major are encouraged to develop an informal advising relationship with a faculty member in the other major. Besides considering the department or program affiliation of faculty members, you should also try to select an adviser who shares your particular interests in the broader discipline in which you have decided to major. In addition, you you need to select a faculty member with whom you feel comfortable discussing your academic interests, experiences, and aspirations.
When should I change advisers? Since students at Macalester do not have to declare a major until the end of their second year, does this mean that students cannot switch advisers until then? Not at all. If you are quite sure of your major choice, you might consider switching to an adviser in that department or program as early as the second semester of the first year. This will give you and your adviser more time to develop the best academic plan for yourself, inclucing coursework during your sophomore year.
How do I change advisers? Changing advisers is extremely simple. Get a change-of-advisers form from Academic Programs, have your new adviser sign it, and return the form to Academic Programs. That is all there is to it. (And, no you will not hurt the feelings of your old adviser.)
In summary, selecting the right adviser for yourself is one of the most important decisions you will make at Macalester. A good adviser can enhance your college experience immensely and even help you define and develop your life after Macalester. For many students, the relationship with their adviser does not end when they graduate but continues for many years.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
INSTRUCTIONS FOR MEMO WRITING
What are class memos? Memos are letters you will write to one or more students in the class. You will write a memo approximately every other week. The topic of the memo is up to you. There are only two requirements for the memos. They need to address a topic that is related to the course, and they need to be thoughtfully written. For example, you might write a memo describing your response to one of the assigned outside readings; or you could write about an article you read (or a TV show you saw) that was related to some of the topics we have been discussing in class; or you could explain how another course is influencing the way you interpret ideas in this course, or how this course is influencing your experience in another course; or you might write about a recent summer experience, internship, or study away experience that is related to this class. Once you have received some memos, you might want your next memo to be a response to one of the memos you received. The possibilities for topics are endless.
Why are we writing class memos? The best reason to go to a good school like Macalester is not because of the great faculty, the excellent library, or the dominant athletic teams. The best reason to go to a good school is because that is where the other good students go. At schools like Macalester, students represent an enormous educational resource, one that is usually not fully exploited by students themselves. The purpose of the class memos is to encourage academic discussions and interactions between students. All too often classes can become a collection of multiple dialogues between individual students and the professor. Each student writes papers and takes exams which the professor reads, grades and returns to the student. While dialogues between students and the professor are an important and essential part of a liberal arts education they should not be the only educational discourse taking place. The purpose of the memos, like the discussion days, are to make sure that there are conversations between students taking place regularly throughout the semester.
Nuts and bolts. There is no length requirement for memos, however a memo of a brief paragraph is probably not thoughtful enough. A typical memo is about a page long, although it is not uncommon for a student to write two or more pages on a topic about which the student is passionate. Although students usually write their memos on the computer, they can be hand written as long as the memo is legible. You should date your memo and address your memo to a specific person or persons in class, e.g., Dear Bill, Ann and Javier, or TO: Bill, Ann, and Javier. And you should sign your memo. When memos are due, you need to bring a copy to everyone to whom you have addressed your memo and in addition you need to bring an extra copy to be turned in to Professor Davis.
Grading. If memos were graded, students would often be writing them partly for the Professor's benefit, a result that would defeat the purpose of memos. (However, keep in mind that Professor Davis will read your memos.) Memos are a required part of the course and are in fact an easy way to increase your point total. For each thoughtful memo turned in, you will receive five points (up to the required number of memos for the class, usually six or seven.). For each memo not turned in, five points will be deducted from your class point total.
Remember, if you want to receive memos, you need to write memos.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
INSTRUCTIONS FOR REQUESTS OF LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
The most important thing that I do as a faculty member is to support students in their academic, personal, and professional development. Often this assistance is in the form of letters of recommendation for jobs, off campus-study programs, and graduate and professional schools. The more information I have available to me, the better will be my letter of support for you. Thus, I ask that you provide me with the following materials so that I can write you the best letter possible. --Mark Davis
Material and Information Needed (Please provide these materials in a single packet)
--a copy of your cover letter, application, or statement of intent for the job or program. This does not need to be your final draft, but this is important because it tells me why you are interested in the job or program.
--an updated copy of your resume. If you do not have a resume, this is an ideal time to create one. The Career Development Center offers excellent assistance in developing a resume and I recommend that you make an appointment with the Center if you do not yet have a resume.
--a list of courses that you have taken that are relevant to the desired job/program. Provide this information unless it is already included in your cover letter or application.
--your GPA, if it is not included on your resume. If it is good, I may mention it; if it is not so good, I will probably will not mention it.
--any other information that would be useful to me, e.g., other relevant experiences or abilities, explanations of extenuating circumstances that might explain a low GPA during one year, etc.
--a stamped and addressed envelope for each job/program to which you are applying.
--a note stating when each recommendation is due.
A final note: if asked on the recommendation form, you should check the box withdrawing your right to see the recommendation. A confidentially written recommendation usually will carry more weight. If you have some doubts regarding the nature of the letter I might write, you should speak to me ahead of time.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu
INFORMATION AND REQUIREMENTS REGARDING BIOLOGY INTERNSHIPS
For many students, an internship is one of their most valuable academic experiences at Macalester. However, good internships do not just happen by themselves. They require planning on the part of the student and sponsoring faculty member. They also require a high level of commitment, independence, and sense of responsibility by the student.
The intern's relationship with their site is a mutualistic one. The student brings relevant knowledge and abilities that will benefit the site hosting the internship. In return, the student gains professional and technical experience, is provided mentoring, acquires new knowledge, develops skills, and begins to establish a network of professional contacts. Thus, an internship is normally undertaken after the student has acquired some skills and knowledge at the college level. In addition, since internships often can help students make the transition from college to post-college life, an ideal time to do an internship is during the junior or senior year.
Selecting the Internship. Selecting the right internship for you is the first important step. Given Macalester's location in the Twin Cities, an almost unlimited range of internships is possible. One useful way to identify appropriate internships is to pick a possible career path, or path of future study, and look for an internship in that area. This will give you an opportunity to see what work in this field is really like and to work with people who are professionals in the field now. Internship opportunities are listed at the Internship office and in the Biology Office. But you are not limited to these listings. Faculty members are sometimes aware of other opportunities and you are free to identify others as well.
Requirements. You must select as your faculty sponsor one of the faculty members in Biology Department. Internships can be taken for 1 to 4 credits. Students are expected to put in a minimum of 140 hours for a 4 credit internship. This translates into 10 hours per week for an internship during a semester. Summer internships can be spread out over a 4-12 week period providing the minimum hour requirement is met. Spring internships can often be started during January which reduces the number of hours per week that must be spent on the internship during the spring. It is expected that the majority of hours will be spent on site. If the student spends little time on site, the experience becomes more of an Independent than an Internship. You should keep a log of your hours.
Since you will be earning academic credit for this internship, you will need to produce some final materials, in addition to fulfilling the hour requirement. This is just like any other course, in which you receive credit not simply for attending class, but for writing papers, taking exams, etc. The nature of the final product will vary with the internship and will be defined by you and your faculty sponsor, usually about half way through the internship.
Setting up the Internship. It often takes a few weeks to set up an internship. It is highly advisable that you set up your internship during the latter period of preceding term. Thus, think ahead! Start researching possible internships several months in advance. This will give you time to select an internship that will benefit you the most and enable you to have the paperwork completed when the term begins. If you do not start the internship at the beginning of the term, you will need to put in more time per week to reach the minimum hour requirement, and this often interferes with other academic and extracurricular responsibilities.
Learning Contract. The learning contract is an important way for all parties to be clear at the outset what is being expected of you. It also provides some assurance for you that you will not simply be used as a gopher or office clerk. We generally recommend that students include three different categories of goals. One or more goals should be content oriented, e.g., I want to learn more about the ecology of the Mississippi River Basin, the biology of AIDs, etc. One or more goals should be skill oriented, e.g., I want to improve my writing/interviewing/computer/teaching/laboratory/bird identification skills. And one or more could be a personal goal, e.g., I want to find out if this is an area I might want to pursue as a career. Once the goals are listed, the strategies are usually fairly obvious. Evaluation usually ranges from feedback from the site supervisor, to evaluation of the final materials by the faculty sponsor, to self-reflection for the personal goals. The final grade is a combination of the site supervisor's evaluation and your faculty sponsor's evaluation of your final product. Before meeting with your faculty member to go over your learning contract, do a rough draft of the contract on a separate sheet of paper. Together, you and your faculty sponsor can review the draft and then after you have agreed to a final version, you can transfer it to the official learning contract form.
Contact with the Faculty Sponsor. Students should check with their faculty sponsor about every two weeks, assuming everything is going well, to provide a brief update on how things are going. However, if something is not going well, you should contact your faculty sponsor immediately. About the middle of the term, you and your faculty sponsor will meet to finalize the nature of your final product. While your faculty sponsor is available to help you, it is important for you to know that you are mostly on your own. Faculty are not looking over your shoulder or calling your site supervisor regularly to check up on you. This is a very important opportunity for you to take a professional attitude toward yourself. You are responsible for making sure that you meet the hour requirements and meet any other expectations set for you by your site supervisor and faculty sponsor.
What should you do now? If you have not already done so, you should pick up the packet of information, including the Learning Contract, from the Internship Office. Then, you should contact a faculty member about being a sponsor for your internship.
Return to List of UFIs Return to Main Menu