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Course : Discussions in Biology

Course Number
BIOL 5002
Section Number
Fall 2023
Bolin Hall, 215
Days & Times
Final Exam Day/Time
Wednesday, December 13, 2023 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Course Description: The course will consist of review and discussion of current scientific literature and research in the biological sciences. Each student describes and critiques at least two original research publications. Discussions will focus on the analysis of raw data, methodology, appropriateness of experimental approaches and hypotheses being tested. May be repeated once with the consent of the Graduate Coordinator.


Course Objectives:

           1. Provide a forum for discussion and evaluation of peer-reviewed research journal publications on current topics in biology.

           2. Provide students with an opportunity to express themselves orally by preparing and presenting seminar presentations such as would be expected at professional meetings and conventions. This should help the student prepare to communicate with an audience of peers both formally and informally.

           3. Provide open roundtable discussion opportunity after reading and evaluating recently published peer-reviewed journal articles.

           4. Examine and evaluate all the components that comprise peer-reviewed journal articles.

Course Outline:

A. Introduction/Orientation/Course Expectations

B. Discussion of layout, examination, and evaluation of sections of a peer-reviewed journal article.

C. Weekly discussion of papers will be distributed to students to read and evaluate throughout most of the semester. This will be done in a “journal club” fashion. All students will be given a copy of each paper to read in advance. A discussion leader will be chosen for each paper and student discussion leaders will be graded by the instructor as part of their grade for the course.

D. Student oral presentations of chosen peer-reviewed journal articles to present will occur during the last half of the course in order to give students time to get their presentations constructed. These presentations will be graded by both the instructor and fellow students. 

Class Requirements: Students enrolled in this course will be expected to:

            1. Lead group discussions of research papers assigned to you by the instructor. Each student will facilitate round table discussions of scientific papers chosen by the instructor. The instructor will give each student a copy of each paper to read in advance in order to be prepared for round table discussions about the research to occur. In order for fruitful discussion of each paper to occur, it is imperative that each student have the article read and analyzed PRIOR to the meeting in which the discussion takes place. This will be a weekly task throughout most of the semester and is why this course is entitled Discussions in Biology.

2. Choose a specific peer-reviewed, primary research journal article published within the last THREE years involving research on some aspect of biology and get the article approved by your instructor for use in giving a 25-minute oral presentation about that research. You will also need to present basic background information on the general area of biology with which the specific chosen article concerns. Powerpoint visual aids should accompany the oral presentation. After approval of article/topic by instructor, provide a reprint of the journal article to everyone in the course THE WEEK BEFORE YOUR PRESENTATION DAY. Each student must then read each article prior to the actual presentation and come with at least two written questions about the article or topic to ask the presenter during the question and discussion period after the presentation has been made. The presentations will be graded by both the instructor and fellow students in the class using evaluation sheets. Components of grading on the evaluation sheets consist of: Presentation of Content (50 points), Presentation Style/Delivery (20 points), Handling of Questions (10 points), Critique of Paper (10 points), and Time Limit (10 points). Depending on number of students enrolled in the course, each student will give a maximum of two oral presentations. Here is a general outline for your oral presentation to follow (and some things to think about):

A. Background on the topic of the research article (assume audience knows little about the topic)

            1. Why is it important?

            2. Any prior or related work reported on the topic?

B. Hypothesis/Problem addressed in the research article

1. Why was the research performed in the first place?

2. What was trying to be answered?

C. Methods and Procedures used

D. Results of the research

E. Conclusions drawn from the research

F. Critique of the work

           1. Was the hypothesis/problem studied and answered?

           2. Were methods appropriate for the study?

            3. Were appropriate conclusions drawn?

            4. What other work would you suggest be done?


Your presentation should be one that YOU have prepared specifically for this class and should not be one that was used in any of your previous classes. In other words, DON’T recycle presentations…..prepared by you, or by anyone else! Be forewarned, if it has been determined that you have recycled a presentation for this course, this will be grounds for an automatic “F” to be assigned as your grade for the course. Student oral presentations will be scheduled during the first week of classes. We will likely schedule the first presentation to occur close to the midterm of the semester. My advice is to start working on looking at articles for approval early in the semester so that you have more time to get your presentation constructed and practiced before your presentation date. DON’T PROCRASTINATE!

           3. Answer questions concerning your topic from those in attendance at the conclusion of your oral presentation. We will also conduct our general class discussion of the research during this time.

           4. Evaluate all of your fellow classmates’ presentations. Therefore, attendance at ALL discussions classes is MANDATORY. Points will be deducted from your final grade for any classes missed. We only meet one night a week, so I expect you all to always be there.


Before you give your presentation, make sure that you have given it a “trial run” with the computer/projection set-up in our classroom that you will be using for your actual presentation.

Lecture Exams: Due to the nature of this class, there will be no exams administered for this course.


Course Grading: The following is a breakdown of your final course grade:

Student Discussion Leader Evaluation (graded by instructor)                                =40%    

Student Seminar Presentation (graded by the instructor and by fellow students)   =40%    

Participation/Questions Asked                                                                                =10%    

Attendance                                                                                                              =10%    

Course Grade total                                                                                                    =100%

The grading scale used to determine your letter grade for the course is as follows:

A           =            90-100%

B           =            80-89%

C           =            70-79%

D           =            60-69%

F            =            below 60%

Class Attendance: You are expected to attend all classes unless you have a University-excused absence. Your attendance will be documented. Due to the nature of this course, attendance will count as 10% of your overall grade.

The date and order in which oral presentations will be given will be decided by random drawing and class consensus during the first day of class. Students are expected to have all required materials prepared and oral presentation ready to be given on their chosen date/time. The only exception for these events to occur at a later (or earlier) date is if the student has traded presentation dates by agreement with a fellow classmate or the student has had extenuating circumstances arise in which alternative arrangements have been made with the instructor. The instructor must be informed of any traded presentation dates well in advance of the presentation date itself (at least two weeks before). Otherwise, failure to present on your designated date/time will result in a grade of 0 for this class requirement.

Note: You may not submit a paper for a grade in this class that already has been (or will be) submitted for a grade in another course, unless you obtain the explicit written permission of me and the other instructor involved in advance.

Plagiarism is the use of someone else's thoughts, words, ideas, or lines of argument in your own work without appropriate documentation (a parenthetical citation at the end and a listing in "Works Cited")-whether you use that material in a quote, paraphrase, or summary. It is a theft of intellectual property and will not be tolerated, whether intentional or not.

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