BISC800Basic skills for a career in science Fall 2010 Julian Christians email@example.com Course website: www.sfu.ca/biology/faculty/christians/bisc800
Scientific writing • Thesis • Grant/fellowship applications • Papers • Letters (job applications) • CVs • Popular articles • Abstracts (conferences) • Emails
General structure Theses, grant applications, papers, abstracts Introduction Methods Results Discussion All background knowledge + question(s) Step-by-step description of work What are results are, without interpretation of meaning Consideration of results in relation to question posed
How to bore your readers 1. Avoid focus 2. Avoid originality and personality 3. Write long contributions 4. Remove implications and speculations 5. Leave out illustrations 6. Omit necessary steps of reasoning 7. Use many abbreviations and terms 8. Suppress humor and flowery language 9. Degrade biology to statistics 10. Quote numerous papers for trivial statements Sand-Jensen 2007 Oikos
The solutions 1. Avoid focus Spell out your question/hypothesis 2. Avoid originality and personality Use the active voice as much as possible The experiment was conducted or We conducted the experiment
The solutions 3. Write long contributions Shorter is always better The height of men was great than the height of women or Men were taller than women 4. Remove implications and speculations Relate your results to an important problem, but be modest with speculation.
The solutions 7. Use many abbreviations and terms Just don’t do it ! The BCL-2-like protein CED-9 of C. elegans promotes FZO-1/Mfn1,2-and EAT-3/Opa1-dependent mitochondrial fusion CED-9 promotes mitochondrial fusion in C. elegans.
The solutions 9. Degrade biology to statistics Always ask yourself: ‘Would the reader know what I’m working on?’ The correlation was significantly positive between the two variables tested. or Male interest increased with female attractiveness. 10. Quote numerous papers for trivial statements Unless Darwin said it, it can be rephrased!
Upcoming deadlines • NSERC – October 6 (to department) • CIHR – doctoral – October 15 (at CIHR) • CIHR – master’s – February 1 (at CIHR)
Grants and scholarships • What’s the difference? • Where to find them • Why applications are rejected • How to write a good application • The project • You
What’s the difference? Scholarships Grants • Research support • Project description most important • Committee looking for reason NOT to fund you • Student support • Student track record most important • Committee looking for reasons to fund you Novelty & feasibility Achievements
Finding sources of money Scholarships Grants • International • Federal • Provincial • University GFs & Private • Research councils • Government agencies • Corporations • Foundations & charities • NGOs Web Supervisor Other students Scientific societies http://www.biology.sfu.ca/degree/graduate/financial http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/scholarships_and_awards/
Two scholarship sources to note Graduate fellowships • Awards made on basis of academic merit • minimum criterion for eligibility CGPA ≥ 3.5 • one-semester awards • $6,250 • application deadline : 15 April http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/scholarships_and_awards/graduate_fellowships/
Two scholarship sources to note Private awards • Often department or field-specific • Various eligibility criteria • Various deadlines: Jan, March, April, May, Sept http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/scholarships_and_awards/internal_awards/
Once you’ve found a source Check: • Current guidelines • That the granting body funds the kind of project you have in mind or people like you • Eligibility criteria – that you fit ALL of them • The deadline!
Remember! • Awarded (usually) on the basis of merit, not need! • Rejection rates can be very high • (50-80+%)
Why are applications rejected? You dropped the ball • Deadline not met • Guidelines not followed
Why are applications rejected? Weak project • Project predictable, routine or repetition • Unrealistic budget/ timeframe/ workload • Necessary resources not available • Applicant/ team not suitable
Why are applications rejected? Good project, but weak presentation • Objective unclear • Proposed methods unclear • Not enough detail in budget • Potential obstacles not discussed • Insufficient literature review • Insufficient knowledge of field • Poor writing: long, repetitious, ambiguous • Biased position
Why are applications rejected? Biased position Grant submitted to SSHRC: Detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolution's "intelligent design theory" on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers. Committee’s response: The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularization of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students,teachers, parents and policy makers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct. http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2006/04/canadian_sshrc_.html
? Who are the reviewers? • Unlikely to be experts in your exact subject area – but will usually be scientists • Assume they are uninformed, but infinitely intelligent • Often 2-3 reviewers per proposal • Often 100 proposals per reviewer!
Writing the application: about the work • Read the instructions! • If outline of sections is provided, follow it. • If not, you should have: • Title • Summary (10%) • Justification (background) (20%) • Aims (10%) • Methods (30%) • Outputs (15%) • Budget (10%) • Time schedule (5%)
Title • The reviewer’s first impression • Clever, catchy, clear and informative but not cute • If it’s a question, make sure your data will answer it • Avoid acronyms, scientific names, and jargon • Use words/expressions found in the mission of your target funding body
Examples GOOD BAD A study of the correlates of the distribution of Microspathodon chrysurus What determines the distribution of the endangered yellowtail damselfish? Does the umbrella species concept work? A test with Tanzanian amphibians Biodiversity of amphibians in Tanzania Do divers break coral when looking at seahorses? Charismatic fish and diving tourism: impacts on corals
Examples – successful CIHR Master’s awards • Colour Perception in Children with Autism • Characterizing the Roles of Cytochrome P450 Isozymes in Breast Cancer • The neural correlates of marijuana addiction: Differences in drug and emotional stimulus processing in addicted versus healthy controls. • The Structural and Biochemical Analysis of the BAM complex in Escherichia coli
Summary (abstract) • The reviewer’s second impression (and sometimes the only thing s/he’ll read!) • It should answer 4 questions: • Why is the work important? • What has already been done? • What do you intend to do? • How are you going to do the work? • Write it last
Justification (background) • Start with the general area and narrow it down to focus on specific project • Include brief literature review (key references) • Explain the problem (including lack, knowledge gaps) • Give reasons for undertaking this particular research • Indicate why you are well placed to undertake the project
Justification (background) • Pitch it to make it fit the mission (within reason!) • Remember who the reviewers are • Clear, logical, explicit • Avoid overkill and hyperbole
Some no-no words • Critical • Dramatic • Tragic • Hopeless • Desperate Readers don’t want to be told how to feel!
Aims/ objectives • One sentence for overall objective • Then provide 2-4 specific objectives (which are achievable!) • Know the difference between • Aims • Objectives/ goals • Predictions • Hypotheses • Theories
Example AIM: The aim of this projectis to assess the damage to corals caused by divers seeking fish such as seahorses and frogfish (S/F). OBJECTIVES: More specifically, I will: (1) compare coral damage at S/F and control sites; (2) record diver behaviour at S/F and control sites; (3) quantify the spatial extent of coral damage; and (4) evaluate the rate of recovery of S/F sites.
Example Long-term goal of project: To study the genetic basis of variation in virulence in A. fumigatus and A. nidulans to identify previously-unknown genes, or to identify new roles for known genes. Specific objectives: • Develop molecular markers spanning the A. fumigatus genome at sufficient density to allow linkage and QTL mapping. • Construct a linkage map for A. fumigatus based on these molecular markers by genotyping a panel of progeny from a cross between two strains. • Map quantitative trait loci (QTL) that affect virulence (i.e., identify genetic regions containing virulence genes) using the markers and linkage map developed from Objectives 1 and 2.
Methods • How, when and why • Describe all activities to be undertaken, the methods for each and when the work will be done • Link clearly method to objective • Indicate how data will be analysed • Justify unorthodox methods
What not to forget • Details (e.g. no. of transects, transect length, no. of individuals to be observed, for how long, source of reagents, organisms if not standard, etc.) • Field/lab assistants, local help and contacts • Relate to your relevant experience • Any ethical issues your work entails • A CONTINGENCY PLAN!
Outputs • Also called ‘Significance’ • What about negative results? • What will come out of this project in terms of: • Advancement of science • General benefit to people or species • Data dissemination
Budget • Be realistic • Stay within the range usually granted by your target funding body • Provide a clear breakdown of items and costs • Justify everything • Build in some ‘fat’ • Mention other sources of funding
Time schedule • Can be just a line or two in the methods or • A small table showing when specific tasks will be carried out
Style tips • Clear and simple • Short sentences, short paragraphs • Font no smaller than 11pt (Times) • Leave spaces (e.g. paragraph indents) • Avoid right justification • No jargon • Avoid ‘this’, ‘that’, and dangling participles • E.g., Stopping every 5 m to record tree density, 20 transects will be run in total.
More tips • Avoid spelling mistakes • Use point form • Use subheadings, bold or italics (sparingly)
More tips • Give yourself time • Read and re-read it (and get your friends to read it too) • Good proposals are hypothesis-driven