Thursday, December 11, 2014

Developing a true appreciation for scientific papers and presentations

The magnitude of learning that happens in 20.109 far exceeded my expectations. It is a very comprehensive course and challenges students in all ways: to be intellectual, scientific, organized, innovative and to be able to effectively communicate very detailed, complex topics. Two broad areas in which I feel that I grew the most throughout 20.109 are with regards to reading and writing scientific papers and giving oral presentations.

Throughout my experience in 20.109, I really learned to appreciate the scientific paper. I had certainly read scientific papers before taking this course, but in 20.109 students are more invested in the scientific paper. We both “add to” and utilize the current literature. We really get a sense for the components of a good scientific paper and the purpose behind each section. I know appreciate and strive to make my methods precise, accurate and nice to read. I also learned how to avoid using slang terms and developed a better scientific vocabulary (i.e. ‘performed DNA gel electrophoresis’ versus ‘ran a gel’). I appreciate that the introduction gives context to the readers, taking into account that not all of the readers will be in your field. The discussion and references are extremely valuable as a reader (especially when designing new research projects or proposals), and as a writer it helps me understand my work better. In 20.109, I had a real use for scientific papers, I had to write a scientific paper, and I got comfortable working with them.

I had never given such a formal presentation before 20.109, and I believe that I improved on my presentation skills but I still have a lot of work. I suspect that presenting will be a skill I work to improve my whole life. As much as I didn't like being videotaped, reviewing the video of myself presenting at Journal Club and discussing ways to improve with Atissa was very helpful. One area I worked to improve on between the journal club and research proposal presentations was the delivery of my points. Laila and I focused on creating a meaningful title on each slide of our presentation, and I also made an effort to make the slides easier for the audience to follow by including more animations. Speaking in front of groups still makes me nervous, even in our small 20.109 class. In the future I hope to gain more confidence with public speaking.

I think 20.109 is such a great class because it challenged me to dive right into the scientific community in a more comprehensive way than I ever had before. I developed a deeper appreciation for all of the parts and details that go into making a scientific paper, and began to focus in on specific goals that will make me a better scientific communicator. 20.109 holds its students to very high standards, but the quality guidance that instructors provide makes holding the students to such high standards very reasonable. I will sincerely miss this class and am grateful for all of the teaching staff and my peers that have made it such a positive experience.

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