GR5850 Thesis Development Seminar

Joshua Drew, Ph.D., Instructor

[email protected]

(212) 854-7807

Twitter: @Drew_Lab

Thursday afternoon 12:10-2:00

Course Goal:

This course is a requirement for MA students to ensure that they develop a capstone project idea within the first semester of their time at Columbia. With typically only four semesters in the program, and only two before summer field work, this course will provide a vehicle for students to think critically about the state of the field of science with which they will be making a substantive contribution through capstone project work. Additionally, this course will ensure students develop the skills to critically assess literature as well as to both give and receive criticism on their own writing. Lastly, through this course students will gain practical experience in writing grants and preparing peer-reviewed manuscripts for publication.

This course will specifically focus on the following four skills:

1) Synthesize scientific literature and understand the ‘big picture’ of science

2) Develop research and capstone projects

3) Critique scientific ideas

4) Discuss research with peers and give both formal and informal scientific talks.

Advisors will play an important role in reviewing and providing feedback on students, while this course will help with generalities of how science is done, it is up to the students to ensure that their advisors provide topic specific critiques.

Course Requirements:

Classes each week will consist of lectures on selected topics followed by discussion or writing intensive critiques. The course will incorporate student presentations, writings and discussions. Because of the interactive nature of the class, student participation is a critical component of the grade. This class falls Thanksgiving and other than that, I expect active attendance in classes, and there will be no makeups. You will be responsible for all content covered in class.

Student participation:

Everyone in this class should feel comfortable to express an idea, even if the idea is not a popular one. I encourage intellectual controversy and believe it is how we learn best. We expect all students to abide by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ code of academic integrity ( Breaches of the student code such as cheating and plagiarism (that is, taking credit for the work of others) will not be tolerated, and any breaches of the student code will be referred to the Dean’s Office.

Course Evaluation:

This course will consist of lectures, discussions and writing assignments. You will have two major writing assignments, 1) a grant proposal of your choosing and 2) a literature review in the style of Trends in Ecology and Evolution. You will also try your hand at paper reviewing.

1) Grant Writing:

Identifying and securing funding is one of the most critical skills scientists develop and will help you regardless of your ultimate career goal. With federal funding at an all time low, it is important for students to diversify their approach. Thus we spend considerable time in this semester identifying and writing grants. Ideally you will identify a potential grant and discuss this with your advisor before deciding to apply for it.

The following websites are helpful in identifying grants to apply to:

For each round you will prepare a draft of your grant that will be uploaded as a Google doc so that all students can edit it. Sometime after the first round, you will need to email a copy of your grant to your advisor (and CC me) so that your advisor knows of your progress. Whether you decide to submit your application will be a decision made by you and your advisor.

2) Literature Reviews:

The journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution is an open access alternative to the venerable Trends in Ecology and Evolution. FEE publishes reviews of no more than 3000 words and two figures or tables that focus on developments in the field. For your final assignment you will write a review of the sub field wherein your research lies. This review will serve to familiarize you with the intricacies of your field as well as help you frame the research you will be proposing in the following semester. While there is not an expectation that all of these will be published there is no reason a priori to expect that they couldn’t be submitted to FEE.

For each class you will have to read four drafts, you will also have to prepare one every other week. We will go over five drafts per class, spending approximately 20 minutes on each one. This means you will have to prepare about 5 min of substantive comments. Comments should be critical but not mean spirited, we are going to attempt to emulate the peer review process where the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of the manuscripts. As with the grant proposal, it is important that you contact your advisor to solicit their feedback on the 2nd draft. Please CC me on this email.

3) Paper Review

Along with grants, peer-reviewed papers are the coins of the realm when it comes to academia. Therefore understanding the process that makes a good paper is important to your development as a critical scientist. Moreover, as there is an expectation that you will produce at least one peer-reviewed article as part of your thesis (e.g. herehere and here) understanding how the review process will help you develop your thesis. This assignment will involve reading a manuscript and performing a review on it. We will compare class comments to actual peer-review comments to see what themes emerge.


Grant Proposal Draft 1 15%

Grant Proposal Draft 2 25%

FEE 1st draft 15%

FEE 2nd draft 15%

FEE final 15%

Participation 10%

Course outline:

Date and Assignment Due:

September 7th  Library Instruction

September 14th Paper Review overview

September 21st Peer Reviewing Papers

September 28th   Literature Review Overview

October 5th FEE: Group 1 Round 1

October 12th   FEE: Group 2 Round 1

October 19st No class: Josh in MA

October 26th FEE: Group 1 Round 2

November 2nd FEE: Group 2 Round 2

November 9th Researching A Grant

November 16th  FEE: Group 1 Round 1

November 23rd Thanksgiving No Class

November 30th  Grant: Group 2 Round 1

December 7th Grant: Both Groups Round 2

December 14th Final Papers and Grants Due


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