Looking back at start of the semester I didn't know how Writing in Biology would be like, but now that I am done with this class I think it was a good and useful experience for my undergraduate. Each assignment was designed to provide us with the necessary tools for making a final project that summarized what we learned in the class. The Drafts, Perfect Paragraphs, and Methods projects allowed me to reflect on how me and others write, and made me aware of the importance of communicating efficiently in science. The Proposal and the Project offered me the opportunity to work in a team environment were different ideas were exchanged, and it helped me both on my team work and problem-solving skills. This class has made me more aware of the importance of having good communication skills, and it has helped me improve my writing.
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Before starting to work on the Project assignment, I was concerned because the species that we had initially thought to use had only two specimens left in my lab. Our plan was to run trials with at least three different spiders, so in the end we had to use a different species of crab spider that was more abundant at my lab. This changed slightly the direction of our project, but in the end was a positive experience because it tested our ability to deal with the unexpected, and scientists usually have to cope with similar problems on a daily basis. As well, there was practically no research about color change for our new species, and our experiment allowed us to make some observations about different color tonalities among spiders of the same species. Regarding the poster, I would have displayed the introduction section horizontally below the title to make a better use of the space, but the overallwork of the group resulted into a final product that I liked. I already had experience making posters, but the Moodle assignment helped me reflect about the qualities that a good poster should have, and proved to be key when designing ours.
The Proposal project was probably the most challenging assignment of this class, because it involved the coordination and agreement of a team. Before I started working on this assignment, I thought of some feasible ideas for a project with spiders, and talked with professor Brewer about them. This made me doubt between working with crab spiders and color choice, or cellar spiders and light placement, because I liked both ideas. In the end I decided to work with the crab spiders because I wanted to extrapolate the experiment to connect it with the ecology of local fields and the interaction between crab spiders, bees, and flowers. My plan was to research on common flowers that are pollinated by local bees to see if there was a preferrence towards a particular species, and then use the color of that flower in the arena trials to test if the spider would choose the color of the flowers that have more chances of being visited by its prey. But my group wanted to make the experiment more simple and eventually convinced me to use the RGB color model as the backgrounds for the arena trials. Nonetheless, looking back on this project I think that we made the right decision because we didn't have enough time for undertaking such a large scale project. I was glad that Alicia and Brad decided to continue with our project when we finished the Proposal and had the chance to switch to other groups.
Before I started the Methods project I had a more or less clear idea of how my figure should look, because I spent the summer working at my lab with spiders and already knew of places around campus with spider webs. Nonetheless, writing about how I produced my figure resulted more challenging than I thought, because I had to trace back in my mind all the details involved in the production of the figure. As I later saw in class during the presentations, having good communication skills is very important for doing science, since facts that one may take for granted can be unknown for another person and thus obtain a different result. Thanks to the Methods project, now I am more aware of my readers when I write, and I try to explain things with enough detail for them to follow through my writing.
I remember the first day of class, when professor Brewer gave each of us a cellar spider in a small plastic cup and told us to write a description of it in detail. It was a good introduction for both the Drafts and the Perfect Paragraphs assignments, and my first Perfect Paragraph came out of that class. Having written a few drafts about the subject in my notes, when I started writing that assignment I had no trouble thinking of new things to add, and it allowed me to think more about how to improve it as best as possible. At the beginning of the semester I used the Perfect Paragraphs assignment as an opportunity to write about things that I find interesting in science, but as exams and other assignments came I focused my work towards improving writings for my classes. Regarding the comments that we had to post weekly, it helped me think about how we write and the mistakes that I should avoid. Nonetheless, as the semester came to its end, I started noticing that other people's paragraphs had improved in quality and commenting on them proved to be more difficult. I feel that a similar thing happened for some people that commented on my paragraphs, since I sometimes struggled to understand their comments. The Perfect Paragraphs assignment has helped me think more about the content of my writing, and now I think more about how to approach written assignments in order to make myself clear.
I feel like the Drafts weekly assignment was useful for improving my organization skills, and also my approach towards writing better papers. Before starting to work on the Drafts assignments for the first time, I thought that it would be difficult to write six drafts in the blog for each week. It seemed like a small task as professor Brewer explained it to the class, especially if we organized it in the reccomended 30 minute slots, but I wasn't sure if I would find enough material to write about during the semester. At the beginning of the semester I struggled to write drafts, but once a few weeks in the flow of classes allowed me to come up with enough material for writing. I think that writing drafts for this class helped me a lot in other classes. In particular, Animal Movement required me to write six one-page summaries of scientific papers, and thanks to this practice I was able to condense my ideas into more effective paragraphs.
Performing our experiment felt very overwhelming at first. I was not sure how we would catch enough spiders or actually set up the experiment. However, with help from our professor and others we were able to collect the materials we needed and have a space to actually perform our tests. We set up coolers in the BCRC as well as heat lamps over the thanksgiving break. Unfortunately I was not able to help as much as I liked to during the experimental phase due to thanksgiving and other obligations. It was very difficult for me to understand the statistics involved in analyzing our results and data. Luckily our professor once again saved the day and did his best to explain how everything worked. Once we had our results and understood what they meant we began to create our poster. Learning how to make a poster was extraordinarily helpful. I had never done this before and I am sure I will need to make more in the future. I would have liked to be a bigger help in this process, and I did my best to help my fellow team members out with the little time I was allowed to. We went through several drafts of a poster and I made suggestions on what we could improve where necessary. I was fairly happy with our final poster, and I believe our presentation went well. It was interesting to see everyone elses experiments as well, especially when comparing ours to other groups that did similar experiments.
The proposal project was very daunting at first. I had never even thought about doing a task such as this before and I was unsure of where to start. It was difficult for me to think of a topic of study to propose, but once we found something interesting, I got rather excited about the project. There was a lot of research that had to be done in order to properly plan out the experiment of course, much more than I initially suspected. Almost the entire process was admittedly foreign to me, so this project gave me valuable experiments for my future. I never thought of how a study was published in a journal before, and this opened my eyes to that process. I will definitely look back to this project as guidance if I am ever to perform my own research and publish my work in a journal.
I felt much the same way about the perfect paragraph assignments as I did with the drafts. Of course this task seemed much more manageable than the latter as it was only required once a week. For this, the purpose was clear, we take the rough flow of consciousness of our drafts and refine it. This was to further help our writing skill in a way that was more than just practice, but to really think about the details of how our paragraphs were laid out. As I did more perfect paragraphs, I began to notice how I could improve my writing more and more. I noticed little details I may have omitted in previous drafts and improved the overall flow of my paragraphs. I feel as if a little more direction and input into how well my paragraphs were written would have been useful, but regardless I feel as if my writing skills have improved. In the future I will continue to write in this method, especially given my difficulty beginning to write. I will attempt to lay out all the information in a relatively organized way, followed by a refining process where I improve it bit by bit. Just as we did with the perfect paragraph and draft assignments.
The methods project had a couple had a couple difficulties but ultimately proved useful. This was the first time I had to use a computer image editor/ figure creator and Inkscape was difficult to understand in the beginning. Before I even had to generate an initial figure though, the methods section I wrote had to be changed to be less direct and giving directions to someone and more what exactly I had done. Usually, when I write a procedure for a chemistry lab report, it is direct “pour X amount in flask” but this had to be worded differently. The part of this project that replicated images was also helpful when we had the class and went over everyone’s comparison figures. It really showed how different perspectives and readings of methods can give different results and how exact the methods should try to be, including as many details as possible. The end manuscript for this assignment was also a challenge to write because its format was unlike anything I had previously composed. I never had to submit anything under manuscript guidelines, but given that I would eventually like to, this proved as a useful introduction to what that process may be like.