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Bio 202, spring 2008 - Writing Assignments

Paul Grobstein's picture

Biology 202
Neurobiology and Behavior
Spring 2008

Writing Assignments


The objective of these assignments is to give you the opportunity to explore/learn about topics in neurobiology and behavior of particular interest to you, and for you to further develop your skills in

  • assimilating and relating scientific observations and perspectives
  • connecting both to your own interests and experiences
  • conveying your unique understandings to others in ways that will be helpful in their own explorations.

General methods

  • Start with something you're interested in, "surf", don't be afraid to get away from your initial question. Learn something.
  • Include searches on Serendip in your explorations. This will help you get started on particular topics, and give you a sense of style, as well as of what prior material on things interesting to you already exists on Serendip. No one has ever said the last word on any topic so you can/should build on available material if it is relevant to what you're interested in.
  • Poke around enough to evaluate whether what you've learned is "mainstream" or "controversial", and know why. Do not rely too heavily on single sources.
  • Once you've learned something, figure out what the question is to which what you've learned is the answer. That is often (always?) not your initial question.
  • Get beyond giving "report" of what you've found/learned. Think about it, react to it, question it, find some for you new ways of thinking. Make connections to other things, worry about what YOU think/understand/wonder about, be critical both of other peoples' work/understandings and your own. It is fine to end with new questions that new understanding raises.
  • Be organized in your writing. Start with what you think is important for others (a question or assertion), organize everything else in relation to that (leaving out what you may have learned that isn't relevant), conclude by showing how what you've talked about relates to what you started with. Do not write about your explorations but rather about what you've gotten from them.
  • Avoid excessive use of quotations. Put things in your own words unless what you want to call attention to some particular way of saying things by some particular person.
  • Be sure to include a good annotated list of references, including web references. This provides a "window" that will help your readers do their own further exploring.
  • Enjoy learning new things, and trying out new ways of communicating them. Remember that you are helping others to better understand biology, and to contribute to better understanding it themselves.
  • Your objective is substantial scientific sophistication conveyed so as to make it accessible to a general audience.

Book commentaries should be well-organized essays that integrate the following

  • What aspects of the book did you find particularly interesting and think will help others see things differently?
  • What new issues does the book raise in your mind?
  • How does the book relate to the perspectives we've developed in the course over the semester?

Papers will be evaluated in relation to

  • evidence of engagement and creativity
  • sophistication in relating observations to interpretations
  • success at communicating to a general audience


  • 7.5 - 8.0 (3.0) - clear account of significant material
  • 8.0 - 8.5 (3.3) - evidence of having acquired new insights/understandings oneself
  • 8.5 - 9.0 (3.7) - likely to motivate significant new insights/understandings in others
  • 9.0 - 10 (4.0) - makes me see things substantially differently

Format Sample

Information about Biology 202
Paul Grobstein


Biology 202 has a course home page (1), from which other resources related to the course can be reached. The course home page is located on Serendip, a World Wide Web server which provides additional resources in the areas of biology, neurobiology and behavior, and complex systems (2). Among these is a list of recent books, such as Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens (3).

Among the available course resources on Serendip is a forum area (4), where students write weekly comments on material of the course. Each week's comments are moved to their own file, which can be reached by clicking on a topic list at the end of the course home page (1).



1) Biology 202 home page, on the Serendip web site, /bb/neuro/neuro03; accessed 21 January 2008

2) Serendip, the server home page, /, accessed 21 January 208

3) Damasio, Antonio. The Feeling of What Happens. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

4) Biology 202 forum area, on the Serendip web site, /bb/neuro/neuro03/forum-neuro03.html, accessed 21 January 2008

Turn in papers as hard copy and posted them on line according to the following ...

  1. Make a second version of your paper by saving the original as "TEXT ONLY" and giving it some distinctive file name on your computer. This version will have lost some formatting characteristics, such as bold face, tabs, etc.
  2. Go to the course home page, and log in as you normally would. If you are using a Mac, do NOT use Safari as your web browser. Use Firefox instead.
  3. Go to "create content" and select "blog entry."
  4. Put the title of your paper in the appropriate box and select the appropriate category of student webpaper.
  5. Copy and paste the text only version of your paper, including reference list, into the window. Do not include your name or the paper title.
  6. Use the "preview" button to see how your paper will look when posted. Check to be sure paragraphs are separated by an empty line and no "funny" characters appear in your text.
  7. Add active links in your reference list (and elsewhere as you desire).
  8. Avoid using images unless they are your own. 
  9. Make needed corrections by typing in the window. Repeat "preview" and correction until you are satisfied.
  10. Click on the "submit" button.
  11. Enjoy reading your own and other peoples' papers on the web.