(Threatened Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid)

Biol 420 & CVSC 437 -
(Biology Senior Seminar & Conservation Science Research I)

Spring 2017 - Syllabus

Updated: 02/17/2017

Instructor: Jim Dooley - BSC 428; x 8227; jdooley@muskingum.edu

Course Meetings:  TBA 


Overview: This course serves two groups of students.  It is the terminal Biology Senior Seminar course for students that will not be engaging in research.  It is also the first of three courses that Biology and Conservation students in order to complete senior research for either the Conservation Science or Biology degrees.

The first challenge we face is to get everyone moving very quickly on developing a solid research proposal.   In order to facilitate this objective, we will begin the semester with a "fast start" emphasis on proposal development and writing.

A major goal for this semester then is to produce a formal research proposal (~15 pages) that:

  1. Identifies a significant area of scholarly investigation,
  2. Motivates an important research question(s) or test hypothesis(es) that would advance scholarship within the issue of interest
  3. And outlines a research design (including both data gathering and analysis) that can rigorously address the question(s) at hand.
To help you accomplish this task we use our class meetings to focus on a range of issues germane to this challenge.  Generally we will devote part of our time to lectures and exercises that will help strengthen you appreciation for the principles of experimental design and data analysis.  Consideration of these topics will almost certainly then be carried over into CVSC 438/Biol 421 next fall.   This semester we will also spend time using our group as a sounding board so that each individual can gain valuable feedback as they progress along the timeline.
Course Objectives:     Students will search the biological literature, identify a research question, and prepare a research proposal that demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the background, significance, and research methods related to the question proposed.  

Academic Dishonesty:      Any student involved in academically dishonest practices (including plagiarism) will receive a grade of F for the course and will be reported to the VPAA.

Learning Objectives:     Course Leaning Objectives extend directly from the Biology Department's & Conservation Science Program's Learning Goals.  In particular, the learning objectives for this course emphasize Biology Department Learning Goals 3 & 4 and Conservation Science Program Learning Goals 2 & 4.

1.    Students will review, evaluate, summarize, and synthesize the literature on their chosen topic.
2.    Students will use the literature review to identify a relevant research question that can reasonably be investigated with the time and resources available.
3.    Students will write a research proposal that is at least 15 pages of text in length (literature cited not included), with a minimum of 30 references drawn from the peer-reviewed scientific literature).
4.    Students will format the paper to comply with current APA style guidelines.
5.    Students will deliver two 12 minute presentations that summarize their proposal at an appropriate level (aided by the power point presentation).

How to Develop a Research Proposal:

The ability to peruse the literature, synthesize information, and write a research proposal that clearly defines the objectives and goals for a body of research is one of the most important and arguably one of the most challenging aspects to developing a successful research project.

OK so how do we start into this task of developing such a beast?  Let's start with considering what a good proposal has in it  in terms of both structure and content.

A research proposal has three major sections: Introduction, Methods, and Literature Cited.  You should plan that your proposal will be a somewhere in the range of 10 double space pages in length excluding the literature cited at the end

I. The Introduction section should:

  1. Start by explicitly identifying an important scholarly issue or area of research that the project will be addressing (e.g., the impact of habitat fragmentation on migratory songbird communities, conservation medicine in the context of captive management, impacts of habitat alteration and over harvesting on relict plant communities).
  2. Overview what is known and unknown about that area of research:
  3. Explicitly identity specific research objectives, questions or project hypotheses that will be addressed or tested through the course of this particular research project.
II. The Methods section should clearly and concisely:
  1. Outline the methods that will be used to gather data (e.g., field or laboratory procedures)
  2. Identify what variables will be measured and what comparisons or data summaries will be made.
  3. Overview the methods that will be used to analyze the data once they are collected (e.g., statistical tests or simulation analyses).
  4. Present a timeline that traces the anticipated progression of your project from data collection through submission of your final thesis document.

III. The Literature Cited Section is simply a listing of literature cited in the body of the proposal. All citations should follow the APA (American Psychological Association) standard.

How to get started:

Now that we've outline what a proposal is and what sort of form it might take, we need to move next to a consideration of how to get going.  In many ways, taking the first step can seem like one of the hardest parts.   What you have to do to get going is reflect a bit on what parts of conservation science you find particularly interesting.   Here are some practical steps:

1) You might want to start by returning to your major course texts: flip through them and consider what ideas or issues leap out to you as particularly compelling or interesting. Once you find a few general issues you are interested in, you are ready to move on to more primary sources for information: scholarly journals, technical reports, and topical books.

2) Your next step should probably be the campus library.  The good news is that  you can do much of your "searching" from any computer on campus.  Muskingum does not have an extensive collection of scientific journals here on campus (however, there are some important exceptions such as Science, Nature, and the Journal of Wildlife Management) however, it's important to note that  you can obtain hard copies of just about any journal article you might need (and not be able to download through the electronic journal facility) through interlibrary loan.   You will be charged per page for hardcopies, but the price is very reasonable. 

3) You can access the library via the Muskingum Home Page or more directly through (http://muskingum.edu/~library/):

Through the library, there are a number of options for electronic database searches that can be initiated through the Muskingum Library home page.

Remember: Do not hesitate to visit the library and ask reference staff for help with finding materials or using the search functions.   Also, as you start to formulate your ideas be sure to come talk to us - we can save you a lot of time by pointing out literature that can help you down the road a good bit faster as well as warning you about dead-end paths you might start down.
4) Once you have obtained your literature, you will need to carefully read each paper and highlight the various relevant information (concentrate on the abstract, introduction and discussion sections).   However, you shouldn't begin the writing phase until you have thoroughly searched the literature and obtained and read a variety of papers related to your topic.  

At this stage, you need to start working synthetically - the goal is not to gather a bunch of facts that you can "dump" into the paper.  Rather you need to take notes on what you see different scholars saying about your topics, what they saw, and how they interpret their observations.   You need to thinking about how to develop a sense in yourself about the state of scholarship in the area of your issues based on a blend or synthesis of what others have said, done, thought, and conjectured.   We call this kind of work meta-analysis because synthesis is much more than vote counting.  Standing back and looking at the scholarship related to some problem: what does it mean as a whole?  What do we really know about what's going on and what do we next need to find out?

Doing this work will lead you to the development of your project question(s).  You aren't going to be able to (nor should you aim to) answer a major question of science with your project.  Rather you want to be able to advance our collective understanding of what's going on by identifying and addressing what you see as the most important next small step.

Absence Policy:   Unless you are seriously ill, we will expect you to attend all of class meetings. Unexcused absences or persistent lateness may result in a docking of final grade.

Grading: Course grades will be based on the following formula:
Participation in Discussions & Quiz Grades
Research Prospectus
1st Oral Report 0%
Introduction Section of Proposal 35%
2nd Oral Report
Final Proposal

A Word About Commitment:
This semester you will be developing a research proposal and learning a great deal about experimental design and data analysis.  Those students who plan to go on to actually conduct research (all CVSC 437 students and some Biol 420 students) need to understand that undertaking a research project is a serious commitment.   There are two more graded research courses after this one.  In some cases you may actually need to undertake data gathering at odd times: e.g., during the summer, on weekends, during breaks.  Field projects often have a limited window for gathering data and you'll need to consider whether you can follow through in all ways necessary before deciding what work you want to do.   During key points of the project, your commitment to your research project may need to come before your commitments to work, athletics, and your personal life.  Careful planning is the key to successfully navigating this challenge and we will expect that this sort of planning has taken place. 

If you are a senior taking Biol 420 you will also be expected to fully participate in all Biology Department assessment activities.  Participation in these critically important activities will be reflected in your participation grade.

Timeline: In order to ensure that students make adequate progress towards the timely development of their project proposals we will be enforcing a rather strict timeline. To that end you should expect to hit the ground running.


Class Schedule:

Week Date
Class Activity
1 1/13
Meeting with students and determination of common time for group meeting.
Overview:  Course, Syllabus & Timeline.
Review: Example Proposal on Blackboard - Horn 2002

Discussion: Writing Research Proposals
: Pechenik: Writing Research Proposals pages: 212-222

Reading: Pechenick - Locating Useful Sources: 20-31
Demonstration: Use of literature data bases (Science Citation Index)
Discussion: Reading Papers, Note Taking & Plagiarism 32-46
: Pechenick - The Basics of a Strong Proposal: Reading, Note Taking, and Plagiarism: 33-50

Roundtable: Where everyone stands in idea development.


Field Trip to Library for session with Kristin Cole on literature searching

No class
Class re-set session and update on where we stand
Reading: Vierling proposal [4411"] (pages 1-10 only -stop when you reach the education section- what is the mission of each paragraph?
Read: Pechenick - Citing Sources and Listing References
: 66-76.
Spring Break
Lecture/Discussion: Preparing an oral presentation 
Reading: Pechenick - Preparing an oral presentation: 223-238.

Due: 5-7 page Introduction to Proposal
Discussion: Revising Reading: Pechenik - Revising - 77-118
Reading: Pechenick - Reading and Writing About Statistical Analyses: 47-65
Powerpoint Presentation: Introduction to Dytham - from Questions to Methods
Reading: Pechenick - Reading and Writing About Statistical Analyses:
Powerpoint Presentation: Introduction to Dytham - from Questions to Methods
Roundtable: Where everyone stands.
Final Oral Presentation
Course Evaluations,
Final Proposals Due

Muskingum University seeks to provide an environment that is free of bias, discrimination, and harassment.  If you have been the victim of sexual harassment/misconduct/assault we encourage you to report this.  If you report this to a faculty member, she or he must notify our university's Title IX coordinator, Janet Heeter-Bass, about the basic facts of the incident.  For more information about your options at Muskingum University, please go to: www.muskingum.edu/campuslife/titleix