CVSC 438 / Biol 421

Fall 2016

Updated :  08/27/2016

Meetings:  Individual Appointments

Instructor: Jim Dooley - BSC 428; 8227;; 

Texts: See CVSC 437/Biol 420

Last semester in CVSC 437/Biol 421 we focused on developing your research proposal. 
There were two major goals:

This semester in CVSC 438/Biol 421 your goals will be to:


Course Learning ObjectivesCourse Leaning Objectives extend directly from the Biology Department's Learning Goals.   In particular, the learning objectives for this course emphasize Biology Department Learning Goals 2-4.   As a result of successfully completing this course, students will:

(1) Students will know, based on the questions asked and the experimental design, whether to employ descriptive and/or inferential statistics in order to interpret their data.

(2) Students will develop a scientific abstract based on the results of their research which will be submitted to the Ohio Academy of Sciences for potential acceptance as a poster or oral presentation at the Spring 2011 spring meeting of the OAS.

(3) Students will develop figures/tables that will graphically illustrate their research findings.

(4) Students will develop a research poster outlining the progess they made to date.  They will present their poster during the fall semester student internship colloquium in October.

Course Requirements for CVSC 438/Biol 421:

Course Structure & Grading Policy

Expect to meet as a group during our class meeting time for at least part of the term. Our sessions will be focused on data analysis techniques as well as continuing to read literature that can serve as a model or guide in developing your final  thesis paper.  To the greatest extent possible we want to encourage a group approach to the challenges of data analysis and interpretation.  You will generally have one other regularly scheduled meeting each week with your research advisor.  Times for these weekly meetings will be established during the first regular class meeting.

CVSC 438/Biol 421 has no tests or other typical "objective" means of evaluating your performance.  Your grade will be assessed based on your performance relative to the tasks for each semester. 

I want to emphasize that my expectations are high in this regard.
Once again, the overarching goal here is to develop a formal scientific paper which will include introduction, methods, results, discussion, and literature cited sections.  We have reviewed and discussed the distinct "mission" of each of these sections to scientific  papers as well as what elements need to be included in each section, throughout your coursework in this program.  That being said, your advisor will be glad to provide guidance to any questions you may have in developing each part of your thesis paper. Your research advisor will also guide you as to details of form and style (and there may be some differences among thesis advisors in their preferences in this regard, be sure to ask your advisor about what s/he may be looking for in a polished version)

You should expect to work hard and consistently on your project - however in the end it will be the quality of what you turn in that will determine your grade.   As a means of providing models of the kinds of work I am looking for, I have assembled
copies of papers from previous years that were evaluated as excellent.   These documents are available for your inspection and review - see your research advisor for access.

For this semester approximately 75% of your grade will be based on our evaluation of your revised thesis paper and with about 25% determined by your participation and performance in the Science Division's Fall Research and Internship Poster Session, performance in preparing for the OAS abstract submission, and timely submission of quality drafts.

So what should you think about in developing your "Results" section?

Given  the aim of this course is to produce a high quality draft of your thesis through the results section we should be starting the semester with a fairly strong foundation of introduction and methods, we might start here with the question, "what is a results section and how do you develop one?"  To start with, we can say that the results is one of the five major sections of a scientific paper (introduction, methods, results, discussion, literature cited).   It's really very simple: the job of the results section is to present the important findings from the research effort.  

Almost as important as knowing what a results section is, is knowing what it is not ... this is not the part of the paper in which findings are interpreted (that is the job of the discussion).   In some ways then the challenge is simply to sort out what  findings most directly bear on the questions that  underpin the study, present those findings, and then move on.

Generally speaking your results section should be designed to present information emerging from analyses of the raw data you collected.   Almost always, raw data needs some form of analysis in order to extract whatever patterns or insights about causal relationships that might exist (even simple graphing means or sums constitutes forms of analysis).   The nature of your questions will suggest what sorts of analyses would best serve your purposes (note: we will be working further on how to make the question-analysis connection this term).

Once you finish data collection and entry into Excel, your next step will be to summarize your data.  To do this, you may want to calculate some descriptive statistics (very often means and standard errors).  So if you were looking at feeding rates of birds at feeders that were at two different distances from woods (near, far), you might want to compute means and standard errors of feeding rates you observed across replicated sites - each with feeders set up in the same fashion. You can use easily use Excel to accomplish this.  SPSS (the statistical package we discussed for sophisticated statistical analyses) can be used if you'll need  a great many or variety of descriptive statistics.  If you have collected demographic data from some population (e.g., small mammals or birds), you may need to use some kinds of estimation procedures (e.g., Program Mark or Mayfield Methods) in order to develop statistics such as population size, survival rates, reproductive success, movement rates etc.).

Once you have summarized your data and/or developed any derived estimates you may need, your next step will be to use Sigma Plot to generate graphs (software is available on the computer in room 428 next to Danny Ingold's office).  In particular, you should think about using bar or line graphs to show the relationship  between your dependent (response) and independent (predictor variables).  So, continuing with our example, if you were looking at feeding rates of birds at feeders that were at two different distances from woods, you might construct bar graphs with mean feeding rate on the "Y" axis and different bars for each distance class from the woods.   Graphing your data will give you an initial sense of what kind of patterns you might have.  In the case of experiments, graphing results can begin to guide your thinking about mechanisms that might be driving responses.  

After producing your initial graphs and reflecting a bit on what they suggest, it is time to conduct any inferential analyses that are appropriate.  Before firing off a bunch of SPSS tests, it is a good idea to once again revisit your project questions.  Doing so will help you frame out the details of your analyses (e.g., the type of test, nature of test options you may want to employ).  Please be sure to see your research advisor for input at this stage.

After your graphs and statistical analyses are done it is time to start writing your results section.   Again, in many cases designing this section to follow the sequence of your project questions can provide and relatively straight-forward means of writing.   Describe the patterns/responses you see by reference to your figures first and then follow up with references to statistical tests.  For example:

"Feeding rates for sparrows were highest near the woods (x = 236.6  13.1 g/hr) relative to more distance feeders (x = 113.2  24.2 g/hr).  Indeed, feeding rates were significantly higher at the near- relative to the far distant sites (F = 16.7, d.f. = 1, p < 0.03)."

 In some cases (particularly if your questions are a bit open ended) if can be hard to sort out exactly which findings need to be presented - work with your advisor in addressing this issue.  Your research advisor will be happy to provide you with examples of papers that model this sort of approach to developing a results section.   Often  reviewing other papers at this stage with an eye towards the style they use (as opposed to focusing on content which is what we typically do in reading journal papers) can provide some important tips or insights that can prove very helpful.

What i
nformation goes into the abstract you submit to the OAS and what sort of format should you follow?

An abstract is basically a short digest of a research project.   The abstract should:

The OAS allows for submission of two types of abstracts from students: those describing finished projects and those describing work in progress.   Plan to follow the instructions for preparing a "work in progress" abstract (a web link will be provided) unless your instructor suggests otherwise to you.  Though abstracts are short, they are challenging to write well.  Your abstract is due in for my first review on 1 October.

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: