Honors Writing about Health and Medicine

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Learning Research Writing



For this post, read the two files linked to below, the first a study of how science majors learn disciplinary writing, and the second a study of the writing processes and strategies of biologists writing grant proposals. You might relate the first to your own writing training (or lack thereof) in your major, perhaps even proposing what such training should look like. Or, you might relate the second article to the writing processes of the person you interviewed or a professor in your major.

Poe et al.




  1. sarahmhudak says:

    I really liked the fact from the first article that MIT chooses to make their students in the Biological Engineering program write pieces for their courses that directly relate to the writing they will do after graduation and on into their academic and professional careers. As a psychologist, the type of writing I will be doing will be different, obviously, than an engineer. However, I know from working as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in a Cognitive Sciences lab that I will have roughly the same writing work load. Psychologists have to write grant proposals, IRB approvals, literature reviews, research articles about studies they have completed, and much more. So far, in my undergraduate courses, I have not been challenged to write such rigorous pieces like students at MIT, and I am kind of disheartened by that a bit. Here at UCF, Psychology is currently the largest major. Its interesting topics draw students in, but when the time comes to apply for graduate programs, their degree audits do not reflect the ability to handle all of that work! Thankfully, the opportunities to get involved in research, whether in volunteering at labs or through Honors in the Major, graduate schools can see that students are aware of the work and writing that comes with a PhD.

    Another important factor in writing anything is knowing who your audience is and how your work will be received and perceived. Both biologists in the second article took those factors into account even though their writing procedures were different. In proposal writing, knowing your audience is extremely important. Persuasion and original ideas must be present in the proposal, but not in a way that come across as demanding or forceful. Some believe that this process can halt new ideas because proposal guidelines require specifics for each specialized field or discipline. While rules and solid labels are important, the need to stretch these boundaries to do innovative research may be necessary; I think that those who review proposals should keep that in mind.

  2. apectol91 says:

    I too found it interesting how MIT emphasizes the need for writing to be incorporated into curriculums which one may not think it to be a part of. I agree with this because who wants a biological engineer, or health care provider in our case, who is illiterate to be working for them?

    Ironically, today in class my teacher went through the rubrics for all of our major writing assignments this semester. One paper being a case study which we are to collaborate with a classmate to compare and contrast a similar yet distinguishably different injury. Two papers are article summaries which are to emphasize the articles application to athletic training as well as our opinion on the statements within the article. The last paper is one in which we must choose some type of sport related mechanism (pitching a baseball for example) and break down, the biomechanical components of that movement and explain ways in which to become more efficient in that movement. Sounds a bit overwhelming right? At the end of this hour long lecture about writing, my lab partner who sits next to me commented quietly, “I thought I was getting away from writing by entering this program.” One might agree, what is the point of athletic training students to be writing all these papers? Aren’t we just taping ankles, stretching athletes and administering rehab protocols? The way I see it, in order for anyone to be excellent in their field, they not only need to be competent in what they practice as an individual, they need to be able to effectively communicate and convey that information to others who are not at the same level of competency or intelligence in that particular field. Only then can you truly be a master at what you do. Alas, this is the method to all this writing madness, to become a master. Hence a thesis paper at the conclusion of your degree.

  3. kgardner1130 says:

    I found the first article about the MIT students to be particularly interesting. As a senior, I have finished taking all of my required lab work. This includes biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, among others. In most of these labs, we were required to write up lab reports. The author of the article refers to “cookbook labs” which could not be a more accurate description of the labs at UCF. In my experience, the required lab manual provides the student with an objective, some background on the experiment and the procedure. To succeed, the student must simply follow the “recipe” laid out in the lab manual and record their results. After lab, the student submits a lab report. These reports hardly encourage thinking and are mainly just a regurgitation of the lab manual and results.
    At MIT, the students were challenged to think of novel ways to perform experiments and were further placed outside of their comfort zone with their writing assignments. I have had to complete some journal analysis for class; however, I have never been challenged on my work or had to revise it. I don’t think this is due to my superb writing ability but rather a lack of time on the professor’s end. Most of my classes are always are a very careful allotment of time with little room for such writing assignments. Sometimes I feel like this is a shame. When I walk into a new science class, I can pretty much predict the grading system, 3-4 multiple choice tests and maybe a cumulative final. After taking enough of these classes it becomes routine to take these tests without actually engaging or learning much about the material. If more writing were incorporated into the curriculum, it might force a deeper understanding of the material and discourage spitting out memorized facts and concepts onto a scantron.
    Lastly, one of the MIT students spoke about how she had not taken a writing class since high school and felt that her writing had since suffered. I could not agree more with this. When writing lab reports becomes your only practice in writing, other types of writing really suffer. This summer I had to write a personal statement and mini descriptions of my extracurriculars for my applications. To say I was lost would be an understatement. After putting in so much work with my grades and MCAT scores, I was frustrated that I was struggling with something as simple as writing my application. I think it would be helpful for a course that taught this type of writing to be required for pre-professional students.

  4. tamarabwi32 says:

    As much as I can give MIT props for their assignments (as this strategy is the closest to imitating research writing that I’ve ever seen), I think the other key to getting an effective break into writing for any major is to interact with the most controversial and “yet-to-be-determined” realms of the discipline. I didn’t realize what was involved or that I was truly interested in research in biology until I read some articles on the genetics of nonnative species and pit viper phylogenetic trees. Neither topic is truly resolved, they are constantly being investigated and studied. This clicked into place in a way that no soap making or oil extracting method could do for me in a chemistry lab. This is where the reading and writing skills I needed made themselves known.
    I can’t disagree with the plight being presented in the first article, even as they try to explain how lab reports really can prepare you for writing within your discipline. The problem still lies in the fact that students do not believe they need to be effective writers or readers as preparation for a career in the medical sciences. I sneered at English classes myself when I started college and did as little as possible when it came to lab reports. I also became irate when I noticed Cornell, one of the vet schools I applied to, required a composition or general writing class be taken during the undergraduate schooling. This article, in its explanation of educating students and engaging them in the writing skills they will need in future years, puts that requirement into perspective for me.
    The person I am interviewing has no interest in writing grant proposals or any writing associated with biological research, but my old research professor was entrenched in them. Every year around a certain time he would call us all up to write summaries of our research to put into proposals for money he would receive from big groups such as the USDA, Disney, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. It was always interesting to see the play in rhetoric without the rhetoric, or the persuasive tack scientists have to take within the standard, objective layout of the proposal itself. It was the one part of my time spent in the lab besides conferences where my work was really put up for advertisement. It is a necessary but sometimes uncomfortable tack to take, especially when you face off with other students who are doing cancer research and identifying genes for other diseases. I hated being seen as boring or “less important” because I didn’t specifically or directly deal with people.

  5. hgmohan says:

    I think MIT has the right idea. It doesn’t matter what field you go into–writing is always going to be a big part of any scientist’s life. The pre-medical program at UCF only requires Composition I and II to be completed, and surprisingly, this is what most medical schools require. However, there are always little blurbs on the requirements page that says something like “more writing classes are recommended but not required”. When I spoke to my pre-med advisor, she told me that pre-med students should try to take a writing-intensive class at least once a year. I was able to get out of Comp I and II due to AP credits, but since then, I’ve taken a Creative Writing class, and of course, this class. I totally agree with Kate about the “cookbook labs”. What we write in our science classes shouldn’t even be considered “lab reports”, because we’re not writing anything new. It’s basically a recitation of what we’ve already completed in the lab. It’s busy work, more than anything. I’ve never had to write scientific papers for any of my classes. In fact, there’s only been one class I’ve had to write a major paper for, and that was a computer class, of all things! I think, in order to really understand how writing affects each subject, each major science class should have at least one major writing assignment. Even if you don’t want to go into a writing-intensive part of your field, you WILL have to write something at least once–it’s better to get the training now than later.

  6. erahmes says:

    I agree with everyone above about the “cookbook labs” and that the pre-med doesn’t really encourage writing. I also struggled when writing my personal statement and autobiography simply from lack of practice. With that being said, I have taken some classes that I feel have given me an authentic learning experience. In one of my upper level science classes I was required to do extensive research on journal articles and be able to pull them apart. We had an assignment where we had to present everything that was wrong or right in a journal article, including the procedures used and the portrayal of the results. I also did the PILOT program for QBM. In this program we were required to present a couple journal articles/scientific studies as well as participate and present our own research project. Although the experiences were helpful, I feel like it would be even more helpful to have a course specifically based on upper level writing, wether it be for a research project or your personal statement for the medical school application. I think that writing should be more incorporated into the pre-medical program at UCF and probably at other schools as well.

  7. ryanmarracino says:

    It is interesting to see what other schools have undergraduates go through with regards to writing. In my limited experience here at UCF it is very difficult to encounter an authentic writing experience that I have had. In the chemistry 2 lab we did have to “design” some of our own experiments, but they were very basic, and other than that class I haven’t had to do much critical thinking or real authentic writing. Last semester I took three science classes, and besides taking notes, I didn’t write one thing all semester. Every test in all three classes was on a scantron, and it was mostly simply remembering what a powerpoint slide said.
    On the other hand, if you look at the alternatives to this, it would require a lot of investment from the university to the students to be able to grade, give feedback, and really teach how to write and think critically about a subject. For a university to put in this type of investment for every student in these programs wouldn’t make sense for them because there are so many students who don’t make it through these classes, and drop out. So for the university it would be a bad return on investment. That’s why applying to medical schools and professional programs is so competitive, and extensive process. The schools want everyone they accept, and everyone that they put a lot of investment into to pass. If you fail then both sides lose in the deal, because their investment is gone.

  8. igoldfarb says:

    I completely agree with all of my classmates when they make the statements about the various science labs we have had to take throughout college. I couldn’t agree more that they are very straight forward and as I said in class Tuesday, we simply have to “regurgitate” the information in lab to get a grade. At first, in high school I thought that would be okay but now since I am in classes that are so specific to my major (nursing) I am starting to be concerned about the knowledge I am gaining. I am in microbiology this semester and numerous times our professor has referenced numerous times that this is something you need to know as a nurse or that this is something a nurse references everyday. And then we just move on to the next topic. I’m not saying he is doing a bad job teaching it, but however when we get to the lab, 2 out of the 3 TA’s who run the lab are sitting on their computers while the other one briefly goes over exactly what we need to do to complete the lab and get a good grade. I am sure that I will learn a lot of the necessary information for nursing once I get into the nursing program but I would just still like to spend more time on the information and the process of what we are doing in the lab and less worried about if I “regurgitated” good enough to get an A. I want to learn but the environment that the lab is in focuses more on straightforward work instead of knowledge intake and understanding the overall topic.

  9. kprashad says:

    In the first article, the MIT chooses to emphasize writing in their curriculum and decided to incorporate it into their curriculum. They were right in doing this since it is important for those in medical careers to be well versed in writing different papers and anything else they may need in the future. It was interesting to see them make the Biological Engineering students write different things related to what they will do after graduation, whether it be directly related to their job or for something else important. In my field, which is Biomedical Sciences, there are not many opportunities for to write. After all, the only writing I’ve done since coming here to the University of Central Florida has been for my LEAD scholars class. This class is the first one I’ve done where the writing has anything to do with medicine. Later, there aren’t many classes that actually require writing since most of them involve mainly memorizing material or lab; chemistry and biology are some examples. Without writing in these classes, it doesn’t allow me the opportunity to write about articles or any other medical material that I may encounter and I won’t know the important factors needed when writing like understanding the correct target audience.

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