Learn to think like a biologist.
Our central questions--"what determines where organisms are found, how
many are found there, and how patterns of distribution and abundance change
over time"--are fundamental to biology and provide perfect material for
practicing to think like a biologist. Your goal is to learn not just
to recognize biological patterns, but also to think through how you would
determine the processes that lead to those
patterns. Whenever you see a pattern, always formulate your own
questions about how it arose.
Attend every lecture and take notes! Lectures will put special emphasis on material
that you won't get only from reading the textbook. Taking notes in your own words
helps you to organize information in the way you learn it best.
Take responsibility to learn actively.
Lecture time is only a small portion of your opportunity to learn. I
use this limited time to organize information in order to help you to
navigate the detail when you study, write, and read more outside of class.
Integrating information as it comes in is an essential scientific skill.
Come prepared. Reading the assignment before class will
allow you to understand more of the lecture material, to ask better
questions, and to participate. Reading the assignment again after
lecture will allow you to use the organization provided to absorb more of the
Read for insight. When reading journal articles pay careful attention to
(1) the questions asked, (2) the methods used to answer them,
and (3) the basis for any conclusions drawn.
Make sure you understand figures and tables, which make for good questions on
Review/relearn lecture material soon after each class. You will
need to master too much accumulated detail to cram the material into your
brain just before an exam. Use the lecture notes to learn
how to recognize what you do and do not understand.
Make full use of time in
recitations. Recitation provides an
opportunity to develop the skills that are most essential to your
development as a
biologist. It is also your best
opportunity to ask me questions about your work and to benefit from
working with your group. Do not plan to arrive late or to
Benefit from group work.
The secret to working in groups is to be independent before being
collaborative. If you all do a task together, your one collective
effort could very well be wrong. But if you each first do a task
independently and then compare notes, you are more likely to be able to
correct each other.
Get started early on writing assignments. Do not leave writing
until the last minute. Use the multiple weeks
devoted to each recitation project to build your final product, rather than thinking you
will get it all done at the end. If you try to cram you
will be frustrated and your grade will suffer. Good writing requires background
research and creative thought, which cannot all be accomplished the night before
an assignment is due. Scientific ideas and presentations take time to
work through problems.
Take writing seriously. Turning a complex set of
interconnected ideas into a linear string of words is one of the hardest things
we do, but also one of the most important. Take my feedback seriously and
not personally, as I invest a lot of time and energy into trying to show you how
to make your writing more precise and concise and your ideas more
evidence-based. Take advantage of two important resources: (1) read the
article by Gopen and Swan (1980), "The
Science of Scientific Writing" and (2) take advantage of the writing center on
Ask questions! Be sure that material is clear in your mind. Ask
for clarification in lecture, come to office hours, study with your classmates.
I go by the rule that there are no stupid questions or
comments. You will learn more by verbalizing your understanding of the
material to others, whether it is initially right or wrong.