Environmental science majors at Temple University have considerable freedom to design their own curriculum through their choice of electives. Some emphasize biology, some chemistry, others geology or physics. Designing a senior capstone class for this heterogeneous cohort proved challenging. I choose to structure my class around how to write a scientific paper, a challenge many will soon face irrespective of their specialty.
In this class student read, analyze and discuss a series of papers that have significantly influenced our understanding of environmental science, many of them at the heart of current environmental policy debates.These papers also serve as models for the major assignment of the semester: the preparation,“submission,” review, and revision of a scientific review paper on a topic of the student’s choosing. Along the way students learn how to:
- Conduct a thorough literature search using library databases, not just Google.
- Understand the basic structure of scientific journal articles
- Understand the strengths and limitations of the peer-review process
- Judge the relative merits of scientific journals
- Understand basic data exploration and analysis techniques
- Prepare figures and tables for scientific publication
- Prepare and submit an article for class “peer review”
- Revise a manuscript to address the comments of reviewers
Class size is kept small permit individual feedback. In-class discussion of readings and a wide variety writing exercises comprise most of the instruction.