Appendix 3: Rubrics

Peer Review

  • Course Learning Objective: Practice peer-review by providing regular, constructive feedback through comments and questions on the work of your fellow students.

Peer review is challenging, but an excellent opportunity to learn how to critically and constructively evaluate the work of others. In the processes of this, you will also learn to think more deeply about your own work and its strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, it models transparency which is an important value to practice in an effort to build a healthy and robust scientific community.

Reading for peer review is distinct from reading for spelling and grammar errors. If you notice these, you can certainly point them out, but they should not be your focus. We will conduct two types of peer review in this course: on field notebooks and on professional materials.

Field Notebook

For the peer review on field notebooks focus on the following:

  • Robustness of observations. At the end of the day when looking back at a record of observations, we never regret the extra detail. Quantity and quality both matter here. Are your peers making only a few, simple observations or are they making multiple kinds of observations and in great detail?
  • Approach to observations. There is no right or wrong approach, but consider the various possibilities and their effectiveness. These could include written descriptions, sketches, creative responses to observations such as poems, etc. Ask, what kind of approach(es) are your peers taking and are these approaches effective at representing field observations?
  • Evidence of scientific thinking. The field notebook is by no means a formal research document, but it is a tool to help us think like scientists. Has your peer begun to frame questions and consider hypotheses to those questions? What about ideas for experiments?
  • Depth of reflective thinking. A component of the field notebook is the reflective writing exercise. These are an opportunity for meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). Is your peer making connections across field observations? Is there evidence of their ideas developing from simple, amorphous themes to more clearly developed concepts?

Assess each of these four areas and type up a response to your peer that discusses with concrete examples areas where they are accomplishing the above well as well as areas that could use greater development. If applicable, make suggestions for how they might consider improving.

Professional Materials

The professional materials include an inquiry email, CV, and personal statement. For the peer review on professional materials focus on the following:

  • Clarity and completeness. Is all relevant information included? Is the information presented clear?
  • Cohesiveness and connection between elements. Is the information presented in a consistent way across each component? Do they tell a cohesive story about the applicant?
  • Compelling story. Does the applicant clearly communicate their motivations and goals? Do they convey why they are interested in a particular path and how they have come to that path?
  • Professionalism and design. Are components formatted in a pleasing way? Are they designed in a way that aids in the communication of their information? Is material provided professional in appearance and content?

For each peer review activity assess the relevant areas and type up a response to your peer that discusses with concrete examples areas where they are accomplishing the above well as well as areas that could use greater development. If applicable, make suggestions for how they might consider improving.

Written Proposal

  • Course Learning Objectives: Perform biodiversity research through making and translating your observations of the natural world into research questions, hypotheses, and experimental design that are grounded in scientific literature. Communicate the research process to your peers in a clear, effective, and engaging manner.

Writing is one of the primary ways scientists communicate their work. Thus being able to clearly communicate through your writing is an essential ability to develop as you continue your path in science.

The written proposal should be approximately 500-1000 words. One of the purposes of the writing assignment is to help you clarify your thinking on the topic before putting together a presentation. Thus, it will be due one week before the presentation takes place. It should include an introduction to the topic along with any of your own relevant field observations, your research question along with reasoning for the question, research hypotheses, explanation of proposed experimental design including methodologies, types of data collected, and a general explanation of how you will interpret those data depending on the result. The assignment should include references to primary research articles to support the proposal. These can include background context, ideas for methodological implementation, or other supporting information as you see fit. The proposal should have good narrative flow and a logical argument. Think of a proposal as a prequel to a research paper – you have figured out your rationale, research question, and approach – you just do not have the results yet. Consequently, the proposal should be written in a way that is stylistically similar to a research article.

  • Background. This section should give your reader a basic grasp of what it is you are studying. If your proposal deals with a particular animal or plant or groups of animals or plants, you will want to provide relevant information about the organismal biology and how it relates to your research question. You will likely also want to address similar research on your topic of interest to help show how your proposal fits into the broader field as well as any novelty it might add. These are some examples, as there may be other information you deem relevant to include – part of the process is learning how to make that assessment.
  • Research question. This is the question you are interested in answering. It should be clearly stated and also clearly rationalized. You want to convince the reader of why it is an interesting and important question worth addressing. Your background information should also help to justify this research question and ground it in larger body of scientific research.
  • Hypothesis. What hypothesis are you testing in an effort to answer your research question? What predictions does that hypothesis lead you to make? These should be clearly stated in your proposal. They should also be supported to show why they logically follow the question you are asking.
  • Experimental design. How will you test your hypothesis? What do you propose to do and how do you propose to go about doing it? This section should be sufficiently detailed so that the experiment could be carried out; however, it should be written in a narrative way and not a list or a step-by-step format.
  • Anticipated results and interpretation. What do you expect to find and what are the potential implications of those findings? Consider both results that would support or refute your hypothesis.
  • Writing has good narrative flow; ideas are organized; grammar, punctuation, and spelling are correct.
  • References cited properly in the format shown below. Include both in-text citations and full citations at the end of the proposal.

In-text citation:

  • One author: (Last Name, Year)
  • Two authors: (Last Name and Last Name, Year)
  • Three or more authors: (Last Name et al., Year)

Full citation:

Author Last Name, Author Initials. Year. Title. Journal Name. Volume #(Issue #): page numbers.

Be sure to include all author names.

Proposal Presentation

  • Course Learning Objectives: Perform biodiversity research through making and translating your observations of the natural world into research questions, hypotheses, and experimental design that are grounded in scientific literature. Communicate the research process to your peers in a clear, effective, and engaging manner.

Presentations offer an alternative and equally important way to communicate scientific information. They often contain a lot of similar information to their written counterparts, however as they are presented in a different format it can be helpful to keep in mind that you are telling a story of research to your audience. Making your story compelling will help keep your audience engaged with your presentation. Thus it can be helpful to think about common elements of a narrative arc: exposition (background), rising action (question, hypothesis, and methods), climax (results), and falling action (further directions, acknowledgements, etc.).

  • Background is concise and provides enough relevant detail to orient the audience.
  • Research question is clearly stated and justified.
  • Hypothesis follows research question and has clear, testable predictions.
  • Experimental Design – student explains the methodology in a clear and understandable fashion, indicating conceptual grasp, and the methods are appropriate for addressing the question and hypothesis.
  • Anticipated results, interpretation, and potential impact are described and related back to the original question and hypothesis.
  • Delivery is engaging. Student presents a cohesive research story to the audience.
  • Design of slideshow is not distracting and aids audience in processing information. Text is kept to the essentials to emphasize key points. Figures and photos are used and are thoughtfully explained an related to the content of the presentation.
  • References cited properly and acknowledgements provided at the end if applicable.
  • Q&A handled professionally.

Professional Materials

  • Course Learning Objective: Access future research opportunities through the preparation of professional materials that communicate your skills and interest in research opportunities.

Email – This will be an email template you can use in the future to inquire about potential research opportunities.

  • Introduce yourself – who are you and what is your career stage (e.g., year in college).
  • Explain why you are emailing. Is there a particular position you are applying for or are you inquiring about possible openings? Maybe you would just like to talk with them some more about their research.
  • Demonstrate your interest. Why are you interested in this particular position? Consider reviewing the lab website to have a basic understanding of what they investigate. You could also take a look at some papers published from the lab. This demonstrates your curiosity and initiative. Consider explaining why you find their research to be particularly interesting (e.g., I would like to better understand how social relationships are translated into gene expression patterns in fish with social sex determination).
  • Provide a brief description of your relevant qualifications for the position you are inquiring about. Do you have previous research experience from an internship or lab course? Do you have relevant course work? How about experiencing working with or leading others? These are just some examples. Reflect on your experiences and how they help make you a strong candidate.
  • Sign off politely.

CV – The curriculum vita or CV is a curated list of your accomplishments.

  • Name and contact information provided
  • Educational information provided (e.g., College/University Name, start/end years, major, minor, honors, GPA)
  • Other experience organized by type. Examples include work experience, leadership experience, scholarships won, relevant coursework, mentoring experience, service activities, other involvement demonstrating your well roundedness. You can include relevant dates for when these took place or were achieved. If something is not intuitive to understand, you may provide a short description.

Personal Statement – The story of who you are.

  • Catchy opening sentence.
  • Good narrative flow with proper grammar and spelling.
  • Tell a compelling story that keeps the reader engaged. For example:
  • Funny anecdotes that show your personal development.
  • Pivotal moments in your life that helped you to learn about yourself, your values, or your interests.
  • Examples of professional experience that taught you what you were capable of or revealed new interests.
  • Choose a theme and weave that theme throughout the different elements of your statement.
  • Sense of who you are as a person. Be honest, a little vulnerable, and open to feedback.


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Experiences in Biodiversity Research: A Field Course Copyright © 2024 by Thea B. Gessler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.