Monthly Archives: May 2020

Steal this (updated) syllabus for Scientific Writing

I’ve just finished the 3rd go-around of my Scientific Writing course.  When I first signed up to teach it, I was very scared, but now that I’ve been through it a few times, I’m quite pleased with how it worked out.

After the first offering, I posted my syllabus and other materials, and quite a few folks found that useful.  But I’ve polished and improved the course, so today I’m posting an updated set.  I’m also including some notes about adapting the course to online delivery – something I had involuntary experience with this year, as most of us did! Continue reading

How to get comments on draft writing – more than once

I read a lot of draft manuscripts for people – perhaps you do too. (I’m talking here about my role as a “friendly reviewer”, in which I’m looking at rougher manuscripts that aren’t yet in the peer review system.)  I read drafts for the undergraduates in my Scientific Writing course, for my grad students, and for my friends and collaborators.  I do this because I want to help these folks improve their writing, and also because I want to pay forward the favour that many others have done for me over the years.  It’s a lot of work, which I usually don’t mind.  Sometimes, though, it’s more work than it has to be, and then I see red. Continue reading

I wish my students were motivated by love of subject. But I shouldn’t.

I’ve said it many times: I wish my students were motivated by their love of the subject, not by the course credit or the grade.  We all know what a joy it is to teach someone who’s there because they can’t wait to know more; who reaches toward us for knowledge rather than sitting back to have it delivered; whose eyes sparkle when they learn something new.  Teaching that student is fun, and it’s easy.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our students were like that?

Actually, no. Continue reading

A year of books (3): reading into the pandemic

Time now for the third instalment of #AYearInBooks, in which I track the non-academic reading I do.  Here’s why I’m doing this.  Perhaps surprisingly, the pandemic lockdown hasn’t increased my reading rate much – although it has increased my baking rate, my Wii Golf playing rate, and most recently, my cab-view-train-trip-youtube-video-watching-rate.  Anyway, on to the most recent stack of books.

The Word is Murder (Anthony Horowitz, 2017). This is a murder mystery, but a rather light and playful one (those who don’t read murder mysteries may find that a strange idea).  It’s also one with a gimmick: the author is also a character.  I don’t mean just that it’s told in the first person; instead, the author Anthony Horowitz literally appears as the narrating character, with the same name and background, frequent references to his other books, and so on.  The Word is Murder has lots of things I enjoy in a book: a carefully constructed British mystery, details of something I don’t know much about (in this case, acting school), and a connection to books and the world of writing.  But I can’t decide if I liked this book a lot or merely a little.  The gimmick seemed a bit gimmicky, and the carefully constructed mystery sometimes felt a bit, well, constructed.  There’s nothing wrong with a quick, light read; but next time, back to Peter Robinson or P.D. James. Continue reading

Covid-19, mystery novels, and how science works

This is a guest post from Emma Despland.  Her first pandemic-themed guest post is here; this week, she asks what the pandemic can teach the public about science, and teach us about public understanding of science.

There is considerable frustration about uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, how serious it is and what we should do.

Do we need to wear masks? What kind of mask? If you’re had Covid-19, are you immune? For how long? Do I need to disinfect my groceries? Is it safe to go jogging outside? One model  suggests that you need to be 10 m away from someone who is running to avoid getting hit by their microdroplets and possibly contaminated, whereas other experts think this long-distance transmission is unlikely.

Fictional representations of science show too many Eureka moments. Continue reading