I just submitted my four year review and in so doing listed out the students that had published blogs on The Molecular Ecologist. Seventeen students have not only received course credit, but also have a non-peer reviewed publication on their CVs.

Starting a week from today, the next batch of student posts will go live on our new #StudentSciComm post series. Students wrote posts as part of my Evolution and Sci Comm courses this past autumn.

The handful of us that have the opportunity to blog for The Molecular Ecologist are passionate about SciComm. But, that’s just it, there’s only a handful of us that regularly (well for me not so regularly anymore =<) get to write about the latest and greatest in molecular ecology. I’ve been fortunate that I contribute to this great blog and can provide this opportunity to my students.

Each semester, I’ve tried to work in blogging for the grad students in each course. In SciComm, it’s a logical fit as the course is all about communication. However, I’ve found it is a way to engage graduate students in reading the primary literature beyond their own research in any course. I’d love to get undergrads involved, but haven’t yet had a course where I can adapt this as easily.

Nevertheless, finding time to read cool papers that aren’t directly related to your research is hard as a grad student … really at any stage of an academic career. How many of us have lots of browser tabs open pdfs that we plan to read?

Blogging as an assignment gives course credit – and it’s a fun assignment! But, it’s not just busy work that gets relegated to a folder and never opened again. Students can do a bit of extra editing and get their blog posts published. That’s a line on a CV that I think is pretty important. It shows versatility in the types of writing a student has undertaken and gotten published!

Students have the freedom in my courses to pick what they want to write about. They can write a review of a topic, describe a technique, write some useful R code, or write about a recent paper. Because there is usually a bit of a lag in getting the blogs online, students are required to find a paper that is in press or recently accepted.

The students pitch their idea to me and then go off to write. They turn in their post for credit and get comments from me about how to improve the post should they endeavor to submit for publication. Students can walk away at this point, they’ve read a paper, got their grade, and some experience in more popular science writing. But, if they want to do some more work, they incorporate the edits.

At this point, I give them a template to use for their blog posts. This is largely to make my life easier uploading their posts to WordPress. They highlight each paper they cite and provide the hyperlinks. They also write a personal blurb that can be used to talk a bit about their research.

Example student post by Nicole Conner showing template with highlighted links and blurb drafts.

Students have loved this assignment because it’s different. It also teaches them how to write clearly, concisely, and in a voice that is accessible to the audience that reads this blog. So, I’d recommend that this be an assignment for students across courses – read the primary literature and write something fun about it! Selfishly, when a student chose one of my papers to write about, it was pretty cool from an author’s perspective!

I shared my assignment with other contributors to TME and am happy to share my other SciComm materials with anyone interested. Feel free to email me!

But, with the severity of the virus sweeping across the world, the craziness of moving to online lectures mid-semester, the cancellation of conference after conference, and everything else that is anxiety and stress-inducing, I hope the #StudentSciComm posts over the next two months are a nice distraction. Hopefully by the time the last one goes live in the middle of May, things are improving.

Thanks as always to Jeremy for editing these posts alongside me!

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