Looking for new poster teams

Collaborating on posters is beneficial for two reasons. First, making a good poster takes a lot of time and work. Sharing that workload makes life a little easier. And second, every job has some sort of social element requiring collaboration. So working as a team is excellent practice for life after college.

Feeling like part of team means that others value your contributions, communicate well with you, and engage with you in open discussions of the team’s work. I’ve talked with students who felt like a part of a team when working on their first poster and those who have not. If you find yourself in the group of students who did not feel like they were part of a team, then it might be time for a team shift.

Please use the comment section below to start a conversation that will help you to find new poster team mates. Would you attend a weekend meet-and-greet? Can you share your biology-related interests in the comments so that others with shared interests can find you? If you feel comfortable, share some of your expectations for a new team so that everyone’s on the same page from the beginning.

I hope this can help those of you looking for a new team to get started early.



Lots of students have asked questions about proper citation format. In science, each journal that you send manuscripts to will want citations formatted in a different way. I gave some examples of how to cite a science journal article and a book in the Poster Project Instructions.

In-Text Citations
The first kind of citation is the in-text citation. When you make a claim, you have to back it up. If you use the work of someone else to back up your claim, you have to cite it as you make the claim. The in-text citation gives the last name of the author(s) and the year of publication inside parentheses, typically at the end of the sentence. The last name and year of two different sources that support the same claim are separated by a semicolon inside the parentheses. This is standard no matter what kind of source you are referencing. If you use the author’s last name is used in your sentence, then it is just followed immediately by the year of publication in parentheses.

According to Dittrich-Reed (2016), there are two ways to do an in-text citation. If there are two authors, list them both (Dittrich-Reed & Lovely 2016). If there are two or more sources that support the same claim, then cite them both and separate the citations with a semicolon (Dittrich-Reed & Lovely 2016; Dittrich-Reed 2016).

Literature Cited
When listing the full citations in the literature cited section you’ll want to include all of the information that the reader needs to look up the source of information. Typically this includes: author’s or authors’ full names, the year published, the title of the work, the title of the work it appears in, publisher, page numbers, URL and date of access (for websites).


  • Scientific journal article format: Name [Last, first initial; multiple authors separated by commas]. Year published. Article title. Journal Title (vol): Pages.
  • Scientific journal article example: Reimers, C.E., Tender, L.M., Fertig, S. & Wang, W. 2001. Harvesting energy from the marine sediment-water interface. Environ. Sci. Technol. (35): 192-195.
  • Book chapter format: Name [Last, first initial]. Year. in Book Title. eds. Names. Edition. Place published: Publisher. pages.
  • Book chapter example: Katz, E., Shipway, A. N. & WIlner, I. 2003. in Handbook of Fuel Cells-Fundamentals, Technology, and Application. eds. Vielstich, W. Lamm, A. & Gasteiger, H.A. John Wiley & Sons Ltd: Chichester. 355-381.
  • Webpage, Blog, or Online Video format: Author’s name. Date of Publication. Title of post. Title of blog or YouTube channel. [accessed date]. page/blog/video URL.
  • Dittrich-Reed, D.R. Sept. 16, 2016. Citations. Principles of Biology. [Sept 17, 2016]. http://dr3biology.net/blog/2016/09/16/citations/.

Source Quality
Students have also asked whether some sources of information are appropriate or allowed. One of the learning outcomes for this course is to “demonstrate competency in the disciplinary practice of biology by working with others to produce and communicate quality research.” Essentially, this is a question of source or information quality. You may use any source you choose. However, not all sources are of equal quality. And you must recognize that quality in your writing, either by not using poor quality sources, or acknowledging that the source is of limited credibility.

The following questions will help you to determine the quality of the source. Was it written by an expert? How do you know they are an expert? Was it reviewed by other experts (peer-reviewed)? Does the author make claims that are supported or justified by original research or the work of other experts? Are the author’s assumptions discussed? Did the author present a single or multiple points of view? In the case of original research, was the methodology appropriate or justified?

By the way, these are excellent questions to ask of your own and other students’ work when evaluating the quality of your/their research!

Please feel free to leave questions about citation format in the comments. I’ll try to check back on Saturday.



Week 5 Blog Discussion Topic!

Here’s a question to start you writing your Week 5 Blog:

What’s the value of making a poster?

There’s no “right” answer to this question. I know you are all working hard on your posters, so I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on your purpose as you make that final push to the finish line.

As other students write their blogs you’ll see their activity on the News Feed. Take a short break from your busy week and read one or two blogs, leave a comment, and draw some inspiration from each other. 🙂


Poster Advice

You’ve had a lot of questions about the poster projects, and that’s expected. The poster project assignment is an ill-structured problem. Let me explain.

Well-structured problems have a single correct answer. When you solve a well-structured problem, you can confirm that you got the right answer. An ill-structured problem doesn’t have a single correct answer – multiple answers are possible and the quality of the answer depends on the quality of the justification and supporting evidence.

In the life and health sciences we rarely have a well-structured problem to solve. Conducting original research and communicating your discoveries, diagnosing a patient and designing a treatment plan are real world examples of ill-structured problems.

The goal of the poster projects is to give you practice taking on the challenges of an ill-structured problem. From what I’ve seen so far, you’re doing really well! Keep it up. It gets easier with practice.

By the way: you can include your posters in applications to med school or grad school as evidence that you can ask questions, conduct research, and answer those questions – highly prized skills!

Now for student questions:

“Are we supposed to relate our topic to things we are interested in as a biologist?”

Yes, absolutely! Your questions should be interesting to you. This is your chance to center your learning on what you actually want to know about biology! You can even approach the same topic that you’re passionate about from different angles as we do the next three posters. The first Learning Outcome for our class from the syllabus is “research one or more ‘personal passions’ for biology.”

“Do I have to state my question on the poster? If so where?”

The best posters will have clear questions that are answered, but you don’t have to write them as questions. You can describe your question with a statement on the purpose of your poster. The abstract should show the purpose and if you have a brief introduction, it should be there too (see Sample Poster).

“It’s unclear to me how we are supposed to put everything together on the poster (electronic) in the same template as the sample.”

The Sample Poster is on a single PowerPoint slide that has been sized to be 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide. If you go to: File > Page Setup, you can select “Custom” size and then enter a width and height in inches. For poster drafts you can re-size the slides to be “Letter Paper” or 8.5” x 11”. Pictures are easy to add by going to: Insert > Photo > Picture from file and then browsing to your preferred image file (.jpg works).

Text is a bit tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not too bad. Use the Text tool to add a text box to the page. My Sample Poster can be used to lay out the columns. If you want to wrap the text around a picture, you have to make several text boxes. Check out this tutorial from MS.

Minimum font size for the narrative section is 24pt. Minimum for captions is 20pt. Try to keep your narrative to 2 pages in order to have room for lots of good figures.

“How do I condense/simplify my information so that it isn’t just a review on a poster, but still have depth, sophistication, and generate interest?”

This is a difficult question to answer simply. Use the most simple, concise language possible. Reduce words without reducing meaning. If you say it simply and clearly, you will sound sophisticated.

Use the correct technical words in the appropriate context to save space. We have technical words because they allow us to capture complex ideas in a single word or phrase. You’ll use a glossary to define those unavoidable technical terms.

The way to generate interest is by telling a compelling story. Build up your question with a little relevant background, introduce a conflict, then resolve that conflict. To practice and get a feel for how authors write these story elements into scientific papers, look for them in your reading. In each of the journal articles that you read try to identify the background, conflict and resolution (they should all be in the introduction).

Use the box and figures wisely to save space in the narrative.

“Still unsure about boxes. Do they just go near figures?”

The box is your friend. It lets you satisfy your content requirement in order to tell the story you are really interested in. I recommend using the box to make the connection between photosynthesis or cellular respiration and the topic related to your question. That way, the explanation doesn’t disrupt the flow of your narrative.

Once you’ve used the box to explain how a certain genetic disease can disrupt aerobic respiration you can use your narrative to discuss the effectiveness of different treatment options and how people with the disease can lead normal lives (or whatever story you want to tell). If you do this, then your narrative only needs one or two sentences explaining that the genetic disease disrupts aerobic respiration in the mitochondrion, rather than the three paragraphs it would really take to explain in detail. Those explanatory paragraphs (and maybe a figure) are in the box.

A figure is a picture to help you tell your story with a brief explanatory caption. Figures can also help to explain complicated ideas in very few words.


Reputation and Grading

Hi All,

I’m concerned that some students are getting a bit carried away with anxiety over not earning enough Reputation. Please let me be clear about this.

First, I have down-weighted Reputation points, so if you see your reputation point total decrease upon new Q&A activity, it is because of this adjustment. Hopefully, this will create less disparity between the point leaders and most other students.

Second, since many students are concerned about it, I will address the topic of grading Reputation points in class on Monday (RiSE) and Tuesday (Large and Honors).

Please use the up-voting system only by merit. Requesting a student up-vote your question or answer to earn more Reputation is academic dishonesty (aka cheating).

Question and Answer is meant to encourage collaboration and Reputation is meant to give students recognition for their contributions to the classroom. It is also meant to be fun. I will give more information on grading in class, in order to set your minds at ease and move us toward a productive online classroom dynamic.


Dr. D-R


Reading Assignment!

Hi All,

Here is an Original Research Paper and a much denser Review Paper. You’ll probably feel pretty comfortable with the original research, but you might struggle a bit with the review. That’s okay :). As you read, take notes about the things you don’t understand, but also about the main points or argument the authors are trying to make. The point of the reading assignment is not to test your knowledge, but rather to see if you can see the big picture.

If you are in the RiSE section (5), you’ve read the data paper already. Please read and be ready to discuss both papers on Wednesday. Have a copy (pdf is okay) of both with you Wednesday.

If you are in the large section (2) or the honors section (4), please bring a copy of both papers to class this week. We’ll discuss the original research on Tuesday. We probably won’t get to the review until Thursday.


Welcome to PoB!

Welcome to Principles of Biology! Let’s get started.

  1. Edit your profile by hovering over your username in the upper right-hand corner of the page (Profile > Edit).
  2. Take a look at the right-hand sidebar.
    • The Scoreboard shows the top Reputation earners.
    • Q&A Forums lists active question Categories.
    • Help Please shows recent unanswered questions.
    • You can find classmates that are active and online through Who’s Online.
    • You can find student profiles and make Friends on Pages > Members.
    • Click on Groups to start a research team with your Friends.

Continuing the Philosophy of Science Discussion…

Hi All,

I’ve included an article by Bell 2009 on teaching the nature of science. Yes, this paper is on teaching, but it describes well the different aspects of science. Bell describes science as being a “body of knowledge,” “a way of knowing,” and a “set of methods/processes.”

We have all learned about science in different ways and many of us have heard that science is facts or a method or a way to answer questions. These seem contradictory, but this paper helps to validate and connect all three aspects into a cohesive whole.

In addition, this paper gives a good definition of the terms law and theory, which are often misused because they have different common meanings.

After reading this, you’ll have one expert opinion on how to teach the nature of science. What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment.