1. Introduction 2. Genres in Environmental Science 3. Field Guide 4. Interviews 5. Proposal for Change 6. Works Cited
Welcome! You have stumbled upon a compilation of sources that describe writing in the environmental science major. I am a first student at the University of Denver aspiring to get my certification in this field and decided to dig a little deeper to find out what writing in this major will be all about. First, you will find a few genres that can be found throughout the environmental major. If you thought the only genre in this major was scientific writing, be prepared to be surprised. The Genre Investigation will take you into an investigation of what genres you will come across in the major and an explanation on how to deal with each one. A genre can be any form of writing that you will encounter in environmental science classes, from anything your professors hand out to anything you, the student, writes. It is important for anyone interested in the environmental science major to investigate the types of genres they encounter in order to be prepared for what each one calls for. The second element this magazine will provide you with is a guide to the field, or a Field Guide. In this part, you will find resources that will come in handy in your classes. These resources include: a visual guide through a field research paper, resources for finding research, a list you can probably relate to as an environmental science major, helpful tips for science labs, and the required core courses for environmental scientists at DU. Think of these as a cheat sheet through the major. After that, you will find a summary and a short piece of the transcript from the interview I conducted. The first interview I outline is the one Dr. Kerwin, a professor in the department, kindly agreed to be a part of. I asked him questions pertaining to writing for his classes as well as how this writing translates to the professional world after college. I also got to interview a thirdyear student, Lanna Giauque, about what her experience has been in writing for this major while she has been here. The interviews give first-hand perspective into what writing will be like in the major. I learned a lot from both of these interviews and Iâ€™m sure you will, too. Lastly, while investigating all of the types of writing in the major, I came across a problem that needs to be solved. This problem is that there is not enough time to specifically focus on writing in the science classes and there is also a lack in the accessibility to scientific writing by the general public. In the Proposal for Change, I address this issue and come up with possible solutions to the problem by proposing that a science class tackles the issues surrounding writing and the accessibility to it.
Introduction I have investigated for you about the types of writing that go on in the Environmental Science major at DU. I interviewed Dr. Kerwin, which we might have teaching some of our future environmental science classes. I also interviewed a third year student, Lanna, which was recommended by Dr. Kerwin as one of his best writers. She gave me a perspective on what to expect as I start taking the courses and into upper level ones, especially by outlining specific examples she has encountered. The genres the investigation will follow are: scientific writing, executive summaries, professor presentations, labs, and review sheets. I discovered several writing genres that occur in the environmental science field from all of these sources and have compiled an overview of what writing to expect in this field. Genre theory It is important to know what genres occur in the field you’re studying or planning to study. The genre gives you a perspective into what is required and how to approach each situation. Genre theory explains different elements that each genre has within its structure. For example, each genre supports a social action, the purpose it is for. It also has a specific audience it targets, like the professor power points and review sheets are meant to accommodate students’ needs. A genre, such as scientific writing, does not have to be static and remain the same, although it has. I discovered, though, that it does not work entirely and that scientific writing should be changed in some aspects. It has an expectation and the scientific community seems to have power over these expectations for a long time now. From this, people intentionally “break” the genre in order to communicate more efficiently to a wider audience that needs to be informed. I will give examples of each element of genre theory in the investigation depending on the genre. Again, these are crucial to understanding the genres. Think of them as rules that the genre goes by. Here are concise definitions you may come back to while reading the instigation: Social action: The purpose of why writing exists, what it does for the writer and what it transmits to the audience Rhetorical situation: The situation which the writing is trying to approach. Audience: Who the writing is aimed towards. Expectations: What the reader expects to get out of the writing/what the writing expects the reader to get out of the writing. Constraint: A limitation of the genre. Exigence: The urgency of why an issue has to be dealt with through writing.
“Breaking” the genre: Not following the expectations of the genre, either on purpose, or because you are not aware of its rules. Structure of Power: Who has the power over the genre, can be a community or individual. Who makes up the rules and dictates the content of the genre. Typified feature: Common features through this genre.
Scientific Writing There are two ways in which scientific writing gets taught at the University of Denver. One is through the analyzing of published scientific journal articles. The other is through field research, in which students go out and collect their own findings and write up lab reports about these findings. Journal Articles: The social action of analyzing journal articles was explained to me by Dr. Michael Kerwin, whom I interviewed. He said, “We [professors] could provide you with an understanding on what that writing is all about by having you read lots of journal articles, try to understand them, try to summarize them, and then understand the scientific writing style.”
Figure 1: Example of journal article
The audience of the summary of your journal article would be your professor, since they already know the process and will be checking your understanding. The professor expects you to gain knowledge of the way scientific writing works by completing the task of summarizing journal articles because they the model for what you might be writing professionally one day. The rhetorical situation is that you will be doing research for your future career, possibly. Dr. Kerwin also talked about the constraints of journal articles. One of them is the use of technical language and jargon, which the next genre I investigate, executive summary, will go in more detail. Another constraint for the journal article is the length, which may only be about 1500 words or 2000 words. This puts in perspective the importance of writing concisely for journal articles, which is one of the typified features. Field Research & Lab Reports Dr. Kerwin again provides insight into scientific writing by talking about the process in which students write lab reports. He explains, “We also teach scientific writing and that is with these formal lab reports where you’re carefully documenting methods, you’re analyzing your results and you’re writing up your conclusions in a very scientific way.”
Figure 2: Example of field research assignment from Dr. Kerwin's upper level course
The rhetorical situation of this assignment is to go out into the field, as a real researcher would be doing to collect data. Dr. Kerwin also put emphasis on the fact that this task has to be carried out very carefully, which would be an expectation of this genre. Since sometimes the field research has to be done outdoors, in the environment, this might prove to be a constraint on actually completing the task. For example, a snowstorm might constrain the experiment by impeding it from being conducted.
Executive summary In the interview with Dr. Kerwin, he disclosed that one of the writing assignments he assigns his upper-level Dendroclimatology class is called an executive summary. This executive summary includes reading a professional scientific publication and writing what the article consists of in a way that anyone would be able to understand it. The purpose, or social action, of this assignment is for the student themselves to gain a better understanding of the article but also to transfer it into terms that are easier for the non-scientific community to understand. The rhetorical situation under which this assignment would be written is that the student would have to explain a scientific article to someone that has little or no background in the subject, such as a peer majoring in Dr. Kerwin says this is a key point he tries to get across because “scientists have an obligation to explain what they’re doing, not only to their colleagues and their scientist friends, but to the general public.” The exigency, or urgency, is this exactly because informing the general public about scientific discoveries or environmental issues is extremely important because the whole population is affected by these, not only the scientific community. The audience has to broaden from the scientific community to the general public for this genre to work. For this assignment itself, Dr. Kerwin set up the constraints for students, some of which are keeping away from use overlyspecific, scientific terms and the restriction to only about 300 words in order to meet the audience’s needs. During her interview, Lanna proposed that scientific writing needs to be more accessible and relatable on a wider scale, also. She expressed an issue with the writing because it’s very dense, technical, and jargon-heavy. We talked about the sort of stigma that surrounds the use of jargon in scientific writing and the courage it takes to break out of the mold for trepidation of getting called out for not understanding the form, or the genre, itself. Although this may cause problems, Lanna opts for using her own personal style and remove as much jargon as possible while still conveying the message in a professional context. This may be why Dr. Kerwin, someone who has been in the field many years, respects and admires her as a writer. Removing the jargon and using personal style is not only to do something different than is being done, but because this writing is not functioning as effectively as it could be in terms of reaching the general public. This is a critical problem because environmental issues directly affect people
and they should be able to have access to scientific findings. The media will try to inform the population as best as it can, but in order for them to do that, the scientific community has to give them a platform to do this effectively and in a way that will not create any misunderstandings. The most prevalent problem arising from this is one that Lanna pointed out during the interview. In the issue of climate change, the media latched onto the term “global warming,” which created confusion and she thinks that if the scientists that had originally presented the idea in a better way without using terms like these, this could have been avoided. She argues that the information scientists send out should be “relatable to someone that is not doing really in-depth, detailed research,” instead, it’s paramount that scientists make sure that what they’re saying is going to be understood by a wider audience than within their own community.
Professor Presentations There is a wide variety of environmental science courses, not only ones that focus on the science aspect, but many integrate theory and other concepts. The difference between these courses can be seen almost immediately in the power point presentations created by the professors. While the presentation for a more science-focused class, such as the second class in the sequence, Environmental Systems: Hydrology taught by Dr.Kerwin, is more picture-based, the presentation in a class such as Ecological Economics looks a bit more differently as it is more text-based. The antecedent for such presentations is the lectures that professors give for their classes. The addition to visual aid to these lectures came as time went on and technological advances made it possible. This made it more efficient for the social action to be met, which is for the professor to transmit information to the students. By the application of Power Point, which is the main means of transferring presentations, it allows the students to have the material from lectures at reach, for visual learners to have more learning tools, and for the professor not to repeat themselves several times if a student didn’t catch something. This genre, however, can be inefficient in allowing a complete connection from the professor to student because now there is this other agent involved. The implementation of Power Points can make the class seem too structured and not allow the student’s ideas to come up for discussion, since they are following only what the professor outlined for them. The professor is the structure of power in this case, the one that decide what will go on their power point for deeper discussion, and what gets omitted, to be learned at the own student’s discretion.
Figure 3: Dr. Kerwin's intro Environmental Systems: Hydrology Power Point presentation slides (originally in color)
Yet, the presentations meet what is appropriate and have their own rhetorical situation for the material in each class mentioned before. More specifically, the presentation in Dr.Kerwinâ€™s case is to explain an upcoming lab. The labs would require more visuals in order for the student to know exactly what real-world aspect they are dealing with. Since it is environmental science, itâ€™s important and, to a point, expected to show the physical environment in picture form because that is what is being studied. It is also expected that the student take notes to supplement the presentations, because, especially in this case, there is much information left out which the instructor goes over that is not in the presentations themselves.
Figure 4: Dr. Sutton's upper level Ecological Economics course Power Point
The Ecological Economics class taught by Dr. Sutton offers many more details in its Power Points. Since it is not a science focused class, per se, it offers more theories and concepts rather than specific physical environment information, and is more text-heavy. The rhetorical situation is evidently different than for a presentation for an intro class. Since the social action of this one in particular is to explain ideas, not just hands-on scientific processes, it relies on text to do so, while incorporating a few visuals. Since the professors are different for each example, the difference between the two could also be explained by their varying styles. This difference again shows the importance of the structure of power, the instructor, in deciding how to get across to their audience, the students.
Labs Labs are an essential part for any science major. Their social action is to provide first-hand experience into the field and give a perspective that a student would otherwise not get by merely sitting in lecture. The intro courses’ labs differ from upper-level labs in several ways to meet the genre-specific needs for each. The social action stays constant throughout though, which is to “further understanding of subjects discussed during lectures using a ‘hands-on’ approach” (laboratory manual). The rhetorical situation; acting as scientists to figure out a real-world problem, also remains the same.
Intro class lab: The typified features of an intro-level course lab are the lab period or session, the pre-reading or background reading into the lab, and the packet that must be filled out during the lab session. In an intro class, the lab has its own session the student must attend, apart from class lecture. This allows for the student to have more time to focus solely on the requirements that the lab suggests. This session occurs once a week, for a two-hour period for the Environmental Systems sequence. The lab is taught by a Teacher’s Assistant (TA), not the class professor, but they are only there to assist, as the students form groups in order to figure out the specific task they are given. The student is expected to complete the background reading before the lab and to understand the vocabulary terms discussed in it. The social action of this background reading is to explain what the student is going to encounter in the lab itself. Therefore, by reading the pre-reading, the
student expects to understand what they will encounter during that week’s lab, so they are not blind-sighted. However, sometimes this part of the genre is “broken” and there may be no background reading beforehand. Alternatives to the background pre-reading include watching a video on the subject or having a short reading in the lab session itself. The packet given out during the lab session is similarly important because it determines part of the student’s grade for the course. The social action of this packet is to provide questions that the student will answer in the process of the lab session. The audience for the written portion is the TA, who will be grading the work. In the example of a lab encountered in the intro course, the task was to study the main causes of drought and the areas most affected by it.
Figure 5: Dr. Kerwin's Hydrology lab on drought.
In upper-level course: Some upper-level classes, like Dr.Sutton’s Ecological Economics, hold labs for the class. However, labs are no longer an additional class session you have to attend. That is, labs are part of the class itself. The social action for upper class labs is to complete an exercise that deals with analyzing data the student collect themselves. Many times the lab will consist of field research, as previously discussed. “Paving the Planet,” an Ecological Economics lab, is run through a website, however. The instructor expects the student to get an understanding of the issue surrounding the lab by getting them to actively find out more about it through the lab. Although the professor expects you to be able to read maps and work with tables, it is more important to get to the issue and what it means. Dr. Sutton’s goals lie more in answering questions related to the “human ecological footprint” through this lab.
Review Sheets The review sheet consists of a list of vocabulary words. However, you have to not only know the definition of the word but how to apply it. Some professors will ask additional review questions, but vocabulary terms are the main component.
The typified feature of a review sheet, as it can be clearly seen, is a list of vocabulary terms. However, students should not only know the definition of the words but how to apply them to questions that may be related. Some professors will ask additional review questions, but vocabulary terms are the main component of review sheets. The social action of review sheets is to facilitate understanding that the focus on studying should vocab. words because there is a vast amount of them and they are critical to understanding concepts. The student is expected to have knowledge of the terms. The student in turn expects to have an accurate guide as to what is going to be on the exam. The rhetorical situation for a review sheet is that the student does not know where to begin, or what to focus on their studying, so they need the professorâ€™s guidance in telling them what to
study. The professors determine the content of the review sheet, so they are the structure of power that dictates what the student might get tested on. Review sheets provide further insight into writing in sciences because it goes to show how much specific terms and words not used in everyday life play a role in scientific writing. The amount of technical language that might be only be clear to the scientific community is a very prominent part of the knowledge students are supposed to acquire in the DU Environmental Science Department.
Conclusion The environmental science genres at DU that I encountered provide insight into what is important in the field and how to go about meeting expectations, which can be effective or ineffective depending on the case. As you have seen, social action, rhetorical situation, constraints and all the genre theory elements are crucial to getting a good handle of the different types of writing because they explain exactly how to approach them. I hope you keep this in mind while you are sitting through a professor lecture or writing a lab for one of your courses.
In this field guide you will find quick tips and information that will be helpful as an environmental science major. It is meant to be easy and something you can come back to if you need to review the proper way to write up a scientific paper or if you are stuck on finding sources for your research paper. It also outlines the core classes needed for the science major, which is definitely something to keep in mind.
Field Research: A step-by-step guide to writing a scientific paper
Research Resources GreenFILE/ Environmental Index/ Sustainability Science Abstracts Description: Environmental science academic databases Value: These databases have the option to access peer reviewed journals, which are considered more credible sources in research and your professor will often ask you for this kind of material. Possible issues/things to be aware of: specific terms are key to getting the results you want, which can lead to having to narrow your search several times before you find exactly what you were looking for.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/ *Professor recommended Description: Concise summaries in plain English of the most important scientific journals articles. Value: Will cite journal article which then you can access to look at more in depth at the technical paper and possibly use as a resource instead. Possible issues/things to be aware of: There are a lot of things going on in this website, it is not only catering to environmental science, but to science in general, so it might be useful to stick with one of the categories they outline.
Description: A collection of resources aimed towards environmental science students. Value: These resources have credibility due to the fact that they are on our library website. Possible issues/things to be aware of: Some of the resources in this site seem to be outdated and are no longer available, such as the resources in envirolink.org
Use the “Ask a Research Question” form on the DU library site Description: This form is accessible through the “staff” tab on library.du.edu Value: If you don’t have time to make an appointment, this is another option to get your questions answered. Possible issues/things to be aware of: Your question needs to be easy to understand as you communicate it in the form to the staff in the research center because it can lead to some confusion and misleading answers if it not clear.
DU Science and Engineering Librarian Description: Email or meet with the science librarian, who is in charge of resources in all science and engineering fields. Value: If you need further assistance in finding resources or just to enhance your research, talking to the science librarian would be a good idea because she would have more knowledge in this specific field. Possible issues/things to be aware of: You will need to contact her in a timely manner, giving her enough time to get back to you and actually help you.
You know you’re an Envi. Sci. major when… 1. You judge people when they say global warming instead of climate change
2. Witnessing someone throwing away a recyclable causes your eye to twitch
3. The sight of a topographic map no longer scares you
4. You feel bad when forget your thermal and have choice but to get a disposable cup to get coffee
5. It gives you anxiety when people don’t compost their food at the dining hall and
throw everything into what is clearly marked as “landfill”
6. Know that 350 does not refer to the degrees in a circle, but to the highest amount of carbon parts per million that would be considered allowable in the atmosphere (and that we are well above this number) 7. It makes you angry that people deny climate change- oh there’s no evidence? OH REALLY
8. It bothers you when people recycle incorrectly-no that aluminum container smothered with cheese is NOT recyclable, okay. 9. You look at the doom and gloom facts and don’t feel overwhelmed but inspired 10. Know that a list cannot be compiled such as this one detailing simply “simple green tips to save the planet” to get ecological order back because it is not that simple, it is an immensely large, interconnected network that needs to be addressed more complexly than that
What you need to know about the Lab component of your intro science class 1. It is separate from your class, meaning that you will need to register for it separately and it is at a different time than your science class 2. It is taught by a TA (Teacherâ€™s Assistant), not your professor 3. While your class is lecture based, the lab has an activity component to it 4. Activities range from watching a video and completing an online manual, to identifying rocks and analyzing topographic maps 5. The lab is once a week for a 2 hr. period 6. There are only 8 labs per quarter 7. Working with a partner is recommended, although not required 8. The activity will be much easier and go faster if working with a partner 9. You are given a packet which will pertain to the activity you are working on for this lab 10. There is a pre-reading to every lab 11. Some professors will test you on the labs more than others 12. Ask for as much help as you need from the TA-theyâ€™re there to help!
Core Courses Needed for Environmental Science Major GEOG Environmental Systems (sequence) BIOL: Evolution Heredity and Biodiversity BIOL: Conservation Biology BIOL: General Ecology CHEM: General Chemistry CHEM: Organic Chemistry CHEM: Introduction to Environmental Chemistry Statistics (GEOG or PSYC) *keep in mind that each subject has to be taken in order
Professorâ€™s Perspective: An interview with Dr. Michael Kerwin
I had the chance to interview one of DUâ€™s professors in the environmental science major about writing in this particular field. We talked about the types of assignments he gives out to students, the connection between the writing that happens while students are in college and when they go to a professional setting, and what students should learn in order to be successful writers in environmental science. I would say that most of our conversation centered around the professional aspect of writing in the field. When we delved a little deeper into the conversation, Dr. Kerwin went on to talk about the process that surrounds publication in environmental science and the role that peer review plays in this process as well as the research that is valued in this field. Beyond this, he gave insight into how technology is changing the way writing reaches the audience and the impact new technology has made. However, he mentioned that scientific writing has overall remained the same over the course of the years. Dr. Kerwin believes the best thing a student can do to improve their writing is to write a draft and have someone peer review it. He gave a recommendation to what site students should visit often to stay current on environmental science matter, which is called Daily Science. He says this is the type of writing students should look to for guidance for their own writing as well as general information. At the end of the day, Dr. Kerwin hopes his students learn to put complex scientific ideas into straight-forward writing that is easy to understand.
A look into Dr. Kerwin’s perspective What are some connections that you see between the types of writing you assign and the ones that are professional, in the professional environmental field? Dr. Kerwin: It’s really funny how writing, even writing emails, have become so much a part of every profession and the ability to communicate clear and concisely is how we now interact. Colleagues can be across the globe now and you can work with them, but that’s a different type of writing altogether. But the writing we try to teach is ultimately…let’s say you go on to get your environmental science degree and go on to graduate school and get a masters in environmental science. You are going to be expected to write a thesis and to publish part of that thesis in a journal, maybe the Journal of International Environmental Science. So we would hope that we could provide you with an understanding on what that writing is all about by having you read lots of journal articles, try to understand them, try to summarize them, and then understand the scientific writing style. And again, to sort of repeat, it’s all about carefully documenting your work and making sure that somebody could come back 20 years later and see exactly what you did, how you did it, how you interpreted this data, and go back reanalyze it if they need to, because that’s the cool thing about science, it’s always changing, nothing is set in stone so you always…you know you’re going to present some conclusions at the end, but those are just suggestions. Science is not about fact, it’s about ideas, it’s more about ideas and sharing ideas. What are some things you think students should learn to be successful in writing as environmental science majors? Dr. Kerwin: I think learning to write in a concise manner, and this takes a lot of time. Learning to create sentences where every word counts. You don’t need long sentences, you don’t need long paragraphs. You want say exactly what you need. Scientific writing is incredibly concise. Many journal articles
are, let’s say, 1500 words or 2000 words, you know, it’s not that long of a format and you want to make every single word count. One thing that I know about myself, still to this day, I’m still learning to write. I think all of us learn to write our entire life. So with our environmental science students, it’s trying to get them to write concisely and then, the even harder part is to try and get them to have an understanding of the science that came before them. And that’s hard, cause you have to read a lot the papers, you have to have an awareness of what other scientists did and then how do you, in clear concise writing, summarize what this person did in the year 2005 and why it’s important for this modern study and that takes a lot of practice. Have you noticed in writing, do scientists always have this method of writing or has somebody changed that method while writing in a journal? Dr. Kerwin: I’d say in general scientific writing has remained the same. I’ve been active in this field for 20 years and I’ve read a lot of articles, maybe dating back 40 years, something like that. The writing has been pretty consistent over those 40 years. I have been to a couple of seminars where people have talked about the need to change scientific writing but I’ve not seen an enormous change other than trying to write as clearly and concisely as possible. What do you hope that students will take with them from the types of writing that they do in your class? Dr. Kerwin: I’ve got to admit, I’ve struggled with this, with what is the appropriate writing assignment, with how I’m teaching them and that’s probably why I’ve arrived at this concise, short, something like the science daily, and I think what I’m trying to get them to take from this is that it’s crucial, critically important to be able to communicate complex, scientific issues in a very straight-forward way, in a way that anybody can understand. And it’s not easy to get all the details in there and to communicate it, but it’s very important.
What a third-year student has to say: An interview with a DU Environmental Science Major
Going into the interview with Lanna Giauque, a third-year student at the University of Denver, the main thing I was curious about was the “breaking of the genre” relating to scientific writing. Most of our conversation kept coming back to this. When we talked about the audience professors expect her to write for, she talked about the scientific community, but also how some professors incite the students to write to the public. These two types of writing look very different from one another. Lanna believes, though, that all writing in this field she be accessible and she tries to do so in her writing as much as she can by removing excessive jargon. She believes this makes good writing in environmental science. We also talked about the research that she has done and what the process is like to writing a thesis because Lanna has already been through this. We also talked about the Writing Center here at DU and if it’s useful to her. She said she mainly talks about where to go with her ideas with her peers and professors, but that she would definitely use the Writing Center for reviewing her thesis. Since she is working on a thesis already, I asked Lanna if she thought what she is learning in class will be the same as what she will be experiencing as a professional. She said yes and that professors really prepare students for exactly this. Finally, she gave freshmen tips on what to do if you’re considering becoming an environmental science major and the impact technology has in this field, among how she thinks professors evaluate her writing and the feedback she gets back from them. Overall, talking to an upper-level student increased my understanding of what writing will be like in this field.
A tidbit of what she had to say Do you think the writing that you’re going to be expecting to do as a professional will be the same as the ones you’re doing in class? Lanna: I do, I think my professors are doing a really god job of preparing students in my classes and me to really do well in that professional environment, whether I do the professional route and do that side of research or I work for an environmental institution, like the USGS or US Force Service, something like that, I would want to be doing research, so when you’re doing that, it’s a very cookie cutter thing, where you’re answering a question and you’re collecting data to do that and figuring out how to do that. And again, it can get almost too cookie-cutter. So I do think it will be very similar but I will definitely try to make sure that I continue to make my writing accessible and relatable to people, even if it is very technical. I think it takes bravery, in a way, because there’s this sort of stigma against not using the jargon, so if you don’t use the jargon people will say, “does she really know what she’s talking about?,” when of course you know what you’re talking about. So I think it really takes courage to be like I’m not going to use this or I’m going to very clearly define what I’m talking about even though my main audience probably will be the scientific community, if someone were to pick up my paper, and they’re college-educated, I think they should be able to understand what I’m talking about. So I’m hoping that people like you and our generation, people in school right now, I’m hoping that people will realize that and realize the importance of making research relatable and we’ll really have the courage to step outside of that technical, jargon-y, zone of writing. What would you say are some audiences that you’re writing to? Your professor, but who else? Lanna: I think that specially with the higher level classes, they really want you to be writing for the scientific community, for sure. And then, good professors also want you to be writing to the public, making what you’re saying relatable and understandable, so making it scientific but also so that educated people can understand what you’re talking about.
What do you think your professors are looking for when they evaluate your writing? Lanna: Understanding of the concepts, a very strong scientific understanding. In lab-based classes they are definitely looking at your methods and whether you understood the topic well enough to create something that would help you test an idea or hypothesis. They’re looking for clarity, they want to make sure you’re conveying what you’re trying to say in a very understandable, relatable fashion. Also, that it’s accurate. When you’re dealing with science, you want to make sure that what you’re writing about is very true, very accurate, very scientifically appropriate. What advice would you give to freshmen considering becoming environmental science majors and what do you wish you would have known going in? Lanna: I would say that it’s very good to have a basic understanding of whatever topics you’re interested in. So take the intro classes, pay attention in them, really try to remember that material because it is very, very helpful later and I would also say to try to get involved with as many field classes as you can because, at least for me, those are the classes where I learn the most. So right now I’m in a dendroclimatology class with Michael Kerwin. We go into the field, we’re actually collecting data, we’re actually doing the field methods that people who are doing this professionally are using and I think being able to do that is incredibly important. It depends on what you’re planning to do with your degree, but I’m planning to go on in school to grad, getting a doctorate and doing research in the future so understanding those is really valuable. I think going into it I wish that I would have known more and had a better background in basic science principles because you can learn them while you’re in a class, a higher level class, but if you don’t already have them it’s a big learning curve. That’s another thing, if you want to go into environmental science, you’re definitely going to be needing to dedicate the work and have the commitment that it takes because it is a science and it takes a lot of work but it’s also really fun and really rewarding. There are opportunities like field quarter which are amazing and worth taking advantage of. So I think look into every opportunity that you can because there are a ton, here at DU, especially, you have a great program.
Writing in environmental science can be tricky to manage. Sometimes processes have to be explained in very technical terms in order for the work to be credible. However, appealing to a wider audience, or simply being accessible to them has to become a priority. The over-use of jargon and technical language is difficult for someone who did not study this field to understand. Yet, it is imperative that the general population has an understanding of the issues surrounding the environmental science field because they are affected by these on an everyday basis. The need for a writing class that focuses on this type of writing, one that reaches beyond the scientific community, is one that should be considered at the University of Denver. The writing taught should be on the line between technicality and simplicity, a way for the technical language of scientific writing to converge with something that everyone will understand. Integrating this science-specific writing class into the science curriculum is something that can be done at our school. Professors, students, and the university administration would all be involved in the process of making this class a possibility and an option. The scientific community would also be involved and there would be many opposing the change within this community, but also many proponents that know the times are calling for a change. A very strong supporter of the addition of this writing class is an upper-level student who has had plenty of experience writing for the current environmental science classes. In her third year in the environmental science major, Lanna Giauque, argues that a writing class would provide an important feedback of writing, “not just in terms of scientific value, but in terms of human value and public value.” When I interviewed this student, she discussed many times the importance of making scientific writing relatable and expressed that she would like to see the addition of a class dealing with writing in the science major. A writing class focusing on this topic would be imperative for students to comprehend the significance of their work as it relates to a larger scale audience. It would provide encouragement for “breaking the genre” in an effective way and make it be known that they do have room to move around the scientific writing parameters. However, there would be many individuals and groups affected by the decision to make this class a reality. The decision might conflict with the views of some in the scientific community, including the professors at the University of Denver. Many of them may completely support this change, such as Dr. Kerwin, whom has already implemented an assignment to get students thinking about the audience outside the scientific circle. The students in this field would also experience the change in the curriculum, which could possibly mean the addition of another WRIT class to their requirements, or simply substituting one of the already required WRIT class. The board members at DU would have to decide if they actually would want to fund this project and how much of an extra cost of finding and paying any extra staff members would be. Moreover, scientific writing is aimed towards the scientific community, so this party would hold much of the power and influence surrounding the issue of including a science-based writing class. It could be said that scientific writing is elitist in some ways, where the use of jargon and technical language dictates whether the writer knows what they are talking about or not. If they should choose to omit the use of such technical language, the work is dismissed as incompetent
because it is not up to the standards of is considered good scientific writing. Getting the approval of the scientific community for this class, or seeing that this class would still adhere to the scientific principles, would cause the whole process of instituting a new writing class to be a slow, painstaking one. Nevertheless, we might discover that much of the scientific community has been waiting for this change and the addition of a class like this into the science curriculum of universities is just the beginning of such change. The addition of a science writing class is something that can be accomplished. Some professors have already integrated writing assignments into their classes that uses a “general public” perspective and students acknowledge its worth. How to efficiently transmit scientific work to the non-scientific community would be something taught exclusively in this class. This would be only the start to solving the problem of accessibility to scientific work. Other solutions that could potentially solve this problem would be including more assignments in already established major classes that deal with this type of writing, but it would be most effective to focus on a specific class that actually teaches students how to go about the process of making their writing relatable and accessible to the non-scientific audience. As a student, you can encourage your professors to think about this proposal and hopefully bring to light some of the issues of inaccessibility of the scientific writing form during class. A writing class that relates to the approachability of scientific writing would not benefit the students taking the class, but society as a whole. Once these students discover their own findings, they will be available and accessible to everyday people who are concerned with the state of their planet, just as much as the eager scientists producing this work. A class focusing on the importance of getting the general public educated would not just be the first step for this to become a common goal within the scientific community, but it would also reinforce the university’s statement of being a “private university dedicated to the public good.”
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