17 Jul 2010

Formal NSF Styled Proposal Writing in Preparation for Original Multi-Week Laboratory Projects

Lab Experiment

Submitted by Lon Porter, Wabash College
Categories
Description: 

The advanced inorganic chemistry course is completed by all chemistry majors at Wabash College during the fall of their senior year. The capstone character of the course provides an excellent opportunity for utilizing an investigator model of laboratory learning. Student teams are responsible for the preparation of a formal, National Science Foundation (NSF) styled proposal stating the goals, context, experimental timetable, safety considerations, and budget for the execution of an original laboratory project. Proposal preparation is based upon mock NSF styled solicitation documents and guidelines.

Preliminary and full proposals are completed and defended in an oral presentation to the class. Each student team is provided with a modest budget and five weeks of regular laboratory meetings toward the end of the semester. Students must anchor their projects in the primary literature through the literature survey portion of their proposals and are encouraged to explore methods of synthesis and characterization that may not have been encountered throughout the chemistry curriculum and to revisit the fundamental techniques that have. Emphasis is placed upon dissemination of research results in the form of a paper, written in a contemporary journal article format, and an oral presentation given to the class. This experience provides students a glimpse into the planning, resources, and sweat equity that is required of modern research.

Learning Goals: 

Student teams will:

  • Survey the primary inorganic literature and identify a complex or material synthesis article that will be modified to form the basis of an original proposal and multi-week laboratory project.

  • Use a mock NSF styled solicitation document to write a preliminary and full proposal.

  • Present a defense of their proposal in the form of a brief oral presentation.

  • Appreciate the planning, resources, and safety considerations required for modern chemical research.

Equipment needs: 

Proposal writing will require access to the primary literature and a suitable searchable abstract database. The subsequent laboratory projects will require various apparatus and materials.

Implementation Notes: 

The proposal writing project is subdivided into several smaller assignments including: (1) preliminary literature search and topic selection; (2) preliminary proposal; (3) full proposal; (4) oral presentation/defense. Substantive feedback is provided at each step via faculty and/or peer revision. Proposals are typically completed by early October in order to provide time for materials ordering and acquisition so that the final five weeks of laboratory may be devoted to the execution of the student projects.

Time Required: 
Three to eight weeks depending on the extent of faculty feedback and/or peer-revision implemented.
Evaluation
Evaluation Methods: 

Each writing sample submitted was evaluated using a standardized rubric. Numerical scores were provided in addition to qualitative feedback and marked papers.  Qualitative surveys have been used to assess pre and post assignment attitudinal views regarding student appreciation of planning, resources, and safety considerations required for modern chemical research.

Evaluation Results: 

Over the past four years, students generally score in the 80-95% range for the proposal writing assignments. The preliminary literature searches have often been limited to ACS journals by student choice due to the ease of obtaining these papers from the convenience of the ACS website. It was discovered that students with little or no independent research experience struggled with identifying reasonable procedures to use as the basis of their original projects. These students more often chose papers that presented safety, time, or instrumental limitations. Format adherence in the writing samples has been high, while students have struggled more with proper professional tone and style. The full proposal is typically collected and returned to the students with feedback in time for a rewrite prior to a final grade being assigned.  Prior writing samples were returned with feedback, yet no rewrite opportunity was provided.   

Creative Commons License: 
Creative Commons Licence

Comments

Hello,

I will be using this idea for my advanced inorganic course next semester.

Sibrina Collins, PhD College of Wooster

I think I will too.  thanks!

Adam

An excellent text for such a course (and beyond) is  "Write Like a Chemist" (http://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195305074/) the result of an NSF funded course development.

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