Luther, teach me how to write

Martel DenHartog, Sports Editor

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As I wrap up my final semester, I have been reflecting on something I wish Luther pushed me to do more: write. My first year on campus I declared a biology major, but when the neuroscience major started, I hopped on that train, thinking it could be a unique avenue to learn about physiological science and what it means to be a thinking creature. I believe I have learned about these things, but I regret not having been able to process my learning through writing and engaging with broad audiences.

I wrote my senior paper this spring. It was one of the two times I wrote a research paper in any of my major’s core classes; the other being a paper covering a mental disorder in Psychology 249: Brain and Behavior, which was immediately turned in as a final draft and did not involve a revision process. I am thankful for opportunities to write in my elective classes, like English 213: Creative Writing: Nonfiction and Philosophy 330: Philosophy of Mind. However, these are not classes hard science majors are required to take, and aside from providing additional writing outlets, they do not help refine the skills necessary to write effectively for neuroscience. So, the senior paper was challenging not because I did not know how to research topics or write cohesively, but because I was not familiar with scientific writing in research and thesis-driven form.

With graduation looming, I’m searching to apply for summer and fall positions, and one of the most common pieces of advice I hear from my professors, family, and professionals is the need for applicants to be proficient writers and communicators. If jobs and graduate schools are seeking individuals who can write well, why can’t Luther’s science courses offer more opportunities to practice and refine students’ scientific writing abilities? Why is it that even in my biology course that satisfied my major writing requirement, Biology 367: Endocrinology, a formal research paper was not a part of the curriculum?

Editing and revision is also a critical component of developing ideas through writing, as well as sharing these ideas with peers and others. Writing assignments, especially in biology, should require more feedback and chances to improve; this can only make us better writers and communicators.

In non-writing biology courses, laboratory write ups are required. Through my position as a lab assistant for five semesters, I was tasked with evaluating some of these assignments. Every semester I was frustrated by the inadequacy of too many lab reports where writing was neither cohesive nor concise. Biology students need more practice writing research papers as well as reports — and more feedback from professors. At the very least, professors must address effective scientific writing strategies at the beginning of each academic session.

According to the Strategic Plan, Luther will consider curriculum changes to “prepare students to solve grand challenges” and “create structures and systems that foster experimentation, reflection, and responsiveness to changing needs.” As part of this strategy, I encourage Luther and its science departments, like neuroscience and biology and chemistry, to consider adding more writing requirements that involve revision and critical analysis in required courses. This will only make Luther’s graduates more competitive in their endeavors after they leave the college.

Opinions expressed in columns and letters are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chips or organizations with which the author(s) are associated.

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