All undergraduate degree programs at Georgetown University feature an Integrated Writing component to the major(s). The goal of the Integrated Writing requirement is two-fold: to help students hone their writing abilities in contexts, genres, and stylistic norms that are most relevant to their potential career goals, and to use written expression as a means of deepening students’ understanding of the discipline.
In this web page, we lay out both the goals of our requirement in Biology and the curricular components of the integrated writing requirement. We emphasize that this requirement is:
- required for for all four majors in the department
- embedded across the Biology Department curriculum
- integrated with other concept and process goals
- inclusive of both oral and written modes of communication
The Goals of Our Integrated Writing Requirement
What kinds of writing should our students learn to do?
The discipline of Biology is a “big tent” with practitioners engaging in a great breadth of communication genres. In the scientific research community, there are numerous formal communication tasks (including but not limited to: papers – both primary reports and reviews, grant proposals, and conference presentations) and an even wider array of informal communication tasks. In other professional communities that employ scientists – medicine, policy, education, law, business, etc. – the breadth of communication styles is even greater.
Our goals, then, are two-fold:
- to help students gain skills that are universal across communication genres: Mechanics, Process, and Rhetoric.
- to expose students to and give them practice with a diverse range of communication tasks that feature written, oral and graphic styles.
We recognize that there are forms of communication that are also important in the stage of entry into careers: resumes, interviews, application essays, portfolios, etc. We will work with the Career Center to help students foster the development of these skills and tools.
The schematic represents the relative effort expended in each category at different stages of intellectual development. “Novice” = Foundations courses, “Intermediate” = Gateway courses, and “Advanced” = upper-level coursework/RISE.
We emphasize Mechanics Goals early in the curriculum. A solid use of writing mechanics is a prerequisite of high order communication skills. While mastery of mechanics is always expected, we show this category minimized at later stages to signify that we expect these skills to become rote. A detailed description of the expected progression through Mechanics Goals for students in the Biology Department can be found here.
The diminished focus on Mechanics Goals is paired with an increased focus on Rhetoric Goals. These Rhetoric Goals embody the craft of scientific communication and hence students should sound progressively more like authentic scientists in their communication as they progress in the curriculum. A detailed description of the expected progression through Rhetoric Goals for students in the Biology Department can be found here.
Process Goals are the “how-to” goals – the steps that persuasive communicators take to develop their message. There is an expectation that these will be a focus across the curriculum, although expectation of the level of accomplishment will obviously progress. A detailed description of the expected progression through Process Goals for students in the Biology Department can be found here.
The Placement of WID in our Curricula
- First Year Seminar (BIOL-101)
- This course is required of all first year Biology majors.
- Different modules within this seminar will be communication-intensive, giving students the opportunity to explore a variety of communication modalities that have academic and professional importance.
- Foundations of Biology I and II (BIOL-103/113 and 104/114) – Fall and Spring semesters
- These courses are required of all first year Biology majors, although science majors and pre-med students from across the college also enroll.
- The courses are writing-intensive despite their large size, with the majority of writing occurring around lab activities and a research paper in Foundations I.
- Students can expect to receive formal writing instruction in these courses. They purchase Jan Pechenik’s A Short Guide to Writing about Biology, which they will use as a reference guide for the next four years.
- Writing will often be a public process, with workshops, peer review, and digital products.
- Students are introduced to the primary scientific literature as a signature means of scientific communication.
- Intermediate level courses
- All four majors take a Gateway course in the spring of their Sophomore year.
- For BIOL majors, this is BIOL-191, Biology Gateway
- For BIGH majors, this is BIOL-194, Biology of Global Health.
- For ENVB majors, this is BIOL-191, Environmental Biology Gateway
- For NEUB majors, this is BIOL-195, Neurobiology.
- Students can expect to have formal instruction in these courses in both written and oral forms of communication. Writing as a process again forms the core of our instruction, providing opportunities for reflection and revision.
- The courses may occasional share assignments and/or seminars, but they will be largely independent of each other, focusing on aspects of communication more typically used in each sub-discipline.
- Students will work more intensively with primary scientific literature as a signature means of scientific communication.
- This year will largely consist of additional Intermediate and advanced courses which share a commitment to providing diverse opportunities to practice communication skills.
- Students who enroll in Research Tutorial (BIOL-300) will have a significant writing expectation (typically either a paper or grant proposal) and will work closely with a faculty member to further develop their formal scientific writing skills.
- Similar to the 3rd year, students will continue to practice communication skills in their Intermediate and Advanced courses.
- Students who enroll in RISE will have three formal communication forums during the year: a work-in-progress talk in December, a poster in April, and a formal research paper in May. Again, students will work closely with a faculty mentor to further develop their formal scientific communication skills.