Final Project Reflection
Word Count: 3349
In the field of chemistry, there are two main discourse communities: professionals working in industry and academics at institutions. At this time, my professional community is among academics, which includes undergraduate and graduate students as well as professors. In chemistry, communication occurs mainly in professional forums. Chemists express their ideas and share their research mainly through scholarly websites and scholarly articles with detailed experiments. They frequently have conferences where they present their research to thousands of colleagues, many of whom are in their specific sub-specialty, e.g. bioanalytical chemistry, electrochemistry, etc. Similarly, chemists may have press releases where they present new findings, technologies, and applications of their work.
Chemists who are members of certain organizations, like the American Chemical Society (ACS), may also communicate through the discussion boards where only members can post. Now with social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, there are even ways for chemists to share articles, journals, and news with each other in a less formal forum. These sites also help chemists build relationships with potential employers, employees, and collaborators.
This semester, I have progressed deeper into my discourse community in academia by browsing websites like that of the ACS and analyzing how and why they present scholarly information. After spending so much time on the ACS site, I have joined the ACS as a student member so I can see other members’ thoughts on interesting research. On the same note, I am actively reading more publications so I can share my own thoughts on the potential applications of their research. Through the researched writing project, I began critiquing scholarly articles to determine if they were accurate, well-supported, and relevant to my proposed research problem.
My grant proposal was the first step to giving an idea back to my discourse community. I feel that I developed the skills to compile relevant sources to support a focused research idea with practical applications in malaria prevention. This is a major step I have taken to prepare for graduate school, where I will likely write several grant proposals. In this and the workplace project, I learned that having a precedent for your work is essential for maintaining credibility with a discourse community of academics. My workplace project on optimizing a DNA purification method began with revising a document developed by Glen Research. This has humbled me as I realize that any research pursuits I have are made possible only through contributions from others before me. My contributions will subsequently be small parts of many contributions used by future researchers.
1. A strong understanding of the uses of writing in his or her academic discipline and/or career path.
Through this course, I have demonstrated that I understand the different uses of writing in chemistry. The discourse community analysis I wrote focused on the website for the ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. By analyzing the design and content of the site, I was able to determine that this journal is, “directed towards a highly trained discourse community which includes professors and students in academia [who]…may use this information for continuing education and drafting research studies.”
I also noted that the website is laid out so there are several ways to get to the same information. I showed that this “redundancy of the homepage is an intentional design feature of the journal, which wants its primary, academic discourse community to explore issues and articles.” In this way, I demonstrated that the main use of the site is intended to be for reading scholarly research articles. There were also supplementary uses for this site, which provides tools to, “post [articles] to social media like Facebook and Twitter.” To a similar end, “users have the option to send and receive email alerts,…YouTube content, and podcast downloads directly from the journal.” Here I demonstrated that the site can be used for communicating with colleagues who have similar interests and tastes in research studies.
My evaluation of scholarly articles to form my malaria prevention proposal showed that I understand the way primary research publications are meant to be used. The research article analysis I performed highlighted that some, “users may apply the research to a real-world problem, e.g. designing a product, creating a service, enhancing a method, or developing a protocol.” On the other hand, I noted that others would, “design more extensive research on the subject or use alternative procedures for acquiring the [same] data.” The articles themselves are designed as research tools to guide researchers to similar content. In my researched writing reflection, I noted how I began with research that the head of chemistry at Northeastern had published. Using his content, “I was able to link to publications he cited and which cited his articles as well.”
The modified DNA purification protocol I created for the workplace project demonstrated my understanding of the use for formally written lab protocols. In my context memo to the class, I recognized that modifying a protocol can replace a method which is too “costly, low-yielding, and time-consuming.” For lab procedures – like this one – that are used intermittently, I identified that the written procedure, “is meant to guide the [user] through the purification process stepwise until he/she is comfortable enough not to rely on it” and that later, “it is meant to refresh the student’s memory” of the steps.
2. Critical understanding of and facility in the discourse of a field.
The researched writing and workplace writing projects showcased my technical understanding of content in chemistry and how to find it. For my research article analysis, “I used the Google Scholar service provided by Google to search for scholarly publications.” I also demonstrated my ability to locate relevant articles through the annotated bibliography, where I compiled six scholarly articles relating to my grant proposal. For this assignment, I used the ScienceDirect service offered through the Northeastern Libraries, as well as the Web of Science database, both of which allowed me to narrow my searches by topic, author, journal, and publication year.
In the annotated bibliography assignment, I engaged with the text for information, but I also went beyond that to weigh the advantages and drawbacks to each research study. For instance, I identified that disrupting mosquitos’ generic odor receptors was limited, “since it may disrupt other insect behaviors, e.g. pollinating.” In light of this, I shifted my focus to “taking away the odor signals rather than amplifying them.” In the study that reported findings on carcerand molecules, “the researchers envision[ed] these compounds as highly specific reaction vessels.” However, by analyzing their data, I found that they had created a precedent for using carcerands “to trap the odor molecules detected by mosquitos.” I had the technical background to identify the similarities between structures they had experimented on and my molecule of interest to conceive this application of their results. My familiarity with the layout of scholarly research in chemistry – Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion – helped me to quickly navigate through the most important information in each article so I could assess its value to my proposal.
I demonstrated my knowledge in chemistry in the workplace writing project as well. I was already familiar with Glen Research, a prominent biochemical supplier, because of my strong background in biomolecular chemistry. This led me to the cartridge and protocol they had created for purifying DNA. Because of my technical understanding I was able to identify why their protocol did not fit the needs of my company, ChemDiscovery. In my context memo to the class, I recognized that “the published protocol [was] not validated for a 5umol scale of DNA synthesized in reverse” because the polarity of their DNA modifier was flipped in relation to DNA modifiers at ChemDiscovery. In this case, I used my academic knowledge base to understand and critique a different mode of communication.
3. Successful use of appropriate citation conventions.
Since I am part of a discourse community of academics in chemistry, the main resource I refer to for proper citation is the Ohio State University Library CSE Style Guide found here http://library.osu.edu/help/research-strategies/cite-references/cse/cse-style-guide-articles/. However, by simply reading scholarly articles in journals like Nature, Science, and the ACS Journals – both in and out of this class – I have developed an understanding of how to reference material. This understanding is reflected in my discourse community analysis final project and my researched writing final project, where I list my sources in order of appearance in an italicized ‘References’ section at the end of the document. I appropriately used footnotes in the rest of the document to mark where I had used each source. Footnotes are best used in scientific papers since these papers traditionally have many source materials.
In CSE, it is typically inappropriate to directly quote source material, and so there is only one sentence in my DCA final project where I do this. Likewise, only one sentence in my malaria prevention proposal uses direct quotation. The two phrases I quoted are otherwise difficult to paraphrase without losing meaning. This semester, I also applied CSE conventions to reference images like charts and computer-generated graphics in my malaria prevention proposal. As well, I used an uncommon CSE convention to reference the Glen-Pak protocol I modified in my workplace writing final project. The efficiency of the CSE format is evidence that my discourse community values work supported by many sources, using text, graphics, tables, charts, etc.
4. An understanding of the importance of audience and context with respect to writing style and arrangement.
Throughout this course, I have demonstrated my awareness for the audience of the documents I am interacting with. In the discourse community analysis final project, I noted how the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (JAFC) site was tailored “only [to] an audience interested or rooted in chemistry [who] would be able to find it.” I noted that “even a Google search with terms like ‘food science’ and ‘agricultural chemistry’ do[es] not result in any hits for JAFC on the first page of search results.” I identified that “this already narrows down the audience viewing the site mainly to those who know about…the ACS.” With regard to design, I commented on the ACS symbol clearly branded at the top of the website, “which instills confidence in the academic discourse community about the quality of the material” since it is backed by the ACS.
I also noted how the membership cost of the JAFC site “makes the content of the journal exclusive to a specific discourse community… comprised of academics like professors and graduate students who would buy a university-wide subscription.” For this reason, I recognized that the JAFC values academics most, “which is why the institutional and student subscriptions are discounted.” On top of this, I understood that “the content of the journals is intended for a discourse community with a very specific knowledge base” since it freely uses technical jargon. I was aware that this only included trained “students, professors, and professionals,” for the most part.
In the researched writing note on the Grand Challenges grant, I focused my audience very specifically to the Explorations committee. They stated that the people reviewing my grant proposal would have “significant expertise in program management specific to each topic,” and therefore, that my audience would be scientifically literate. Because of this, I was able to write using advanced chemical jargon. In my malaria prevention grant proposal, I discussed intermolecular interactions like “the π-hydrogen bonding interactions between aromatic p-orbitals and the acidic proton” of indole. Moreover, I was able to include images of chemical structures and electron clouds which would boost the clarity of my molecular synthesis ideas to the chemically-versed audience. Similarly, I was able to include a chart with minimal explanation, as the reviewers are accustomed to analyzing data sorted this way. For those reviewers without a strong chemical background, I included opening and concluding sections, more generally addressing the state of malaria and combative efforts in treatment and prevention.
In the researched writing reviews, I was able to tailor suggestions to my peers’ audience. In the review I wrote for Luke, I commented that, “choosing a specific disease will help make [his] proposal more accessible to viewers, like PubMed, who are known to be very pedantic and…weary of more general research ideas.” When I made recommendations for Qing, I recognized that, “at times [her] tone sounded personal instead of professional to the discourse community [she was] addressing – the International Society for Transgenic Technologies.” I suggested that she should consider eliminating the use of pronouns like ‘our’ and ‘we’ to account for this.
In the workplace writing project, I was writing specifically for a Northeastern co-op student who would assume my position next semester. In the context memo to the class, I noted how this student would “have a strong background in working with DNA,” since “the company generally recruits students with at least one previous biotechnology lab experience.” This way, I was able to write the actual protocol using specific terms for maximum clarity. For example, I directed the student to “perform a Beer-Lambert calculation” without specifying what that entails. This is appropriate since the co-op will already have the knowledge to do this without additional instruction.
As noted in my context memo, I chose “a lab format where materials and quantity are listed first…[to ensure] that the student will not start the procedure until all materials are accounted for.” I streamlined the final DNA purification protocol with minimal, bulleted text accompanied by a chart summarizing all the textual instructions. This way, the co-op can prepare for the procedure by reading the bullets but quickly reference chart information as the procedure is being carried out.
5. Confidence and facility with the processes of revision.
When editing my own drafts, I weighed peer input before making changes, demonstrating my confidence in the revision process. For example, Luke advised me to switch the order of the final and penultimate paragraphs in my DCA project draft. After re-reading both, I realized why this paragraph gave the impression of a conclusion. Rather than switching the paragraphs outright, I restructured the paragraph to focus mainly on how chemists “connect with each other and exchange ideas about research discoveries” by sharing “email alerts, Facebook and Twitter updates, YouTube content, and podcast downloads directly from the journal.” Rather than settling for the easy fix of switching the paragraphs, I took the time to sort out what I was communicating as opposed to what I wanted to communicate and created a stronger focus for the paragraph. As I was revising this draft, I also added an entire section on navigating through the site per Ghadir’s comments that it was difficult to imagine the site layout from my description. I focused mainly on how “the homepage offers several different paths to get to the same published content.”
During the researched writing project, I did not receive as much peer feedback, but I did receive detailed screencast feedback. This helped me recognize that there was no clear distinction between the two main sections of my proposal: the “research idea” versus the “experimental plan.” Therefore, I clearly denoted these sections with underlined headings. As well, I used bolding to emphasize the core of my research, which “focuses on disrupting the disease vectors, mosquitos, to curb parasite transmission.” I also incorporated screencast feedback to better define my audience as the “Grand Challenges Explorations” committee rather than the more general “Grand Challenges in Global Health” committee. The screencast also outlined better CSE formatting, which I used to improve my proposal.
In the workplace writing project, I incorporated peer recommendations extensively, and was proactive in brainstorming ways to better communicate in my context memo. For instance, Mary made the case that I had not mentioned anything about approving my lab procedure before passing it on to my co-op replacement. Although this was a valid point, I was unsure how to incorporate her suggestion. I explained on the discussion board that “I would normally present this protocol in a formal lab meeting in front of my entire team with the data to approve it.” I was essentially “assuming it is going to be approved and just skipping ahead to instructions for the future co-op.” When writing my context memo to the class, I was able to explain this and how it affects whether my procedure is implemented.
When revising my peers’ drafts, I was thorough in developing an understanding of their topics so I could give specific suggestions. In the DCA project, reading through Luke’s DCA worksheet, project draft, and ‘Science’ website several times gave me a strong understanding to recommend that he could “divide [his] fourth paragraph to focus on the language of the site as it applies to scientific and non-scientific viewers.” Browsing through Ghadir’s industrial engineering website and draft helped me better understand her discourse community to identify that her “fourth, seventh, and eighth paragraph all discuss usability of the website with the focus on…tabs, graphics, [and] ads.” In light of this, I recommended her to “take each of these ideas and focus them into their own paragraphs to avoid repeating information.”
6. The production of 5000+ words of polished, revised writing.
Including the discourse community analysis final project, the research article analysis, the Grand Challenges Explorations grant proposal, the DNA purification proposal, the DNA purification protocol, the context memo, and the co-op memo, I have written an exact total of 5500 words of drafted, revised, and finalized writing.
7. Written reflection on his or her own writing processes and texts and their role in his or her own practice of critical reasoning.
Reflecting on the content of my writing has helped me compose better projects in this course. In my DCA project reflection, I noted how “professors have told me…that chemistry PhDs have a common bond…because they have…suffered…through graduate school to earn their doctorate[s].” Thinking about this helped me better analyze the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. I realized “the exclusive memberships of organizations like the American Chemical Society” show how they value colleagues and peers above the public.
Reflection was also a large part of crafting my malaria prevention proposal. Through my chemistry classes at Northeastern, I have received recommendations to be specific and focused. In the reflection for this researched writing project, I discussed how my experience led me to “the SMART goal approach, i.e. designing a goal to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-constrained.” Using these tenets, I focused on a narrow topic, which allowed me to outline precedents to my research. In my proposal, I supported how carcerand molecules could be used “in a biological context, [since] one study investigated them for use in drug delivery systems.”
My reflection on the SMART system influenced my peer reviewing process as well. I was able to apply these same principles with regard to Luke’s researched writing proposal. In my peer review of his research draft, I recognized “that there is a technique for detecting and labeling cancer cells [and]…a separate technique for inducing apoptosis in virally-infected cells.” Based on this, I recommended “demonstrating that the technologies can be combined for one specific disease – let’s say skin cancer.” This approach of specifying the disease, consequently made the research plan more realistic, and seemingly achievable in a practical timeframe.
On the whole, taking this class has allowed me to better understand my academic discourse community and my current place in it, as well as the closely related industrial chemistry community. By developing more awareness for these communities, I have demonstrated that I can interact with specific audiences using different communication methods, e.g. websites, conferences, press releases, journals, grant applications, etc. Understanding the standards and conventions in my community has helped me better communicate ideas in ways that they value. Furthermore, the reviewing process in this course has given me an opportunity to humble myself and evaluate suggestions to incorporate in my writing. For the moment, I am comfortable with my place in my discourse community. There is a possibility that I will join the professional discourse community in industry in the near future.