Getting referencing right: applying the 4 Cs

For a variety of reasons, I have been reflecting on principles that undergird good citation practice. So far I’ve come up with “the 4 Cs guide” (I say I’ve come up with them, as I’ve not done any reading on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this or something similar has co-evolved elsewhere).

When advising students or colleagues on appropriate organisation of their references at the end of a document, I encourage them to check that they’ve followed the 4 Cs guide:

Correct: Have they cited the correct sources? This might mean drilling back to the first occurrence of an observation (e.g. in the primary literature) rather than a review article. Clearly we don’t want to be encouraging people to cite the original paper if they’ve not read it, but you sometime see statements such as “Smith and Bloggs have shown…” when actually Smith and Bloggs wrote the review in which they discussed the experimental work of Ramone and Farnes-Barnes who made the observation described. Continue reading

When assessment interferes with the measured

There was a time, not so long ago, when no scientific presentation could afford to omit at least one cartoon from The Far Side. One of my personal favourites (which can be seen here) depicts people of an apparently remote part of the world hiding their luxury Western goods as anthropologists arrive unannounced in the village.

I was reminded of this cartoon recently whilst washing my hands at work. This surprising mental leap was prompted by the temporary addition of a tool for monitoring water consumption in one of our buildings.

Can the method of assessment interfere with the thing it is supposed to be measuring?

Can the method of assessment interfere with the thing it is supposed to be measuring?

As can be seen in the photograph, the equipment being used scores few points for subtlety. I cannot believe that people use their usual amounts of water when confronted by this instrument. This raises the question of their value given that the method of monitoring is almost certainly interfering with the thing that is being measured. Continue reading

Introducing BiologyOnTheBox

Today I am officially launching my latest project. BiologyOnTheBox is a website for sharing recommendations regarding broadcast media programmes and clips that might be useful in the teaching of bioscience. The majority of links and reviews relate to TV shows in the UK, though some relate to radio. is a site for sharing recommendations regarding TV and radio resources for use in teaching bioscience is a site for sharing recommendations regarding TV and radio resources for use in teaching bioscience

Recommendations on BiologyOnTheBox can, in principle, be used by anyone with access to copies of the original programmes. It is, however, intended to dovetail particularly closely with the fantastic Box of Broadcasts resource. I’ve enthused previously about Box of Broadcasts (BoB), including here (TES Opinion) and here (this blog). However having had a lunchtime conversation recently with a number of colleagues who had no idea what BoB was, here’s a brief intro. If you are already familiar with BoB feel free to jump down to the section on BiologyOnTheBox. Continue reading

Why I *still* love Delicious

Delicious logo

Delicious has survived various changes of ownership in the last ten years. Fortunately rumours of its demise have never been correct (yet)

This week, I passed a landmark of sorts when I bookmarked my 10,000th website using the Delicious tool.

Back in December 2007, my colleague Alan Cann persuaded me to try out a new social bookmarking tool, then called (I guess from a current vantage point we’d call this an early example of “cloud computing“). Here was a way to mark websites in case you wanted to find them again at a later stage. If that sounds a bit like “favourites” on your PC, then it was – but this was SO much more. Using you could:

  • add to one list of sites regardless of which machine you happened to be using
  • add tags of your choosing (“folksonomies”) meaning that you could mark the page by content, by source, by potential use, etc
  • add some additional notes or comments
  • share the sites with other people (including setting up RSS feeds)
  • dip into the bookmarks being used by other people, the “social” dimension.

The value of this resource was immediately obvious to me. As someone with eclectic interests, coupled with a significant horder streak, here was a mechanism to flag up things I might want to find again at a later stage without clogging my office with paper print outs. This was a point I tried to convey in a pair of (slightly contrived) photos in a July 2008 presentation about social bookmarking (still available on Slideshare which is, incidentally, one of my other favourite resources). Continue reading

To Whom It May Concern: Some advice for students seeking references

Reference writing takes time and effort, do your best to help your referee do the best they can for you

Reference writing takes time and effort, do your best to help your referee do the best they can for you

A number of recent events have prompted me to reflect again on the subject of reference writing.

Offering a letter of recommendation, or completing one of the myriad different online forms, is not a trivial task, either in terms of the labour involved or the potential significance of the resultant document. In this post I want to make some suggestions for any students seeking a reference from an academic, regardless of their discipline, which I hope will make the process more effective (and less fraught) for all parties.

1. Ask. Firstly, do ask a potential referee before you offer their name to the organisation seeking the reference. On one level this is common courtesy. However it also does two things to the benefit of the applicant: it forewarns the academic that they need to budget some time for writing a reference and gathering the relevant information (see 3, below); it also gives them the opportunity to suggest a more appropriate referee for the specific job. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the first person you should ask for a reference is your personal tutor. For finalists or graduates requiring a second academic commendation the next person to ask is usually your project supervisor. Continue reading

Teaching and Communicating Science in a Digital Age (Conference)

December 15th-17th 2014 saw me at Charles Darwin House (London) for the Society of Experimental Biology’s Education and Public Affairs symposium Teaching and Communicating Science in a Digital Age (click link to see full programme). This looked like a valuable event from the outset, but I can honestly say it turned out to be even better than expected. A pdf file (35 pages) capturing the Twitter feed for #SEBed2014 can be seen via this link. [UPDATE: I have also produced my first Storify from the tweets, which removes the retweets in the PDF, and puts them into a more logical order.]

It was good to catch up with old friends, to have the first face-to-face meeting with various Twitter friends and to make other new friends. Indeed, one of the striking things about the attendees was the lack of overlap with the HEA Bioscience regulars.

It would be invidious to pick out any one talk for special mention, but I would say the two sessions from which I got the most inspiration were “Engaging with the public and schools” and “Students as creators and communicators” (CoI declaration: my talk was in this session). At least two of the presentations were primarily delivered by current undergraduates, which was also refreshing.

I made three formal contributions to the symposium – a talk on our bioethics video-production assessment, and two posters (one on the Careers After Biological Science work, and one on Biology on the Box, my more recent project developing a library of recommended television clips for teaching biology). Links to all three can be found here:

The CABS programme involves Leicester alumni giving talks about their diverse careers which are then made available online.

The CABS programme involves Leicester alumni giving talks about their diverse careers which are then made available online.

Biology on the Box is my latest project, developing a library of recommended TV clips and programmes for teaching Biology

Use of multimedia in bioethics education

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics are currently running a series of “how to” teach bioethics articles on their Nuff’ said blog. I was asked to contribute a post on Use of multimedia in bioethics, which can be accessed via this link.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics produces authori

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body that examines and reports on ethical issues in biology and medicine

Other posts in the series will include features on: the Role of bioethics in (school) science education; Use of debates; Teaching ethics with medical students; Use of theatre to stimulate awareness and discussion; and Use of case studies/scenarios.


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