That’s g’all folks! See g’all later!

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Well, there goes another year of Experimental Ecology and Evolution in the field! It’s always bittersweet at the end. It was great to see the project and all the papers come together. I just read nearly all of the final drafts, and they are fantastic. It was a bit of a mad rush there at the end – as always, things seem to take longer than we expect – but I’m always amazed how much good science can happen in two quarters.

For me, the hardest part of this class was being away on a research trip for two weeks. Lucky for me, the students in this class are an exceptional lot, and Will is an exceptional TA; they all plowed through some thorny stats with determination and grit.

The best part of this class? I like this point at the end of the class when I can rewind the tape and review how the story played out. We began on way back in January without a project in mind and built this thing from the ground up. Most of the students in this class didn’t have any previous research experience, and we all learned on the job. In the beginning there were lots of possibilities, and somehow or another this is the path we chose. I’m already looking forward to seeing how the story unfolds next time, in 2015.

At the end of a class, I like to review the syllabus and see if there are any changes I’d make for next time. Here is the syllabus for 2013. For 2015, I’m thinking of making a few changes to the schedule:

week topics
1 Introductions and expectations, an overview of the research process; a Stantonian guide to formulating testable hypotheses; photograph names; post this schedule in the classroom; signup MCs and Bloggers; build contact list; scouting out potential field sites
2 Discussion of potential project ideas, consider potential study organisms; learning natural history in the 21st century; sampling local field guides; identify areas of expertise; identifying seasonally available organisms;
3 Development of potential project ideas, investigating potential research concepts; using the library and the primary literature; using bibliographic software; what makes a question interesting? Revisit and survey potential field sites; assign project proposals, including citations
4 Research methods and tools of the trade; introduction to experimental design; tour of research labs and facilities; two project proposals from each student due; peer review of proposals
5 Identify a short list of 4-5 projects; research proposals in teams,  addressing possible logistical hurdles (e.g., permits and permissions) ; discussion to reduce project list to 2; generate a required reading list for each proposal
6 Team proposal presentations and discussion; preliminary experimental design; final voting on project proposals; library research and field scouting ;pilot studies; assign introduction, including citations, questions and hypotheses
7 Experimental design; revisit field site; peer review introductions
8 Experimental design; start the experiment; introduce statistical analysis with simulated dataset; reading and working with dataframes
9 Data collection; statistical analysis with simulated dataset; plotting and exploratory data analysis; assign methods section;
10 Data collection; statistical analysis with simulated dataset; methods section due; Winter Potluck
11 Data collection; peer review of methods (Finals week)
12 Data collection (Spring break)
13 Data collection; statistical analysis with simulated dataset
14 Data collection; statistical analysis with simulated dataset
15 Data collection; write methods section statistical analysis
16 Final data collection; methods section due; introduction to statistics in R; statistical analysis
17 Statistical analysis; write results section
18 Statistical analysis; results section due; peer review of results
19 Write Re-write introduction and write discussion
20 Draft papers due; peer review of draft papers
21 Revise draft papers
22 Final papers due; discussion of future plans; Spring Potluck
23 Lab and field clean-up (Finals week)

Looking back at the schedule in the original syllabus, I think it’s actually not-too-bad. But it would be great to avoid the analysis and writing crunch-time at the end if possible. The three-stage proposal voting worked really well this year, so it probably makes sense to try that again. The MC/Blogger component was an awesome addition to the class, and definitely think we should do that again. Besides that, the other big changes I’d like to try next year are: 1) drafting the introduction section of the paper in the Winter quarter, complete with citations, questions and hypotheses, and 2) beginning statistical analyses with a simulated dataset right after the experiment is designed. Hopefully, these changes will help to reduce the crunch-time at the end.

This class was substantially redesigned for 2013 with the goal of putting the students in the driver’s seat to a remarkable degree. I’m amazed how well these students rose to that challenge; for all the major decisions of this project, the students were the ones with their hands on the wheel. If I had any initial doubts that a class of students steer a project through rough terrain, those doubts have largely been addressed. They worked independently and as a group, taking responsibility for every step in the process. We experimented with nature, did some good science, and had fun. Color me impressed.

Any suggestions on other changes we could make to this class? Post ’em below! (More puns? More donuts? More dogs?)

Where to from here? Many students are off do cool things, sometimes in far-flung locations and sometimes right here in Davis, but often involving field research. And I have heard some rumblings of summer analyses and data collection on the gall project. Stay tuned!

One response to “That’s g’all folks! See g’all later!

  1. Truly a spectacular and unique class! I feel the things I’ve learned from this hands on approach will last me a lifetime. Thanks for the awesome experience. Best of luck to the 2015 class!

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