Evaluating Organic Chemistry Labs – What are we trying to do?

I have just finished grading a pile of lab reports while reflecting on the question: “How do scientists learn to read and write scientific articles?” Whether or not my students ever author a scientific paper, their lives and careers will most likely rely on data and ideas that were originally presented in the form of formal scientific articles. 1) The educational training of scientists certainly contributes to their ability to collect and analyze data as well as their skill in communicating their analyzes effectively. 2) Traditional science is a mentoring experience: young researchers rely on advice from experienced researchers at every stage of their research. In my graduate school experience, my 3) Scientist learn to write in the formal scientific style by reading articles. Different journals have different stylistic and content features that are not often explicitly stated. Not only that but different types of research also have their written and unwritten expectations of what is considered to be publishable research. 4) Journals themselves give copious directives on the format of scientific articles that will be considered for their journals as well as some advice on the content. 5) Finally, the peer-review system is set-up so that standards will be adhered to. On the whole it is a workable system, though abuses on the part of authors and reviewers are certainly within the realm of possibility. If some of the main outcomes of Sophomore Organic Chemistry are to teach students to understand the experimental logic used in scientific research as well as develop skills in analyzing and communicating experimental results, then our evaluation (grading) should be in line with those goals.

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