Course Project

Throughout the course, you will develop expertise on a specific topic of your choosing. You may choose any topic related to the course content (behavior genetics), as long as I approve of it. You will produce a final paper of about 3,500 to 4,000 words (12 – 15 pages) for undergrads, or 4,000 to 4,500 words (15 – 18 pages) for grad students, plus references. I care more about clarity, insight, evidence, and the flow of argument than about length. Expect to read at least 10 – 20 published research papers on your topic of choice. For graduate students, plan to produce a paper that you could turn around and submit as a review in a decent journal or a book chapter.

Objectives

  • Identify, understand, and synthesize recent and historic primary research articles.
  • Develop expertise in a specific topic of interest.
  • Communicate knowledge to a general audience.

Project Schedule

As shown in the table below, the course project consists of seven milestones leading up to, and including, a final term paper.

Activity Deadline Points
Topic + 5 references Week 4, Friday 3 points
10 article summaries Week 8, Friday 15 points
Draft paper Week 11, Friday 10 points
Draft digital media project Week 12, Friday 4 points
Paper peer reviews Week 13, Friday 5 points
Final digital media project Week 14, Friday 4 points
Final paper “Finals day” 9 points

Project Milestone 1: Topic + 5 references

Developing your Course Project will take time and deliberate (ideally, spaced-out) attention. We begin early by identifying a topic and (importantly) making sure that there is likely enough research that you’ll be able to eventually build a whole term paper around it.

For feedback on this assignment, I try to provide additional recommended sources based on your topic and the scholarly sources that you’ve identified as potentially interesting - I can use this information to figure out what specific direction and additional keywords might be interesting for you personally.

Objectives

  • Identify a topic you are interested in becoming an expert at.
  • Practice searching the relevant published scientific literature.

Time Estimate

4-5 hours

Assignment Instructions

Select a topic for your Course Project and find 5 promising scholarly sources. You do NOT need to read the entirety of each source right away but do read the abstract to be sure that the source is (1) relevant to your topic, (2) potentially interesting, and (3) scholarly (see Week 1 Prep Work for a link to learn to distinguish scholarly sources from popular sources).

Most importantly: Pick a topic you’re interested in! You may choose any topic related to the course content (behavior genetics).

  • Tip 1: If your topic is a specific phenotype, try searching Google Scholar for:
    • [phenotype] heritability
    • [phenotype] GWAS
    • [phenotype] genetics
  • Tip 2: Google Scholar sorts results to prioritize highly cited papers. You may want to restrict to recent publication years so you don’t get a bunch of out-of-date research (for example, select the ‘Since 2017’ option at top left).
  • Tip 3: If you find a paper you like, look for papers that that paper cites, or that cite that paper (click the ‘Cited by’ link under the reference listing in Google Scholar).
  • Tip 4: Where an author’s name is underlined in the reference listing on Google Scholar, follow the link to view their profile, which includes all of their published papers (useful if you find a paper that you really like, and you’d like to read more of their work) - you can sort by the number of citations (their most popular papers) or by year (their most recent papers).

Use APA format for the references. The Purdue OWL website is a handy free guide for APA formatting. If you find a reference on Google Scholar, click the image of the quotation mark to copy the APA-formatted citation.

NOTE: We use APA formatting throughout this course because (1) there needs to be some kind of consistent formatting across papers, otherwise, it would be a nightmare to provide instructions (You: “How should I format my references?”) and grade (Me: “Which study is this student referring to here?”), and (2) this course is housed in a Psychology department, so (3) APA is as good a standard to follow as any other.

If you are not sure how to go about completing the assignment, post your question to the Course Help Discussion Forum.

Evaluation

3 points for completing the assignment.

Deadline

Week 4, Friday by 5:00 pm CT

P.S. Example Topics

Below are some examples of topics that students have selected in past semesters. You are not limited to these topics, and more than one person can choose the same topic.

addiction, ADHD, agreeableness, alcohol use, alcohol & nicotine, alcoholism, altruism, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, athletic ability, autism, autoimmune disorders, borderline personality disorder, circadian rhythm, cognitive ability, conduct disorder, creativity, CRISPR-Cas9 (gene editing), depression, diabetes, diabetes & Alzheimer’s, drug use, dyslexia, eating disorders, economic decision making, educational attainment, empathy, exercise, externalizing (disinhibition, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, & substance use), genetic counseling, gut microbiome, handedness, income, internalizing (depression & anxiety), language, methylation, methylation in depression & PTSD, microbiome, musical ability, neuroticism, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, personality, pharmacogenomics, politics, procrastination, psychopathy, PTSD, resilience, schizophrenia, schizophrenia & cannabis use, sexual behavior, sleep, stress-related disorders, substance use, tic disorders, Tourette’s, toxoplasmosis

Project Milestone 2: 10 article summaries

Before writing a paper synthesizing a field of research, you must first develop an understanding of the (often highly complex) literature of that field. We do that systematically in this course by breaking down relevant papers using a variety of Article Summary templates (which we practice using in Weeks 5, 6, & 7).

Objectives

  • Identify core details from primary research articles.
  • Identify themes/sub-topics addressed by published articles.

Time Estimate

2-3 hours per article x 10 articles = 20-30 hours total. If you start in Week 5, at 2-3 papers per week, that’s 4-9 hours per week for 4 weeks. This is the LARGEST single milestone (by total time/effort/points) of the Course Project. Plan ahead to spread out your effort - you do NOT want to save this for the day before (even I don’t want to read 10 BG articles in one day).

Assignment Instructions

In your own words, complete an Article Summary Template for each of 10 articles related to your paper topic.

Most common: For empirical articles (that is, papers reporting a new analysis of data), use the Empirical Article Summary template.

Preferably no more than 1-3 articles: For review articles (that is, papers that summarize previous research with no novel analysis of data), use the Review Article Summary template.

Rare for most students/topics: If you use an article whose primary purpose is to describe a method (not a result of an analysis), use the Method Summary template.

You are welcome to lightly customize the templates as needed such as by adding or skipping sections (for example, if there are no figures or graphs, then you won’t have a favorite).

Please number your article summaries (any order you want, just make it easy for me to refer to in feedback, e.g. “For article 7…”) and start each article summary on a new page of your document (this makes it so much easier for me to grade, and happy graders are generous graders).

The primary audience for these summaries is your future self, when you start synthesizing these scholarly sources to construct your paper draft (which will be like a long version of the Topic Summary documents you wrote for your Team Learning Projects in Weeks 5 & 7). The article summary templates are meant to serve as a note-taking structure based on the information that I know you’re going to need when you start writing.

If you are not sure how to go about completing the assignment, post your question to the Course Help Discussion Forum.

Evaluation

15 points possible (1.5 per article). You’ll receive credit for each article summary as long as it’s clear you’ve made a genuine effort to extract the relevant information.

Deadline

Week 8, Friday by 5:00 pm CT

Project Milestone 3: Draft paper

Good writing comes from editing. But before you can edit, you must draft. The goal at this stage is to get words onto paper so that we can work together to make it better. You will receive feedback on this draft from your instructor and your peers.

Objectives

  • Combine knowledge from across a variety of sources.
  • Communicate information to a knowledgeable reviewer.

Time Estimate

10-15 hours

Assignment Instructions

The FINAL paper will be about 3,500 to 4,500 words (12 - 18 pages) plus 10-20 references; your draft should be at least 8 pages of text (assuming double-spaced 12pt Times New Roman or 11pt Arial, not including references). The more complete your draft, however, the more useful your peer review feedback will be and the less work you’ll need to put in to produce the final version. Draft papers shorter than 8 pages or that do not address course-relevant content (behavior genetics) will not be circulated for peer review.

A suggestion for how to move from your 10 article summaries to a draft of your paper:

  1. Looking across all 10 of your article summaries, make a list of what themes appear in which articles, looking especially for themes that show up in more than 1 article (see the left panel of the illustration below). Give each theme group a general but descriptive title (like, “Heritability”, “Associated Genes”, “Ethical Considerations”, “Non-Human Animal Studies”, “Developmental Effects”, “Sex Differences”, “Gene-Environment Interplay”, “Overlap with Other Phenotypes”). Relevant themes/topics will vary, but whatever is useful for organizing the themes across the articles you’ve chosen.
  2. For each empirical article summary, generate a brief paragraph-form summary of the study overall by combining information from the study specifics. For example, a basic template to get you started in many cases: “A [method] of [how many] participants found [primary finding] ([effect size], [citation]).”
  3. Create an outline/framework for your draft paper by pasting your list of themes from step 1, so now each descriptive title is a heading for a topic section.
  4. For each theme, paste sections how each relevant study (identified in step 1) relates to the theme (what you wrote for the “Explain how:” item for that theme on your article summary) from your article summary form into a paragraph under that theme’s section in your paper draft document (see the right panel of the illustration below). For each empirical study, you should include the general study details the first time you introduce it to the reader; if you reference the same study again under later topics/themes, you can give a much briefer indication of which study you’re talking about (for example, “This theme was also in the study by Derringer and colleagues (2017) discussed in the previous section, which found…”).
  5. Consider merging information from multiple articles into fewer paragraphs within a theme section. Review the Topic Summary template for examples of how to handle in-text parenthetical citations, whether there is only one source or multiple sources for a single paragraph.
  6. Read your draft so far. Go back over your summaries to copy-and-paste any text you may not yet have included that seems relevant now that you have a general structure to your paper. Additional material from your summaries of any review papers often makes excellent introductions/conclusions/transitions between sections.
  7. Before the first theme section, write an introduction: what is your topic, and why is it important?
  8. After the last theme section, write a Discussion where you briefly summarize what your above-detailed description of the current literature shows, and what in your opinion would be the best recommended next steps for research on this topic to move forward.
  9. Once you have this full rough first draft, edit. Go through these tips for self-editing your writing. Review the Good, Bad, Improve, Follow-Up checklist (generated by the class in Week 9).
  10. If you notice while editing that one (or more) of your theme sections is a little sparse, find one or two more sources on that topic to fill out what you already have. In addition to searching for new articles through Google Scholar, you may want to review what folks posted as the Easiest and most Helpful articles in the discussion forum from Week 8, for some specific recommendations from your peers.

An illustration of the process to reorganize the writing you’ve done for your article summaries into a rough draft:

If you are not sure how to go about completing the assignment, post your question to the Course Help Discussion Forum.

Evaluation

10 points possible. See the Draft Paper Rubric below for how points will be assigned.

Area of Evaluation Full Credit Criteria Half-Credit Criteria No Credit Criteria
Topic Coverage Provides broad coverage of a range of behavior genetic approaches to the topic, or in-depth coverage of a specific area/methods of genetic research on the topic. [3 points] Minimal or superficial coverage of topics or methods related to course themes. [1.5 points] Presented research is not clearly related to course themes (most often: paper seems to have been written for another course). [0 points]
Variety of References Information comes from a variety of primary research reports. [3 points] Too few references (<10) or few-to-no primary/original articles cited. [1.5 points] Over-reliance on one or two existing review papers of the topic and/or excessive use of quotations (research findings not restated in student’s own words). [0 points]
Organization Provides a coherent/logical flow between topics. Includes some elements of synthesis or overall summary. [2 points] A mix of organized and disorganized (most often: the start is there, but not complete). [1 points] Information is presented as if in list format, with no transition or synthesis across information. [0 points]
Grammar & Formatting Easy to read, with APA formatted in-text and reference list citations. (Does not need to be free of minor grammar or spelling errors or in final/perfect APA format, as long as content is clear and citations are present and an attempt at APA format has been made.) [2 points] Some substantial errors in grammar or formatting (most common: several instances of whole sections or reports of studies missing citations completely). [1 points] Widespread grammar/spelling errors or sentence fragments make draft unreadable. [0 points]

Deadline

Week 11, Friday by 5:00 pm CT

Project Milestone 5: Paper peer reviews

All good writing is editing, and peer review is a core component of the scientific process. This is an opportunity to receive feedback on your paper draft, and use the knowledge that you’ve gained to advise your peer on their papers. In this assignment, you will provide a journal-style peer review of two others’ papers.

Objectives

  • Learn to provide constructive criticism of scholarly writing.
  • Receive suggestions to improve your own writing, both in form and content.

Time Estimate

6-7 hours

Assignment Instructions

Provide structured, journal-style feedback on 2 others’ draft papers, which you will receive within a week of Project Milestone 3: Draft paper deadline. Follow the example peer review structure and submit each review as a separate document.

If you are not sure how to go about completing the assignment, post your question to the Course Help Discussion Forum.

Evaluation

5 points possible, 2.5 points for each peer review returned.

Deadline

Week 13, Friday by 5:00 pm CT

Project Milestone 7: Final paper

It’s time to go back to your draft and make improvements to produce a final document.

If you have earned at least 90 points by this point in the semester, you are not required to submit a Final Paper to receive an A for the course.

Objectives

  • Integrate feedback from a variety of sources.
  • Produce a brief report communicating current knowledge about a specific topic in behavior genetics.

Time Estimate

10−15 hours

Assignment Instructions

Your final paper will be about 3,500 to 4,000 words (12 – 15 pages) for undergrads, or 4,000 to 4,500 words (15 – 18 pages) for grad students, plus references. It is evaluated primarily on topic coverage and synthesis, as well as organization, grammar, formatting, and responsiveness to reviewer comments.

Some suggestions for how to tackle the revision process:

  1. Use your peer reviews as a checklist of issues to potentially address. Some will be straightforward, others will require some thought, and still others may just be bad suggestions that you ignore.
  2. Think about how your popular source changed as it developed. Were there any new pieces of information or new approaches to organizing your material that could be added to your paper?
  3. Review the Good-Bad-Improve-Followup checklist we generated in Week 9. For each unit of your paper (each study, each section, the paper overall), be sure that you have addressed each of the relevant issues.
  4. Go through Randy McCarthy’s suggestions for self-editing your writing.
  5. Go through the document to check for APA-style, including a title page, abstract, full list of references, and use of in-text citations.

If you are not sure how to go about completing the assignment, post your question to the Course Help Discussion Forum.

Evaluation

9 points possible. See the Final Paper Rubric below for how points will be assigned.

Area of Evaluation Criteria for Full Credit Criteria for Half Credit Criteria for No Credit
Topic Coverage Provides broad coverage of a range of behavior genetic approaches to the topic, or in-depth coverage of a specific area/method of genetic research on the topic. Information comes from a variety of primary research reports and includes the student’s own synthesis or summary of the current research literature. Concepts are clearly presented and technical terms are defined. [6 points] Coverage of the topic is superficial. Some technical terms remain undefined or there are points that are not clearly presented/described. Excessive use of quotations (research findings not restated in the student’s own words). [3 points] Presented research is not clearly related to course themes. Reliance on one or two existing review papers of the topic, instead of primary research reports. [0 points]
Organization, Grammar, Formatting, Response to Peer Review Well organized and easy to follow with a clear narrative flow. Near perfect grammar and spelling. Near perfect APA style, including paper structure and formatting, title page, abstract, in-text citations, and reference list. Final paper is clearly responsive to reasonable suggestions made during peer review process. [3 points] Specific topics clearly organized into sections, but little to no transition between topics and/or lack of “big picture” summary of topic, either in introduction or conclusion sections. Several noticeable grammar or spelling errors. Several noticeable errors in APA style. Some improvements made in response to peer review but several major concerns or reasonable suggestions that were made in peer review are ignored. [1.5 points] Little to no clear organization; difficult to follow or understand topic being addressed or argument made in several sections. Frequent errors of grammar or spelling that make the paper difficult to read. Little to no evidence of use of APA style; missing a major element such as title, abstract, or citations. Little to no evidence of improvement since the peer-reviewed draft version. [0 points]

Deadline

What would have been our finals day, by 5:00 pm CT

NOTE: Final papers must be submitted by 5:00 pm CT on the last day of finals in order to be included in your final course grade.