Projects exercise

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This course outfits the participants with the tools they will need for a a future in research biology. They plan and execute three independent projects. The key steps in scientific research are:

  • Observation
  • Question forming and hypothesis generation (developing your model of how Nature works)
  • Testing of hypothesis
  • Revision of hypothesis

The projects should be done in groups of two or three (unfortunately, no individual projects, because no one should be alone in the forest). You have 2-5 days of fieldwork, depending on site.


Coming up with a question

Sometimes the hardest part! Natural history observation precedes most ecological and evolutionary research. Get out in the forest and look and listen. Read papers in the PDF library. If struggling, check previous years' projects.

Pilot work

Do test the methods beforehand. Will you be able to gather enough data?

The proposal

A half to one page (equivalent).

Include these components:

  • Introduction:
    • The system (3-4 sentences).
    • Why is it interesting?
  • Questions:
    • What is it, in one clear sentence.
    • Your hypothesis about the answer to this question, of the format: `Because of A, B, and C, we expect to find D.' This will tie to the argument section of your project report.
    • Also, why is it interesting, important?
  • Methods
  • Analysis:
    • What is your statistical hypothesis?
    • What is the null hypothesis?
    • How you will analyse the data?
    • How you will use the findings to answer your question? E.g., `if W, then X, but if Y then Z.'
  • References

Follow these formatting rules. Here is an example.

Remember, a proposal fulfils at least two functions:

  • it is a `sales' piece; you are trying to capture the attention, and often money of your readers
  • it clarifies your thinking before attempting the project

The proposal presentation

Cover the same material as in your written proposal. No more than 10 minutes. Share the speaking around the various members of the group. Do think before you speak. Prepare carefully the opening statement and the closing statement, because this is when it will be hardest for you to concentrate (this goes for all public speaking).


Use the feedback you get on both the written and oral proposal to refine your ideas, change you methods and perhaps even change projects. You will be asked to give short (5-min) presentations outlining how your ideas and plans have changed.


  • Make a checklist of things to bring to the field.
  • Take a packed lunch---you will be far more productive if you don't come back for lunch.
  • Usual rules: never alone, always sign out.
  • Gear: sign it out and sign it back. Many of the items we have are expensive.


  • Enter your data in OpenOffice Calc, or directly into R (using de(...)).
  • What are your independent variables? What are you dependent variables?
  • Are you using appropriate tests?
  • Descriptive statistics or statistical inference?
  • See the pages for lectures on R: Statistics and R, and Ecology with R


1-2 page equivalents (on the Wiki: call it, e.g. Lambir fish project). Include these sections:

  • Abstact. No more than 10 sentences summarizing all the part of the report. Write this last.
  • Introduction:
    • The system (5-6 sentences). Focus more on the theory of the processes you are studying than on the basics of the taxon you are using.
    • Why is it interesting?
    • Subsection: The question:
      • What is it, in one clear sentence.
      • Also, why is it interesting, important?
  • Methods
    • Subsection: Field methods
    • Subsection: Analysis:
      • What is your statistical hypothesis? What is the null hypothesis?
      • How did analyse the data?
  • Results
    • Include up to two figures and zero or one tables. Include them as thumbnails, so that they are standardized in size across the papers: [[File:My_fig.jpg|thumb|'''Figure 1''': my legend]]
  • Discussion
  • References

Remember: brevity is a virtue!



  • Title in bold
  • Authors in italics (with links to your pages if you want)
  • Sections of the document as sections.


'''The relationship between X and Y indicates a new role for Z'''

''[[Charlie|Charlie Brown]] and [[Bill|Bill Blue]]''

== Introduction ==

Blah, blah, blah


Include your graphs as embedded graphics with this tag: [[File:Webb_proj1_fig4.png|thumb|'''Figure 2''': The distribution of...]]. Remember to include the legend and the correct Figure number. Include your tables as tables, using the markup in the help pages, or as images in a thumbnail. Maximum two figures and one table.

References section

Cite your references as follows:

  • In text citations:
    • Smith and Jones (2009) discovered...
    • (Smith and Jones 2009)
    • (Smith et al. 2009) for three or more authors
    • (Jones and Smith 2007, Smith et al. 2009)
  • Bibliography: use the default Harvard RTF export format from JabRef. Don't worry about the bold and italics ornamentations:
    • Book: Bayon, R.; Fox, J. & Carroll, N. (2008), Conservation and Biodiversity Banking: A Guide to Setting Up and Running Biodiversity Credit, Earthscan Publications Ltd., New York.
    • Article: Paoli, G. D. & Curran, L. M. (2007), 'Soil nutrients limit fine litter production and tree growth in mature lowland forest of Southwestern Borneo', Ecosystems 10(3), 503-518.
    • Book Chapter: Weiblen, G. D. (2007), Moraceae of Papua, in Marshall, A. J. & B. M. Beehler, ed.,'The Ecology of Papua', Periplus Editions, Singapore, pp. 404-407.

Example template

See here.

Peer review

A big part of science is reviewing other people's work, offering substantive comments and criticisms and judging the validity of the work's claims. You will review each others work before it goes to the staff for review. Please conduct the following:

  • Read the report carefully, twice.
  • Judge the validity of the arguments and logic, and offer a general comments in the discussion tab (notes).
  • Assess the clarity of the results, including figures and tables (are they needed?). General points to go into the discussion tab, localized comments go in invisible code brackets: <!-- and -->.
  • Finally, correct minor grammar and spelling directly in the text.

Remember: This is meant to be helpful, constructive criticism. Be very sensitive to how other will react to what you write. Please do not be mean-spirited, do not use CAPITALS FOR YOUR COMMENTS (= shouting), and especially if the authors are non-native English speakers, be patient and thorough. As with a real paper, the product becomes a hybrid between the original authors and the reviewers.

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