Teaching Scientific Literature Analysis: A Systematic Adoption of Skill-Building Methods to Enrich Research Training for Undergraduate Students

Sharmila Venugopal



Teaching scientific literature analysis skills is a critical step in research training. Here I describe a 6-week skill-building module on understanding scientific literature, incorporated into a 10-week undergraduate honors research practice course in Neuroscience. Key pedagogical components include: 1) student-centered active-learning, skill-building and community-building activities; 2) persistent adoption of a proven CREATE method and a novel curate scientific summary (CSS) method for teaching scientific literature analysis skills; 3) collaborative class organization consisting of persistent learning pods (PLPs) to facilitate student-driven participation and peer learning; and, 4) role play of a real research lab. Skill development was assessed using a self-assessment survey (SAS) and longitudinal evaluation of the CREATE and CSS methods application by the PLPs to analyze primary research articles (PRAs) over four weeks. Outcomes demonstrate alleviation of pre-existing student anxiety to read complex scientific literature and advancement of critical-thinking and collaborative skills. Specifically, the SAS responses indicate that student perception about reading scientific literature transformed from being a daunting task to an enjoyable activity; this enhanced their confidence in evaluating scientific literature. PLPs fostered student engagement, peer instruction, and community building, and contributed to skill development. Weekly assessment of CREATE and CSS application highlighted marked improvements in students’ abilities to analyze and critique complicated scientific material. Role playing a research lab setting with a focused research theme facilitated integrative understanding of a frontier topic in Neuroscience. The outlined innovative approach can be adopted in Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) and should help contribute to systematizing didactic practices to train neuroscientists.