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Write Like a Chemist

The necessity of technical writing often first becomes pronounced during a chemist’s graduate studies. Beyond writing of manuscripts and a thesis, many graduate programs require students to write original research proposals in order to cultivate skills associated with proposing new ideas. This requirement is particularly helpful for those students who go on to be academic faculty because writing grants and proposing new research is a crucial part of running a laboratory.


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The plethora of writing requirements and expectations for graduate students, which continues into their professional careers, particularly for academic chemists, raises an important question: when do students learn the necessary skills, particularly good grant-writing skills? A number of undergraduate-level writing courses or in-class exercises have been proposed. However, it is unclear what percentage of students have exposure to these classes.

In work published in the Journal of Chemical Education, Jillian Dempsey and her former graduate student, Brian McCarthy, introduce a graduate-level course focused on writing original research proposals to address the uneven preparation in technical writing of new chemistry graduate students. The general course structure features extensive group discussions, small-group activities, and regular in-class small-group peer review.

Since the introduction of this course, it has been found by student surveys, faculty feedback, and student success in winning graduate fellowships, that the course is a valuable graduate education component. The work details course structure, pedagogical approach, and course evaluation.