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Department of Biochemistry


In supervising MIMS and BMB it is important students practise essay writing and also the data analysis paper.

Essay writing skills

It is particularly important that supervisors, from the outset of the course, give first year students sustained help and guidance to develop their essay writing skills, and to establish their appreciation of the necessary attributes of a scientific essay and to put them into practice.

It is generally common practice for students to write three or four supervision essays per term, which are handed in before the supervision at which the supervisor will discuss them and provide verbal and written feedback.

In the Tripos examination, essays must be hand-written (unless there are medical reasons for use of a computer, which have to approved in advance by the Board of Examinations on provision of evidence by a Tutor). It is important that students retain (or acquire) and develop their ability to do this both cogently and legibly. Examiners have raised concerns about the difficulties of reading scripts from a minority of candidates. For supervision purposes, students may prefer to word process some of their essays – there are obvious benefits to this but nevertheless, practice in writing essays, particularly timed essays, is important too. A related consideration is the integration of diagrams into essays - for example to illustrate control networks, biochemical processes, and molecular structures. Some students need considerable encouragement to do this.

Data handling questions

Experience has shown that it is particularly difficult for students if they are set data handling questions right at the start of the year, especially if linked to material not yet encountered in lectures or practicals. While it is helpful to bring the practicals within the ambit of supervisions as they occur, take care not to introduce these too early. Examiners  have noticed with concern that some students’ have difficulty with simple calculations are often poor, especially in going in steps from raw data to final result: keeping track of units through the calculation is an important and helpful discipline. A common problem is that of distinguishing AMOUNT from CONCENTRATION. These matters are addressed in the handbook (appendix 1) and during the practicals and discussions.

But supervisors working with small groups can be particularly effective in improving scientific numeric. Please be alert to such difficulties, and be proactive in offering help.

The Senior Tutors committee has drawn up guidance for supervisors.

There is also information available on the Faculty of Biology web site where advice for supervisors, guidelines used by examiners for marking, and advice on examination skills and how to avoid plagiarism can be found alongside much else.

The University Skills Portal also has useful resources on academic writing and other study skills.