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Introducing PHAGES Students to Primary Literature

By Sean McClory1, Rivka Glaser2, Denise L Monti3, Adam Rudner4

1. La Salle University 2. Stevenson University 3. University of Alabama at Birmingham 4. University of Ottawa

The ‘Introducing PHAGES Students to Primary Literature’ set of teaching resources offers faculty 2 distinct sets of teaching resources for introducing students to scientific literature in the classroom.

Listed in Teaching Materials | resource by group HHMI Science Education Alliance (SEA) Faculty Group

Version 1.0 - published on 10 Aug 2020 doi:10.25334/PEVT-VM04 - cite this

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms



The ‘Introducing PHAGES Students to Primary Literature’ set of teaching resources offers faculty 2 distinct sets of teaching resources for introducing students to scientific literature in the classroom.  The materials in Teaching Set I guide the students in the reading and analysis of the short form phage therapy research paper, Engineered bacteriophages for treatment of a patient with a disseminated drug-resistant Mycobacterium abscessus (Dedrick et al, 2019).  Clinical research papers quickly capture the interest of novice researchers and often have accompanying popular media articles and videos that are easy to understand and can be used as an introduction to the topic. The materials in Teaching Set II guide the students in the reading of an early mycobacteriophage paper, Genome organization and characterization of mycobacteriophage Bxb1 (Mediavilla et al, 2000).  This paper includes all of the sections of a traditional research paper and includes laboratory methods familiar to those students working in the Discovery portion of the SEA-PHAGES course.  

The learning objectives are ordered by increasing levels of cognitive engagement.  Faculty are welcomed and encouraged to adopt those learning objectives appropriate for their student population or desired course outcomes.  

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain how scientific communication differs for various audiences

  2. Explain why science communication is necessary and important

  3. Describe similarities and differences between a research paper and a popular media science article

  4. Cite and explain the significance of each section of a research paper

  5. Demonstrate strategies for understanding a figure in a scientific paper.

  6. Explain the results of an experiment to a peer audience using data from a figure published in a research paper.  

  7. Derive 3-5 key points from a research article

  8. Formulate a series of scientific questions after reading a primary literature article

  9. Critically evaluate scientific literature by identifying the limitations of a particular experiment and by proposing alternative interpretations of the results

  10. Write a 1-2 page mini-grant proposal that demonstrates an understanding of the process of doing science

Developing Students at Scientists

Reading and analyzing primary literature is a learned scientific skill.  The materials developed provide multiple opportunities for faculty to engage students in elements that may be important for the development of students as scientists.  Namely, the use of primary literature in the classroom allows for:

Explicit DIscussion - Faculty have the opportunity to explain to students the importance of primary communication as a means of sharing scientific information among scientists.  Students can be explicitly told that reading primary literature is a learned scientific skill that takes time to master.  

Instructor Mentorship/Modelling Scientific Thinking - Paper discussions provide faculty the opportunity to guide students in their understanding of the material but also allow students to see that even faculty/fellow scientists sometimes have questions about a paper or don’t understand every aspect of a paper.  Faculty should feel comfortable sharing their own questions with their students.  

Encouraging Perseverance - The process of learning to read and analyze a primary literature paper can be intimidating to a student but with guidance, students can appreciate the increased knowledge and understanding gained as a result of working through a paper.  

Encouraging Engagement and Enthusiasm - The reading of primary literature provides an opportunity to directly demonstrate the value and importance of phage research. Simple discussion questions such as, “Would it be possible to repeat this paper with your own phage?  What experiments could be similar or different?” begin to challenge students to begin to think of their own work in a broader scientific context.  

Peer Collaboration - There are multiple opportunities for peer work in the primary literature teaching activities.  Students can work in groups when analyzing and/or presenting paper figures and students and faculty can share ideas in full class discussions. 


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HHMI Science Education Alliance (SEA) Faculty Group

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