DEER helps undergrads understand primary literature in ecology and evolution


Students discuss a scientific paper

As undergraduates at small liberal arts colleges, Erica Baken and Andrew Kaul enjoyed the benefits of small classrooms. One such benefit was the chance to read and discuss primary literature.

"We found that it was a really useful tool for making the transition from undergraduate to graduate student," said Baken.

Both EEOB graduate students realized the lack of such opportunities for undergrads at Iowa State University. In the spring of 2017 they formed an unofficial journal club for biology students. The club, Discussions in Ecology and Evolution (DEER), met once a week. Led by Kaul and Baken, the students practiced reading and discussing a different paper each week.

This semester, DEER is now offered as a 1 credit seminar course, with eight students registered. During the first half of the semester a different student chooses a paper to discuss each week. Students generally chose papers based on their interests. Topics range from integrated pest management to evolution and marine life. For the second half, the class will choose one of the previous papers to examine in more depth.

The range of topics is one aspect that undergrad Lauren Mellenthin enjoys most about the class. She was new to research and found that reading primary literature for her undergraduate classes was difficult.

"I can read papers with a lot more ease now," said Mellenthin. "It [reading primary literature] is really necessary if you want to pursue research in your future career. Reading these papers is really vital to knowing what's out there and having informed discussions with others. You can actually engage in the conversation and learn a little bit more."

For students interested in DEER, it will be offered spring 2018 as a BIOL 495 seminar course.