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The University of Southampton

BIOL6073 Critical Thinking in Biological Research

Module Overview

The focus of this module is to stimulate and enhance the ability of students to think critically about published scientific research. This is done through a combination of introductory lectures, workshops, and student-led presentations and discussions.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Appreciate the need to read published scientific papers critically.
  • Understand common issues associated with scientific literature, such the importance of reproducibility, the differences between causation and association, and using appropriate sample sizes.
  • Distil out what the ‘research question’ is in a scientific paper.
  • Appraise how close the experiments have come to answer the ‘research question’.
  • Suggest improvements or see deficiencies in experimental design.
  • Defend your thoughts and opinions in scientific discussion.


Students will be presented with 5 research papers that span biological sciences. In-depth knowledge of particular techniques if needed for each paper will be fully explained. It is anticipated that technical and background knowledge of the subject is not a factor relevant to this module.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Study time allocation [Contact time includes: Lectures, seminars, tutorials, project supervision, demonstration, practicals/workshops/fieldwork/external visits/work based learning] 5 themes essential to critical thinking about scientific research (e.g. sample sizes, reproducibility, correlation/causation) investigated during the module. Each theme carries 15h of time allocation (= 75h total). Contact time: 20 hours. Each theme (x5) has a 1 hour lecture and 3 hours of linked activities : a presentation (1h) and workshops (2h). Private study (Reading and researching time): 25 hours. Each student has 5h reading and research time associated with the papers they are presented for each of the 5 themes. At the end of this period, they write a brief critique for each of the 5 papers/themes. Group activity: 30 hours. Each student has 30h of time allocated to the one Group activity that they perform, which culminates in a presentation (under Contact time above). They will be expected to discuss their allocated research paper as a group, attend timetabled group sessions, divide out tasks associated the presentation, prepare their allotted activity for presentation, answer questions following their presentation. Total study time: 75 hours. Teaching and Learning Methods Lectures will commence each critical thinking theme: Providing background information sufficient to understand the technical detail of a research paper, and appreciate the context. Each theme will be associated with reading and appraising one (or possibly more) research paper. It is anticipated that the 5 themes will run in parallel, with the lectures (1h x 5 = 5h lectures) initiating the module, followed by time allocated to independent study and the group activity. Half way through the module there will be a catch-up workshop for each theme, in which the group(s) allocated to each theme will give a formative presentation (1h x 5 = 5h workshop). Feedback will be given to the students on their progress. During the second half of the module, each student completes a brief critique for each theme (i.e. 5 critiques per student). Towards the end of the module, group presentations (~1h) will be given to the rest of the enrolled students and this will be a summative assessment, based on the presentation itself, and the group’s ability to answer questions. For each theme this will be followed by a feedback workshop.

Wider reading or practice55
Total study time75





MethodPercentage contribution
Critique 50%
Presentation 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%
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