Chapter 4. Writing and becoming a scientist

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In many communication-intensive (CI) classes in the sciences, students are learning the essential practices for knowledge production in tandem with professional communication practices. In short, they are learning to communicate as a biologist or chemist or physicist. To explore this process more closely, we conducted a three-year qualitative study of 17 undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering CI classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology via initial and end-of-year surveys, one-to-one interviews, classroom observation, and collection and analysis of student writing. In this chapter, we present the findings about three students who were sophomores at the beginning of the study and graduating seniors at its conclusion to understand if these students evidenced changes in their understanding of the roles and purposes of communicating science. Based on coded interview data and analysis of student writing, the case studies we report in this chapter offer insights into the intertwined relationship between students’ developing scientific knowledge and their shifting identities as students/scientists/engineers/writers. Understanding students’ perspectives on entering professional communities through their communicative practices, particularly given the constraints of school contexts, speaks to the need to design instruction that responds to students’ developmental levels and their readiness to learn to communicate in science and engineering.


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