could provide students the opportunity to gain a different perspective
regarding topics and research expertise that differs from members of
our faculty. These latter two groups provide additional information
about different scientific disciplines, which may be useful in career
counseling, an important part of undergraduate biology education
(Araneo et al., 2017).
How This Method Is Used at Canisius
The method described here can be used in many circumstances
within a program’s curriculum. At Canisius we have used the
method for a single seminar speaker, for a class that includes outside
seminar speakers, and for a seminar class that includes student presentations. We have used the method for course guest lecturers in
both required and elective courses; for our required sophomore
seminar in which all majors are taught a variety of skills, including
reading papers and listening to seminars (we usually have two outside seminars); and for our senior seminar, which begins with two
outside speakers followed by students giving two presentations each
and being graded by both students and faculty (using the same score
sheet they used in both the sophomore and senior seminars). When
possible, we scheduled research presentations by candidates for faculty positions to occur during our seminar classes, providing both a
known group of students to attend the seminar and an opportunity
for our students to have meaningful input into hiring decisions by
comparing candidates. Because we have used this approach in several parts of our curriculum, we have used the method with groups
as small as 12–15 students (a single course) or as large as 80 students
(all sophomores). An additional benefit of our system has been that
because we used the same score sheet for all seminars, including student seminars, we were able to talk about how expectations can vary
at different points in a scientist’s career. When the score sheet was
used to evaluate student presentations, the faculty provided students
with summarized feedback from their peers rather than the individual score sheets, which ensured that students received feedback
that was not overly critical, inappropriate, or wrong. By using this
method to get more from seminars in our department, we feel
we are helping our students transition from biology students to
Departmental seminars provide the opportunity to learn from scien-
tists outside of the faculty or to be exposed to expertise beyond what
the faculty can cover in the classroom. Our method provides multiple
additional benefits from a single seminar speaker. First, by requiring
students to read papers related to the seminar, students both practice
interpreting a scientific paper and gain a greater understanding of the
process of science. When students are focused too much on under-
standing details in a paper or seminar, they often miss the big picture.
Alternatively, some students focus on the big picture but not on why
particular methods were chosen or why specific experiments were
performed. Because they have seen the material twice, students can
develop a deeper understanding of the details and the broader context
of the seminar. Second, students can use this deeper understanding to
better critique the quality of a seminar. This newfound knowledge of
effective seminar strategies can be used to improve students’ future
oral presentations. Third, students can get a different perspective
about career options in the field of biology and/or exposure to new
scientific fields. This may help graduating students navigate postgrad-
uate programs and job-market options, as biology-related careers are
projected to increase over the next decade (Araneo et al., 2017). An
additional benefit of our system is that we provide our alumni who
are completing degrees an audience for their seminars. Our alumni
can use a receptive audience to provide feedback from both students
and faculty as they prepare for a thesis seminar or job talk. Thus, our
system produces multiple benefits for our faculty, students, and guest
speakers by maximizing the engagement and learning opportunities
around a single seminar.
We thank the Canisius Biology Department for funding the seminars and experimenting with different ways to engage students.
We also thank the Canisius College Science Scholars who were
involved in initial plans to develop this project. We are particularly
grateful to Dr. Elizabeth Hansen, Dr. Aronica’s wife, who facilitated
the completion of this manuscript after Dr. Aronica’s death. This
material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (grant nos. 0965933 and 1643649). Any opinions, findings,
and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are
those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
National Science Foundation.
Araneo, K., Schwebach, J.R. & Csikari, M. (2017). Advising biology majors
about career choices: resources & information for biology instructors.
American Biology Teacher, 79, 14–21.
Hunter, A.-B., Laursen S.L. & Seymour E. (2007). Becoming a scientist: the
role of undergraduate research in students’ cognitive, personal, and
professional development. Science Education, 91, 36–74.
Leonard, W.H. (2000). How do college students best learn science? An
assessment of popular teaching styles and their effectiveness. Journal
of College Science Teaching, 29, 385–388.
Lord, T. (2001). 101 reasons for using cooperative learning in biology
teaching. American Biology Teacher, 63, 30–38.
Pall, M. (2000). The value of scientific peer-reviewed literature in a general
education science course. American Biology Teacher, 62, 256–258.
Parker, L.E. & Morris, S.R. (2016). A survey of practical experiences & co-curricular activities to support undergraduate biology education.
American Biology Teacher, 78, 719–724.
SARA R. MORRIS is the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and
a Professor of Biology at Canisius College, Buffalo, NY 14208; e-mail:
email@example.com. HANNAH M. ELSINGHORST is a graduate of the
undergraduate biology program at Canisius College and is currently in
medical school at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
in Buffalo, NY; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. SUSAN M. ARONICA was a
Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Canisius College. She
died in February 2016 after teaching physiology and endocrinology
courses for 19 years at Canisius.