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Scientific Writing Sample Dilemma - Any Advice?


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I am applying to for my PhD in cognitive neuroscience.  One of my applications requires a scientific writing sample, but I don't really have one already written.  The person I spoke with said that it could be something you have published or just a paper from one of your college courses.  I graduated with my undergrad degree in psychology some time ago and for the past 6 years I have been a science teacher.  My computer was stolen after I graduated so I don't even have an old paper from college I can revise.  


I guess I will have to prepare a fresh sample, but what exactly are they looking for?  Also, how important is this piece of the application?  I only need to submit it to one program, but it is my top choice.  


Any advice or links or examples that could help me would be sincerely appreciated.  Thanks!!

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I'd suggest a literature review research paper, particularly if you have the background to bridge neuroscience and psychology. You can't do primary research, so you're stuck with secondary research, or maybe some pedagogy.


Anyway, the literature review research paper is a synthesis of a relevant selection of sources. You did this in undergrad if you wrote papers. Select a topic of interest that you are familiar with, then hit the databases (JSTOR, EBSCO, Proquest, Sage, Pubs, and so on). If you don't have access, check your local libraries. You may have to drive to the nearest college that lets the community into the library. Get articles on your topic. A lot of articles. Not tons and tons, but enough to have a substantial bibliography. Read the articles (critically, analytically, with annotations and maybe some summary). Put them aside, get out a pen and write a thesis statement. If you can't write a research question. Statement or question, is should be an argument or explanation informed by the articles you've read. Then develop the rest of the paper.


Science writing is about proper handling of data, primary or secondary. It's about objective language and intelligent conclusions from the data. You do synthesis all of the time as a scientist, but if you're at a loss, google "synthesis essay" and the OWL at Purdue should pop right up.


The other option is pedagogical. You've been teaching; surely you've formed some observation based opinions about science pedagogy.


I teach English, and despite the "literature" next to program, I'm a sociologist in literaturologists clothes. Well, more like near-the-end-of-semester undergraduate clothes, but they are comfortable. I have scientific writing. I have a paper discussing interactions with people and spaces after a series of observations at of one Walmart pharmacy. Seriously, you can spend hours in a Walmart without being bothered. Put a couple of items in a cart, get out the notebook and pen, stick a phone to your ear, and observe. Holidays are coming up, plenty of opportunities to watch the natives. You have a psychology degree. Review your text books to bone up on a theoretical perspective and go people watch, then write a paper.


To be perfectly clear: I don't write neuroscience papers, but I have been reading a few off and on. My father thinks that my unfortunate lack of Ann Coulter fangirling is totally not my fault, I can't help having defective genes (from my mother, since his rabid Ann Coulter fangboying means he's got good genes). It's very strange. Anyway, this makes me unqualified to talk about what a neuroscience program would want, beyond the basic fact that I teach composition, and I've written science in one of psychology's sister fields.

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