BIO 290S: Ethics and Politics in Biology

Reader requirements: an undergraduate degree preferably in biology, could be more broadly in the life sciences or similar fields; a background in ethics or politics would be a plus.

  1. Course Information
  2. Schedule
  3. Giving Feedback

Course Information

Instructor: Prof. Ashley Ann Troth and Prof. Joanna Lucy Rifkin

Across the globe, people must make choices both within their own lives and at the ballot box about biologically inflected issues ranging from vaccines to genetically modified organisms to recreational drug policies. In this course, students will develop the skills necessary to read both primary and popular literature about biological research, as well as understand how scientific questions become hot-button cultural controversies.

Student Writing Assignment

The third assignment is a research paper. Throughout the course of student presentations, we will gain exposure to a number of current controversies. Students will be responsible for a final research paper on a topic of their choice that incorporates an international perspective. In this course we will learn how to read and analyze information from both sides of a controversy, and this paper will allow you to use what you have learned to create a document geared toward peer readers. To support writing development, the research paper grade will be broken into a number of smaller pieces, including an initial proposal, a bibliography, a written proposal / outline, a number of peer-review sessions, and finally, a completed research paper.


Student – Reader Interactions


  • Send proposal to Reader Feb 20th, when due in class
  • Arrange meeting to discuss feedback
  • Revised proposal and bibliography due March 9th


  • Send draft of paper to reader April 6th
  • Arrange meeting to discuss feedback
  • Final due April 28th (send to Reader as well!)

Link to full Syllabus:


Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is the activity around which the entire project is designed. You may have considerable professional experience giving feedback on writing — whether to colleagues, employees, or other contexts — or perhaps this is an fairly novel experience. Given the aims and nature of the Reader Project, we are hoping that our volunteers engage with student writing in a particular way–one that is quite different from what is conventionally done in other contexts.

The primary aim of the project is to help students really understand what it means to write for readers, rather than as a school assignment. Think about the following when you give feedback, whether in writing or in real time:

  • Respond as a reader rather than as an editor. (They can get basic editorial help from others.) Focus on sharing your reactions to the draft as a user of such writing. What are you thinking as you read? More

Instructor’s response questions: