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Scientific Writing in Graduate School: An Interview with UGA Alumna, De’Yana Hines

De'Yana Hines

De’Yana Hines is a second-year doctoral student in biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech. She took BIOL 4300W/6300W: Scientific Research Writing during her undergraduate career at UGA, and she credits the course with helping her develop writing and communication skills she uses in graduate school. As part of her recent writing activities, she’s presented posters at two conferences, including one in which her poster got a third-place finish. De’Yana is also involved in graduate student recruitment as a CEED (Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity) ambassador. 

In this interview with Dr. Holly Gallagher, who teaches BIOL 4300W/6300W, De’Yana considers the importance of developing writing skills as an undergraduate and a graduate student, and she considers the importance of broader communication skills to represent STEM research to diverse populations.


What have you been doing since you graduated from UGA?

I am currently a PhD student at Virginia Tech in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM), which is focused on the biological side of the medical field in engineering and engineering mechanics. I’m in a program for biomedical engineers at the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences (SBES), which is a joint program between Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University. We do clinical rotations at Wake Forest School of Medicine our first year and then we finish out our program at our home institution. It’s a relatively new program. 

I work in two labs now. I work with Dr. VandeVord in the Traumatic Nerve Technologies (TNT) lab, which is focused on the impact of blasts on the brain. And I also work in the Costa lab at Virginia College of Medicine, which is focused on neuropharmacology. Somehow I got an Alzheimer’s project out of it! My current research is finding non-pharmaceutical ways to increase fluid circulation, which could theoretically help minimize the symptoms and effects of neurological disorders, like Alzheimer's disease. 


How did your background at UGA prepare you for your graduate work?

I enrolled at UGA because they offered a Biological Engineering undergraduate program, which is broad and includes biological and chemical foundations. I started with a number of rigorous biology and chemistry classes, such as microbiology and biochemistry, along with a variety of engineering and math classes. 


How did BIOL 4300W: Scientific Research Writing fit into your undergraduate career?

When I investigated what skills a researcher needs, one thing that kept appearing is strong writing skills to be able to write research papers and grants. I wanted to improve my scientific writing, so I took BIOL 4300W: Scientific Research Writing. In the course, I branched into a related area of research, neuroscience, when I wrote a review paper on using virtual reality in rehabilitation. Some things I took away from the course are how to fully flesh out a story about data and how to communicate that to different audiences. These have helped me to be a better researcher.

The review paper I wrote in BIOL 4300W helped me to secure an internship with the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience in Neuroscience (NSURE), which is an NIH-funded training program providing research experience for underrepresented students in biomedical sciences. After a successful internship, I continued working in Dr. Jing Xu’s lab my senior year. My first presentation in the lab was actually my findings from the review paper I wrote in BIOL 4300W. And I also used the review paper as a talking point in my interviews with graduate schools. That manuscript was very helpful to have on hand!


What kinds of writing have you been doing in graduate school?

Well, the most important thing that I've written is my qualifying exam, which I passed! The exam is essentially a grant proposal on a random research topic whether we knew anything about it or not. The topic for my cohort was bone cancer, which is very hard to work with because it’s difficult for engineers to develop preventative measures on a disease that has a high mortality rate. 

In addition, I’m working on a grant re-application with my PIs, and I’ll be working on an academic paper this spring and summer. I’m also taking classes, and we’re expected to write detailed articles and proposals. 


How much writing do you do in graduate school?

The writing load in graduate school is way heavier than undergrad. I know a lot of engineers try to run away from reading and writing, and that's why they hopped on the engineering path. If you do choose to continue your education, there's way more writing. Writing is 60- 70% of my time, and it's not just a short five pages that you had in undergrad. You’re writing 20 to 50 pages. 


What are some differences between scientific writing in undergrad and grad school?

In Undergrad, you are presenting your results in lab reports, but in Grad school you have to develop the introduction and background section more which requires a different style of writing. I’ve learned that you need to give a story. Readers need to be intrigued, and they need to understand why this research is important. If you don't get that across in the introduction or the abstract, it may not get published. Or you might be asked to rewrite to better convey the research story.

Also, there's so much research being done, so you have to think about how to help your research stand out and be something that somebody wants to read. Of course, it's dependent on content, but it's also dependent on the way it's presented. Some really good research gets lost when it’s not written in the most interesting way possible.  


Are you involved in science communication to broader populations? 

I want to communicate with the general public about research because I do feel like there is a disconnect. We need more communication between groups of different economic status. People in research and medical professions have limited time, but if they could reach out to some smaller groups or where they came from, it would open up a resource for people, and there would be some progress.

Typically my goal for biomedical engineering is to be a representative for underrepresented kids interested in STEM fields because they don't always get to see people that look like me get to graduate school or even attend college. I try to show the importance of engineering and research in general. 

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Undergraduate Research in Biology

Undergraduates majoring in biology have the opportunity to enhance their learning through direct participation in research and scholarship. At UGA, these opportunities enable undergraduates to participate in ground-breaking research, often as part of a team of graduate students and faculty. In fact, many students can earn academic credit while working under an experienced faculty mentor by taking BIOL 4960R or working directly with the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO). The Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship (BSURF) has been established to support undergraduate research opportunities in the Division of Biological Sciences within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. The Fellowship provides financial assistance to a student who has not had an opportunity to participate in a mentored research experience (paid, volunteer, or for credit) since matriculating to The University of Georgia.