Graduate School News

Diversity of Opinion Welcomed on New Blog

February 5, 2013

A group of UNC-Chapel Hill biology graduate students, working in collaboration with other students around the world, has just launched an educational blog focused on biodiversity.

Biodiversity Concept Diagram created by the BioDiverse Perspectives team.

While some science blogs present snippets of the sensational, their blog, titled “BioDiverse Perspectives,” will showcase critically written commentaries of the classic papers in each student's field. The students hope to provide a platform for scientists across fields such as ecology, genetics and biology to glean from the collective knowledge about biodiversity.

The idea for the blog grew out of a National Science Foundation-funded seminar, called Dimensions in Biodiversity, which began in the fall of 2011. “The goal [of the seminar] was to get students thinking about the different ways biodiversity could be measured, and the ecological questions that could be answered by considering different dimensions of biodiversity,” said Allen Hurlbert, PhD, assistant professor of biology at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hurlbert was one of the faculty members who led the seminar that was held in more than 14 institutions in five countries.

“Classically when people studied biodiversity, they studied species numbers,” said Fletcher Halliday, a third-year graduate student in the lab of Charles Mitchell, PhD, associate professor of biology. He is one of the UNC-Chapel Hill students contributing to the blog content. He said the Dimensions in Biodiversity seminar encouraged students to collaborate early in their careers on projects that describe biodiversity in more than one way.

It should make biodiversity research more, well, diverse.

As the seminar drew to a close, the ambitious students decided to put together a final project. “We wanted to do something that embodied all the work that individuals put in,” Halliday said. They wanted to create a source of foundational knowledge in biodiversity that could be easily accessed and evolve as new research was published, he added.

Fletcher Halliday, a third-year graduate student and contributor to BioDiverse Perspectives.

The students have been writing about any topics that they find interesting. Halliday admits opinions may differ among students and readers, so the blog is designed to promote discussion and foster an active community of any interested in biodiversity research. “If I write about a paper that I think is foundational in biodiversity research and somebody else disagrees, they're welcome to comment,” he said. “What's foundational to one graduate student may not be considered foundational by someone else.”

In collaboration with web developers at the University of Washington (one of the 14 institutions involved in the seminar), the students are doing all they can to encourage a wide readership; they're reading up on common layout strategies for blogs, designing engaging graphics, even sending Halliday to the ScienceOnline conference in Raleigh. They also hope to find student contributors among their readers. “The only way that this blog is going to work is if we have a high level of contributions from a large number of people,” Halliday said.

Currently, just a handful of students are writing posts and editing each other's work. “Even though we're presenting our own perspectives, we're still graduate students and we want positive reinforcement that what we're saying isn't totally off base,” Halliday said. He conceded that publishing a blog like this one would be too much for one graduate student to undertake, but as a collaborative project, it holds a lot of promise.

“I think the blog has the potential to be an incredibly useful resource for grad students doing biodiversity research,” Hurlbert said. “[It will be] a place to go for well-considered perspectives on both foundational papers, as well as cutting-edge research.”

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Written by Amanda Keener.
Keener is a fifth-year graduate student in Microbiology and Immunology. When she is not studying immune memory responses to Staphylococcus aureus, she writes as much as she can on whatever she can.  She has written for The Chapel Hill News, The Durham News, Sweet Briar College Magazine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.