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Concept mapping: A useful tool for grad students
11/02/2010 | Beth Campbell, University of Maine (Ocean Systems)
Tags: 10.06.10 webinar, educator post, graduate students

Recently concept mapping for me has taken a different turn. After 10+ years as a high school educator, I have begun a new challenge – graduate school. Now rather than using concept maps with my students to help them organize their thinking in active, cooperative ways, I am using this tool to guide my own understanding as a student in the classroom and as a researcher.

Beth Campbell in the field.
Beth Campbell in the field.
I began graduate school at the University of Maine in the School of Marine Sciences in the fall of 2009 with the fortunate opportunity to work in the marine polychaete lab of Dr. Sara Lindsay. Although I had a diverse background in science and some previous research lab experience, I was new to the wonderful world of marine worms. During my first semester, my advisor passed along many articles from the primary literature to help me set the stage for the development of my own research questions that would come later. I needed a way to connect and organize all of the new information I was gathering. My advisor’s association with COSEE-OS provided me with a very useful outlet - online concept mapping! The background information about my scientific system was the basis for the construction of my concept map focusing on polychaete injury and regeneration. From simple beginnings, this map evolved over many months to become a very complex work indeed. As shown in the October 6th COSEE-OS webinar, the final result can certainly be a bit intimidating at first or second glance to the new viewer; however, this map has fulfilled its particular purpose so well – as a personal learning tool.

A species of polychaete worm.
A species of polychaete worm.
What was next? This polychaete injury and regeneration map was the basis for a poster presentation at a national scientific meeting (SICB – the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology) in January 2010 to encourage scientists to use this technique -with multimedia web interfaces, such as the COSEE-OS Concept Map Builder- as instructors in their undergraduate classes and as advisors with graduate students. Also, during this past summer, I began my own research project that will contribute to my thesis - The impacts of injury on sediment mixing and nutrition in a maldanid polychaete, Clymenella torquata. My advisor offered me the freedom to choose the research path that most interested me within the context of polychaete injury and regeneration. With the help of my background knowledge organized by my concept map, I have been able to select an exciting topic and to have an appreciation of how my research question fits into the larger picture of marine sedimentary ecology.

So to all new or relatively new graduate students out there - consider incorporating concept mapping into your life prior to planning your independent research. Try it! I believe you will find the initial investment worthwhile as you reap the benefits throughout your graduate career.

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