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Unit information: Literature Review in 2020/21

Unit name Literature Review
Unit code EASCM0034
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Cunningham
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


The aim of this unit is to provide students with training and experience in designing a research project, from researching previous work on their topic, identifying outstanding problems and determining what is required, in terms of methods and materials, to solve those problems. The experimental design is crucial: the student must look at available data in the literature and reframe questions that can realistically be tackled. The objective is to produce a coherent, concise, analytical, up-to-date, and accurate report on the various positions in the debate, and to present this to a general palaeontologist/ evolutionary biologist – rather than an expert in the immediate field.

Students read into a research topic and then use feedback from a meeting with their supervisor to produce a written review (in the format of the discipline leading journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution), and prepare a research proposal, including a feasibility study, in the form of a NERC Grant Application. At every stage, these exercises are stringent, and oblige students to raise the quality of their work from undergraduate essay writing, to adhering to the strict standards expected of a professional review or grant application.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion students will be able to:

  • develop a research theme by discussion with staff and analysis of the current state of play in a subject field
  • identify and access appropriate library or electronic information relevant to the project
  • analyse the nature of the debate, identifying the key viewpoints and the evidence that supports each
  • critically appraise the strengths and weaknesses of the different current viewpoints in the debate, evaluating the strength of the evidence on each side
  • formulate tests of competing viewpoints
  • determine the materials, methods and resources (including time and money) required for the effective completion of an analytical research project
  • communicate in the report the nature of the project, and why it is important
  • produce a project report as a research proposal, written in a mature scientific manner

Teaching details

Engagement and discussions with supervisor. Asynchronous online materials and, if subsequently possible, synchronous face-to-face lectures

Assessment Details

Coursework 100%

An 8-page literature review and project plan in the format of a NERC Standard Grant application.

Reading and References

There is no formal reading for this unit