National 5 Biology Assignment Titles Unlimited

There is a range of material available, including examples of candidate evidence with commentaries, as part of our Understanding Standards programme. This material is for teachers and lecturers to help them develop their understanding of the standards required for assessment. As new material is developed we will publish this information in our weekly Centre News. All material available can be found in the following locations:

  • Available from our Understanding Standards website Material relating to externally assessed components of course assessment, with the exception of those subject to visiting assessment.
  • Available from our secure website Material relating to internally assessed components of course assessment, and components of course assessment which are subject to visiting assessment. In addition, material relating to freestanding units which are no longer part of National 5 courses can be found on this website. Teachers and lecturers can arrange access to these materials through their SQA Co-ordinator.

More information on Understanding Standards material for this subject can be found on our Understanding Standards website at

The National 5 webinar provides a detailed overview of the revised course assessment for this subject.

National 5 Biology 15 June 2017

Additional CPD support

Where any particular areas of concern are identified, which are not addressed by our Understanding Standards events or support materials, we will offer free continuing professional development (CPD) training, subject to request. CPD support is subject-specific and can be tailored to cover one or more qualification level. To find out more about this service visit our CPD page.

SSERC, in partnership with SQA, have produced teacher/technician guides that provide background information to teachers/lecturers. Candidate guides containing protocols have also been produced. These are available via the following link:

National 5 Biology Assignment SSERC Resources

The Grant Proposal and Review Process:

Aside from the writing of articles for publication and peer-review, the other major place where scientists put their ideas to the test is in applying for funding to do the next series of experiments that they want to do over the next 3 years (the typical duration of a grant). This process really tests our abilities to summarize previous work and to outline what we believe are interesting lines of investigation. In essence, we’re trying to make a sales pitch for our ideas and our work in the space of about 10–12 single-spaced pages.

These proposals are submitted to one of the funding agencies (for neurobiology, typically NIH or NSF) by a certain deadline. They are sorted by the field of inquiry and assigned to different “programs”, which are subdivisions of the fields. In my case, I send my grants to NIH to the Chemical Senses Program of the National Institute of Deafness and Communicative Diseases (NIDCD), while at NSF, they go to the Sensory Biology Program. Once in the programs, the proposals are assigned to different grants panels, which are groups of specialists from different universities and institutes who pass judgment on the different proposals. In many cases, outside opinion from experts not on the panel will be solicited as well.

For each proposal, panel members and the outside reviewers read it critically to see:

  • - If the scientific ideas follow logically from the background information;

  • - If the work is interesting and useful and doable in the time frame;

  • - If the investigator has the background to be able to do the work;

  • - If the investigator has the equipment to be able to do the work;

  • - If the amount of money requested is reasonable for the proposed work; and

  • - If the investigator has been productive in the past.

Each panel member and outside reviewer then writes a one-page, single-spaced assessment of the proposal touching upon what they consider to be the good aspects and the bad aspects of the proposal. Then, at the NSF, they each rank the proposal as being Excellent; Very Good; Good; Fair; or Poor. These scores are tabulated, and the highest scoring proposals are proposed for funding. Typically, in recent years, about 5 to15% of the proposals are funded, depending on how well-funded the field is and the stiffness of the competition.

The Assignment:

The Grant Proposal: As writing a proposal really tests one’s ability to understand a field and to think about the next series of interesting experiments, it’s really a great way to challenge your understanding of biology and your ability to think creatively about it. Topics must deal with the basic biology of the nervous system, although there may be applications that are clinical.

The assignment is to write a 20-page double-spaced proposal (equal to a 10 page single-spaced proposal) on any topic in neurobiology that interests you.

NOTE: It is not permissible to use all or parts of other proposals that you may have written for other purposes (e.g.NEUR senior exercise, Biol./Mol. Biol. Senior exercise). Clearly, you can use the knowledge you gained in other courses, but the topic must be new to you and rely on new readings that you do for this course. A part of the section on Academic Honesty in the Course Catalog states:

…Submitting the same work for more than one course also constitutes plagiarism, although of a special kind. Kenyon faculty members assign papers, research topics, and other work in order to facilitate students’ academic development, and they expect to receive original work in return. Submitting the same work in whole or in part for two separate courses without prior consent of both instructors circumvents this aspect of your education. And such conduct is manifestly unfair to other students, who will receive an equal amount of credit for doing substantially more work. In a particular case in which you nevertheless feel it is justified to use all or part of a work for one class in another, you must first obtain permission from the instructors of both classes. ….

The proposal should be divided up in the following way:

Cover Page: Has name of investigator, title of the proposal, and the research institution. This will not count in the 20 page limit.

Abstract: About a 200 word statement summarizing the background and the proposed experiments and the approach(es) that will be taken in the work. This will not count in the 20-page limit.

Summary: About a 10-page summary that introduces the reader into the field, with enough detail to be able to put the field into context. This section lays down the background for the proposed work, so if your background is shaky, then it undermines the rest of the proposal. Use subheadings to divide this section into discrete topics.

Research Methods: The rest of the proposal (approx. 10 pages) will deal with outlining the experiments that you propose to do, and how you will go about doing the work. This is the place where the proposal will be judged on how reasonable your experiments are, and if they are doable. This part should have the following sections:

  • - An overview of the research;

  • - Details of the techniques and the protocols to be used;

  • - Data analysis;

  • - Possible problems that could be encountered, and how these problems will be overcome; &

  • - What you believe will be the sequence of the experiments.

Appendices: Figures and the list of references are appended at the end. These will not count in the 20-page limit.

The Writing Style: The writing should be in standard non-jargon English as much as possible. The citation format should be the standard Dept. of Biology format used in Biol 109–110. If you are having problems with organizing this assignment, see me and the copies of grants on reserve in the Bio Reading Room or on the class Moodle site. No grants proposals or reviews will be accepted unless they are word-processed. As in much of life, neatness and precision counts in writing a grant proposal; sloppy proposals with misspellings, errors of fact, etc. typically do not make it very far.

The Grant Reviews: Each student will be assigned to a grant panel that will review blind 3–5 draft proposals from other students in the class. Each student will be asked to write a 1-page summary of 3 of the proposals reviewed by the panel, and give each of those proposals a grade. The reviews will be graded by the instructor. The grant reviews, with the name of the reviewer deleted, will be given back to the investigator (the student) for incorporation into the revised draft of the proposal that will be graded by the instructor.

Grant Proposal Schedule:

  • Grant proposal topic due - Thursday, 9/20

  • Grant proposal outline and references due - Tuesday, 10/16

  • Finished grant proposal due - Tuesday, 11/13

  • Revised grant proposal due - Thursday, 12/13

Some tips on how to approach this assignment:

  1. Pick a topic that is of interest to you. People tend to do a much better job on a topic that is inherently interesting.

  2. To get a good entry to a topic, start by finding a good recent review paper on the topic to get your bearings – the Annual Review of Neuroscience (and others in that series) or a recent review in another journal is often a good first place to start. Then, using database searches, find even more recent papers that flesh out the recent developments in the field. This will take more time than you anticipate, so start early and use the library’s resources to help you in doing the searches.

  3. Often, just a few labs are prominent in a given sub-field, so once you figure out who the main players are, you can also search for papers coming out from those labs.

  4. Once you’ve done sufficient background reading, you can start to synthesize and write the first part of the grant proposal: the summary. This is especially a place where you need to be sure that you are not plagiarizing what others have written. Be sure that you are summarizing but not using direct quotations or cutting and pasting!

  5. Write the summary…. then, think of 3–4 major questions that are still unanswered. Often, the major players in the field do not agree, so this disagreement may be one place to start thinking about what questions to ask.

  6. Once you come up with a set of question, think of how you would try to test those questions scientifically. To help in the design of the experiments, think about other experiments you’ve read about that are trying to do similar things and use/modify the procedures used there. You will be much more convincing if you test a question using multiple different experiments that come at things from different angles. Be imaginative!

  7. The hardest thing for most students comes in the linking of the summary to the experiments. Write the summary such that it leads naturally to the sets of questions that you want to pose. Then, use the first part of the Research Methods section to connect the questions to the experiments that you will do.

  8. Use subheadings and subsections to organize the paper into logically distinct parts. This makes things a lot easier for all concerned.

  9. This will be challenging, but have fun with the assignment. One of my goals for you is that by the end of the assignment, you will be the campus expert on this topic.

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