BIOC 791A Syllabus

Current Topics in Cell Biology (BIOC 791A)

Spring Semester 2019

Meeting Times:

Weekly meeting with faculty tutor at mutually agreed upon time.

Course Coordinator:

Mike Schaller

Faculty tutors:

Various faculty including Steve Frisch, Karen Martin, Eric Tucker, Scott Weed, Lori Hazlehurst

Course Objectives:

The purpose of this course is to provide advanced graduate students an opportunity to independently study a focused area of cell biology in considerable depth with the guidance of a faculty member as tutor (the dissertation advisor of the student cannot also serve as the tutor). Over the course of the semester, the student will scrutinize the primary literature covering a topic of interest and draft an original review of the topic. The faculty tutor will provide direction for the student’s literature search, if necessary, and editorial comments during development of the review. The review should contain a section placing the overall topic in a clinical context.

Specific Objectives

  • Develop a depth of knowledge in a focused area of cell biology
  • Hone critical reading skills
  • Develop scientific writing skills

Review Format:

Briefly, the format of the review should follow the guidelines for review preparation for Trends in Cell Biology (see below). The document must contain an abstract (100-120 words), a main text (3000-3500 words and up to 80 references), a clinical relevance box (900 characters max) and an outstanding questions box (2000 characters max). Original figures and legends are suggested but not required.


The review will be evaluated by the faculty tutor and two additional reviewers (on the WVU faculty or external) solicited by the faculty tutor. This course will be graded as pass/fail (see rubric below).


Prior to registration for this course, the student must identify a faculty tutor who is willing and available to provide guidance for the entire semester, mutually agree upon a topic with the faculty tutor and receive permission from the coordinator.

Academic Integrity Statement:

The integrity of the classes offered by any academic institution solidifies the foundation of its mission and cannot be sacrificed to expediency, ignorance, or blatant fraud. Therefore, we will enforce rigorous standards of academic integrity in all aspects and assignments of this course. For the detailed policy of West Virginia University regarding the definitions of acts considered to fall under academic dishonesty and possible ensuing sanctions, please see the West Virginia University Academic Catalog at Should you have any questions about possibly improper research citations or references, or any other activity that may be interpreted as an attempt at academic dishonesty, please see any of the course coordinators before the assignment is due to discuss the matter.

REVIEW FORMAT (Modified from Trends in Cell Biology)

A. General Comments

Your review should offer a balanced account of newly emerging or rapidly progressing fields and provide a guide to the most relevant recent literature and prospects for future research.

You should briefly describe the background and then concentrate on setting recent findings in context. It is crucial that you provide a balanced view of developments, even in fields that are controversial. It should be made clear where you are presenting your own opinion

  • Start with a clear introduction outlining the timeliness, importance, and rationale behind your Review.
  • Finish with a strong take-home message—not just by briefly summarizing the state of current knowledge, but also by indicating what are likely to be the most productive avenues for future research and by highlighting current and future limitations.

Your review should be written for a general audience. Avoid jargon, but do not oversimplify; be accurate and precise.

B. Title Page

Title (8 words)

Titles should be short and enticing (no more than 8 words).


Please include affiliation details for all authors. Indicate the corresponding author as follows:

*Correspondence: (J.Q. Smith).

Keywords (two to six)

Please include at least two descriptive keywords (maximum of six).

Abstract (100 - 120 words)

  • Briefly explain the necessary background and encapsulate the take-home message for a non-specialist reader.
  • Please emphasize the recent developments or novel conclusions, concepts, or models that make your Review timely.
  • Between 100 and 120 words.

C. Review Guidelines


  • The introduction should be written for a general audience. Indicate why the subject is important, why you are writing about it now and what recent developments in the field make it topical? Give this section a short, descriptive heading (other than ‘Introduction’). This section should be one or two paragraphs only.
  • Provide a synthesis, not a summary, of recent developments. Use concise, informative subheadings and provide clear links between sections.
  • Please end with a brief summary of your article. This section should be entitled ‘Concluding Remarks’ or ‘Concluding Remarks and Future Perspectives’ and should include a strong take-home message and a clear indication of future research, highlighting current and future limitations


  • Use 12pt font and a minimum of 1.5 spacing.
  • Please number the pages of the manuscript (page 1 is the title page).

Main text (3000 - 3500 words, 80 references)

  • The word limit (3500 words) does not include text in boxes, tables, figure legends, abstract, or references.
  • Limit the number of references to 80. Concentrate on the seminal references of the past 2–4 years (most references should be no more than 5 years old). Reviews can be cited to give the necessary background on the topic and refer to older data; however, cite primary literature when discussing specific findings.
  • Use informative headings (in Bold) and not, for example, Introduction, Discussion. A 'Concluding Remarks' section is required. Subheadings (in Italics), are allowed in all sections (except the introductory section).
  • Spell out Latin names of organisms in full at first usage.
  • A brief acknowledgements section may be included prior to the references.


  • References should be numbered and cited in the text in square brackets in the order they appear (e.g., [1] or [7-9])
  • References should be listed in order of citation, not alphabetically, with one reference per number
  • No more than 80 references are permitted.
  • Unpublished work and websites should be cited in the main text in parentheses, not as part of the reference list.

Citation Style

For journal references: please give authors’ names (if two authors, print both names separated by ‘and’; if three or more authors, use et al. after first author); date (in parentheses); title (in roman text); abbreviate journal name using Biological Abstracts; volume; and complete page range. For example:

  1. Gold, B. (2002) Effect of cationic charge localization on DNA structure. Biopolymers 65, 173–179
  2. Han, Y. and Barillas-Mury, C. (2002) Implications of Time Bomb model of ookinete invasion of midgut cells. Insect Biochem. Mol. Biol. 32, 1311
  3. Gruber, D.M. et al. (1999) Progesterone and neurology. Gynecol. Endocrinol. 4, 41–45
  4. Jovani, R. Malaria transmission, sex ratio, and erythrocytes with two gametocytes. Trends Parasitol. (in press)

For online journal references or articles online ahead of print: please give authors’ names (as above); date (in parentheses); title (in roman text); abbreviate journal name using Biological Abstracts; the digital object identifier (DOI) number. For example:

  1. Jiang, J.C. et al. (2000) An intervention resembling caloric restriction prolongs life span and retards aging in yeast. FASEB J. DOI: 10.1096/fj.00-242fje

Translation Opportunity/Clinical Relevance Box (900 characters, including spaces, required)

  • A short collection of bullet point statements (3-5) that concisely convey the clinical relevance of the topic and/or identify new translational opportunities.
  • Text may not exceed 900 characters, including spaces.

Outstanding Questions Box (2000 characters, including spaces, required)

  • Important questions for future research should be summarized in a box. This is an opportunity to offer input and guidance on new directions for the field.
  • Please write succinct questions in list format, with bullet points to indicate the start of a new concept.
  • The Outstanding Questions Box should not include references.

Glossary (450 words)

  • Include a Glossary to explain and define abbreviations. Explanations should be more than simply spelling out a name in full, e.g., make sure to add gene or protein function or other relevant information.
  • List Glossary terms in alphabetical order. Terms in the Glossary should be in bold followed by a colon, followed by the explanation, which should not be in bold, i.e., Term: xxxxxx xxx xxx.
  • Please only add "(see Glossary)" after the first Glossary term mentioned in the text only. The first time a term in the Glossary is used in the text please place this in bold font.


  • Figures must be original.
  • Each Figure should appear on a separate page (full size on the page) at the back of the document

    General tips on creating figures
    Figures serve several purposes in the context of a review article:
    • Summarize large amounts of information in a compact space
    • Complement and simplify explanations in the main text
    • Emphasize the important information in an article
    • Provide an alternative presentation of information, which is particularly helpful for visual learners or scientists who are unfamiliar with the topic
    • Help the reader efficiently absorb the information you are presenting

To achieve these aims, focus on the function of the image and let that dictate the content. For example, if you are making a summary or model figure, include only the most salient features and avoid cluttering the figure with details. If you are trying to convey a process, consider the logical flow of steps in the process and ensure that the order is clear to the reader. If you are representing quantitative data, start by asking yourself what the main idea is that the data supports and then consider how to emphasize that aspect.

Once you have the layout of the figure established based, it is helpful to consider the aesthetics of the image. Choose high contrast colors (but avoid red and green - see for tips on color design for the color vision impaired), clean lines, and legible text. Be consistent throughout the figure with colors, line weights, and styles.

Finally, finish with a clear figure legend that can be understood with minimal reference to the main text. Briefly, provide the reader with some context for the figure and explain what it illustrates. Be sure to explain all of the important features in the figure in the legend. In addition, the legend should contain the following:

  • One sentence title
  • Definitions for abbreviations in the legend and on the figure

Figure Legends (250 words per legend)

  • Should always have a short, explanatory title (as well as legend).
  • Legends must explain the figure fully without reference to the text.
  • Figures must be cited in the main text.

Tables (Optional – if necessary)

  • Require a single-sentence title, but no legend.
  • Please cite tables in the main text as: (Table 1).
  • Abbreviations (if not defined in the main text) and full explanations should be footnoted (using superscript lowercase letters).

Rubric for grading

A high quality, critical review of the literature in the area of the topic is expected. Several drafts should be exchanged between student and tutor to strengthen the final product. The rubric below describes expectations for a passing document in comparison with a document that fails to meet expectations.