So, you’ve decided to become a scientist.

It is a wise choice, as the knowledge and skills gained by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates are valuable in many careers, including in the government, business, law, education and health sectors (West, 2012).

What is in this guide

How to do science has been written for students of the life sciences who are actively engaged in the scientific process. There is a lot of support available for students learning scientific facts, but we found that it was harder to find resources to support students to become scientists.

This guide introduces you to what it means to be a scientist. You will learn about the scientific method (Chapter 1) and how to carry out many tasks of a scientist, including:

  • designing experiments to test a hypothesis (Chapter 2)
  • performing simple statistics (Chapter 3)
  • visualising data by creating graphs and tables (Chapter 4)
  • accessing scientific literature, and using referencing software (Chapter 5)
  • communicating findings from original investigations through research papers, posters and oral presentations (Chapter 6)
  • writing literature reviews and summaries (Chapter 7)
  • communicating science to the non-expert audience (Chapter 8).

Finally, you’ll learn about your roles and responsibilities as a scientist, possible career paths, and how to use your skills as a science graduate to get the leg up in the job market (Chapter 9).

A better way to learn science

A global issue facing the science disciplines in higher education is perhaps summed up in the title of an article published in The New York Times in 2011, ‘Why science majors change their minds (it’s just so darn hard)’ (Drew, 2011). Research from the 1900s confirmed that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, rather than listening to lectures. But, lectures are far cheaper to produce and deliver. With many academics focused on bringing in research grants, inquiry-oriented learning has, to date, failed to become ‘mainstream’ in undergraduate science education.

In an attempt to address this problem, many science education experts have implored educators to deliver curriculum that encourages students to engage in the practice of science. For example, leading biological and life-sciences experts put out a call to educators to action change in the way we deliver undergraduate biology education worldwide (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2011). The plea urges educators to engage students as active participants in the scientific process, so they can be better prepared for the biology-related challenges of the 21st century.

What the experts made clear in their plea for better scientists is that recent advances throughout the life sciences require new approaches, and these advances call out for new ways to prepare all undergraduates, regardless of their eventual career paths. This is consistent with the recommendations of Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, and other leading scientists, such as Professor Suzanne Cory, who is one of Australia’s most distinguished molecular biologists (Jones et al., 2014).

After heeding the call to action change, and developing and introducing curriculum designed to engage students in the scientific process, we soon realised that support materials for life sciences enquiry-based education were lacking. Therefore, this guide was born out of necessity – because, as the famous saying goes – ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

This guide is suitable for life sciences students at all levels of undergraduate study, and could also be beneficial to postgraduate students.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2011). Vision and change in undergraduate biology education a call to action.

Drew, C. (2011). ‘Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard).’ The New York Times.

Jones, T. (Host), Cory, S. (Panellist), Doherty, P. (Panellist), Schmidt, B. (Panellist), Cheng, M. (Panellist), Chubb, I. (Panellist), Fitzgerald, M. (Panellist). (2014, September 15). Science: Precious petals to passionate teachers. [TV series episode]. In P. McEvoy (Director), & T. Jones (Host). Q + A. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

West, M. (2012). Stem education and the workplace. Office of the Chief Scientist.


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