Writing assignment

The goal of the writing assignment is to teach students to independently write a literature review or research proposal in a limited amount of time.

Guides
The Master writing assignment guide for supervisors contains even more in depth information about writing assignment supervision. There is also availble a summery available.

Contact
If you can't find the answer to your question, please do not hesitate to contact the research project coordinators: Els van der Vlist for Biomedical Sciences students, and Kim Weiler for Biosciences students.

As a supervisor, you are responsible for coaching the student and helping him or her during the whole process of the writing assignment. The supervisor is responsible for helping the student in limiting and clearly defining the scope of the assignment. Making sure the rules and guidelines are followed and the necessary agreements are made is also part of the supervisor's job.
The student is responsible for choosing a topic and his/her own learning process.

Supervision terminology and responsibilities
The Examiner:

  • has final responsibility for the grade of the writing assignment.
  • is affiliated to Utrecht University or UMC Utrecht as a full, associate (UHD) or assistant (UD) professor with a tenured position. Professors on a UU/UMCU special chair (bijzonder hoogleraar), but in daily life affiliated to a non-UU/UMCU institute, can also act as examiner. Post-docs, PhD candidates, and professors not affiliated to UU / UMCU cannot act as examiner.
  • One examiner can only assess maximum two of the following components: writing assignment, major research project and minor research project or business internship.
  • In case of a writing assignment inside UU/UMCU, the UU/UMCU examiner and second reviewer both grade the assignment. The examiner decides on the final mark in close consultation with the daily supervisor (if applicable) and the second reviewer.
  • In case of a writing assignment outside UU/UMCU, the UU/UMCU examiner and the supervisor host institute both grade the assignment. The examiner decides on the final mark in close consultation with the supervisor host institute.

The daily supervisor (in case of a writing assignment at UU/UMCU):

  • is responsible for the daily supervision of the student during his/her assignment.
  • works at the institute where the writing assignment is carried out.
  • does not grade the writing assignment him/herself, but will advise the examiner on the grades.

The host institute supervisor (in case of a writing assignment outside UU/UMCU):

  • is responsible for the daily supervision of the student during his/her assignment.
  • works at the institute where the writing assignment is carried out.
  • grades the writing assignment.

The second reviewer (in case of a writing assignment at UU/UMCU):

  • should only be appointed for writing assignments inside UU/UMCU. Assessment of the writing assignment by a second reviewer is mandatory.
  • is a senior scientist (not a PhD candidate or postdoc) who is not directly involved in the research performed. Ideally, a second reviewer is a staff member from a different group than the examiner.
  • The second reviewer grades the writing assignment.

Before the start of the writing assignment the student has to fill in the general application form. The general application form contains information about the project, agreements between the student and supervisor, and contact information of the examiner and second reviewer/supervisor host institute. The information on the general application form allows the programme coordinator and the Board of Examiners to review the content and level of the writing assignment. 

Projects outside UU/UMCU also require a GSLS internship contract, signed by the student, examiner and supervisor host institute. When you are asked to sign a (non-disclosure) contract from the host institute/company, please consult Els van der Vlist (Biomedical Sciences) and Iris-Caris Dentener (Biosciences) first.

A student can only start the writing assignment after both supervisor and student have received approval from the Board of Examiners. This approval is sent in the form of an email by one of the research project coordinators

For projects at the UMC Utrecht, students need an UMC Utrecht internship account and UMC card. More information is available here.

The student can either write a literature review or a research proposal (using the NWO/ALW grant application format). The specific format of the assignment should be discussed before the student starts his/her writing assignment.

Content and process

  • The assignment should be written in English.
  • The body of the text (excluding legends, tables, footnotes, references, etc.) should be 6000–8000 words long, but keep in mind that the content is more important than the number of words.
  • The literature section should include between 25 and 60 references.
  • The assignment needs to include a summary of the content written for the general public (laymen’s summary – in Dutch or English, 500 words, high school Biology or science level).

When writing, the student should start with a writing plan in which an overview of recent literature on their topic is presented. The assignment should have an in-depth discussion, in which the student demonstrates his/her ability to critically evaluate hypotheses and results, present his/her own views, and draw conclusions that point towards new research opportunities. This often requires the student to read additional literature.

Data needs to be presented in one manageable graph or figure that tells the story. This requires the student to select, order, interpret and clearly present data. 

The writing assignment has a study load of 7.5 credits, which corresponds to five weeks of full-time study. The student cannot extend his/her writing assignment for more credits.

The whole assignment should be completed in 3 months*, from the start date of the assignment untill submission of the final version. However, we urge students to finish the assignment within the allotted five weeks, giving them the opportunity to practise working under a tight deadline and experiencing the pressure that goes with it.

This is only possible if the scope of the assignment is limited and clearly defined, the student needs to work diligently and the agreements between supervisor and student about the content and scope of the assignment needs to be clear. During the first meeting with the student, dates should be set for discussion of the writing plan, discussion of the first draft, and feedback on the final version.

*If your student exceeds these three months, (s)he can find the instructions to ask for an extension of the end date here.

Learning Objectives
After finishing the writing assignment, the student is capable of independently:

  • Conducting literature research, using scientific secure literature databases (e.g. PubMed).
  • Using scientific literature and insights in a critical manner.
  • Summarizing literature using own words.
  • Integrating results and models of papers read into new models.
  • Formulating hypothesis for future research.

Rubrics
In order to assess whether the student has achieved these learning outcomes or to discuss the specific criteria beforehand, the rubric for writing assignments can be used.

Assessment
When assessing the writing assignment please keep the following points in mind:

  • The examiner and second reviewer must complete the assessment within 10 working days after the student has handed in the final version. To make sure there are no delays, make agreements with your student beforehand about the date for handing in the final version.
  • The examiner determines the final grade expressed with one decimal figure. Grades lower than 6.0 will be rounded off mathematically according to article 5.4.1 of the EER.
  • A mark lower than 5.5 for the final grade is unsatisfactory. In this case, the student will be given a once-only possibility to sit an additional or substitute test.
  • If the examiner's and second reviewer's or host supervisor's grade differ by 2 or more points, the Board of Examiners should be notified by the examiner.
  • In order to meet the cum laude requirements, a student should receive a 8.5 or higher for their writing assignment.

The procedure for registrating grades is as follows*: 

  1. The student downloads the assessment form from the Study Guide and uploads their assignment to Ephorus to check for plagerism.
  2. The examiner fills in the grade and signs the assessment form, after ensuring the grades of the second reviewer or host institute supervisor are correct.
  3. The examiner saves the form and sends it, together with the (Ephorus) plagerism check results to the Master’s administration office (science.gsls@uu.nl for Biosciences students and infobms@umcutrecht.nl for Biomedical Sciences students), Master’s programme coordinator and the student. The student can provide the contact information.
  4. The student sends a PDF of the writing assignment (including laymen's summary) to the Master’s administration office.

*If you participate in the pilot 'Osiris Zaak' please log in to Osiris Begeleider to register your grade and upload the documents there. More information can be found here.

The examiner (Utrecht supervisor) should be allowed to have access to the writing assignment at all times. The Board of Examiners should be allowed to have access to the final writing assignment upon request, as well as third parties concerned with the evaluation and accreditation of the Master's Degrees.

In case of confidentiality, the following assessment procedure applies*:

  1. The student downloads the assessment form from the Study Guide.
  2. The examiner fills in the grade and signs the assessment form, after ensuring the grades of the second reviewer or host institute supervisor are correct.
  3. The writing assignment should be checked via the plagiarism checker Ephorus. The examiner has to upload the file to Ephorus with 'Private check‘ on. The information in the report will not be stored in the Ephorus database.
  4. The examiner saves the form and sends the following to the Master’s administration office (science.gsls@uu.nl for Biosciences students and infobms@umcutrecht.nl for Biomedical Sciences students), Master’s programme coordinator and the student. The student can provide the contact information.
    1. the form, 
    2. the written motivation for the final grade (e.g. rubrics) and
    3. the summary of (Ephorus) plagiarism check (< 10%)
  5. Instead of a PDF of the writing assignment, the student hands in (instead of a PDF of the final report) one A4 with project information, a short summary of the project and a remark regarding confidentiality. The examiner either has to sign the document or confirm via email to the Master's administration that this is indeed a case of confidentiality.

*If you participate in the pilot 'Osiris Zaak', please log in to Osiris Begeleider to register your grades and upload the documents there. More information is available here.

Fraud or plagiarism are absolutely not allowed and will be dealt with as described in the Education- and Examination Regulations (article 5.14). 

The examiner:

  • has the responsibility to ensure that no fraud or plagiarism took place. When you find or suspect that your student is committing fraud or is plagiarizing during his/her writing assignment, this must be reported to the Board of Examiners (BoE). You are invited to contact the BoE first for advice. More information on how to deal with plagiarism or fraud can be found here.
  • should check the final writing assignment for plagiarism using Ephorus, or an alternative comparable plagiarism checker. When the reported percentage of plagiarism in Ephorus is >10%, but there is no case of plagiarism, a motivation written by the examiner explaining this should accompany the assessment form. 

If you want to arrange an Ephorus account, examiners from Biomedical Sciences (UMCU) can contact Pieter Jan van der Schoot and examiners from Biosciences (Faculty of Science) can send an email to science.keyuserplagiaat@uu.nl.

A student always writes his/her assignment under experienced supervision. Their assignment is often part of a larger framework or project. It is therefore not unlikely that part of their work will be published. This can even happen during the writing process.

In this light, it is important to note that the copyright (auteursrecht) of any written text always belongs to the writer, unless agreed otherwise. That means the student holds the copyright of their writing assignment.

When supervisors, or others, use part of the data or text in their publications, they need to follow the guidelines of scientific fairness and acknowledge the student's contribution. This can be done in a number of different ways and depends on the amount of data/text used, the quality of the work and the student's level of independence during the project. A student can be named in the acknowledgments, their report/writing assignment may be used as a literature reference, or they may be asked to be a co-author on an article.