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Concept: University of Cambridge


An in-class computer-based system, that included daily online testing, was introduced to two large university classes. We examined subsequent improvements in academic performance and reductions in the achievement gaps between lower- and upper-middle class students in academic performance. Students (N = 901) brought laptop computers to classes and took daily quizzes that provided immediate and personalized feedback. Student performance was compared with the same data for traditional classes taught previously by the same instructors (N = 935). Exam performance was approximately half a letter grade above previous semesters, based on comparisons of identical questions asked from earlier years. Students in the experimental classes performed better in other classes, both in the semester they took the course and in subsequent semester classes. The new system resulted in a 50% reduction in the achievement gap as measured by grades among students of different social classes. These findings suggest that frequent consequential quizzing should be used routinely in large lecture courses to improve performance in class and in other concurrent and subsequent courses.

Concepts: University, Improve, Educational assessment and evaluation, Academia, Better, High school, University of Cambridge, Social class


National efforts to transform undergraduate biology education call for research experiences to be an integral component of learning for all students. Course-based undergraduate research experiences, or CUREs, have been championed for engaging students in research at a scale that is not possible through apprenticeships in faculty research laboratories. Yet there are few if any studies that examine the long-term effects of participating in CUREs on desired student outcomes, such as graduating from college and completing a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) major. One CURE program, the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), has engaged thousands of first-year undergraduates over the past decade. Using propensity score-matching to control for student-level differences, we tested the effect of participating in FRI on students' probability of graduating with a STEM degree, probability of graduating within 6 yr, and grade point average (GPA) at graduation. Students who completed all three semesters of FRI were significantly more likely than their non-FRI peers to earn a STEM degree and graduate within 6 yr. FRI had no significant effect on students' GPAs at graduation. The effects were similar for diverse students. These results provide the most robust and best-controlled evidence to date to support calls for early involvement of undergraduates in research.

Concepts: Higher education, University, Bachelor's degree, University of Cambridge, Grade, Doctorate, Academic degree, High school


This study investigated associations among third-grade teachers' (N = 27) symptoms of depression, quality of the classroom-learning environment (CLE), and students' (N = 523, Mage  = 8.6 years) math and literacy performance. teachers' depressive symptoms in the winter negatively predicted students' spring mathematics achievement. This depended on students' fall mathematics scores; students who began the year with weaker math skills and were in classrooms where teachers reported more depressive symptoms achieved smaller gains than did peers whose teachers reported fewer symptoms. teachers' depressive symptoms were negatively associated with quality of CLE, and quality of CLE mediated the association between depressive symptoms and student achievement. The findings point to the importance of teachers' mental health, with implications for policy and practice.

Concepts: Student, Mathematics, Statistics, Scientific method, The Association, University of Cambridge, Symptoms, Education


The 2012 Varsity Medical Debate between Oxford University and Cambridge University provided a stage for representatives from these famous institutions to debate the motion “This house believes that trainee doctors should be able to use the developing world to gain clinical experience.” This article brings together many of the arguments put forward during the debate, centring around three major points of contention: the potential intrinsic wrong of ‘using’ patients in developing countries; the effects on the elective participant; and the effects on the host community. The article goes on to critically appraise overseas elective programmes, offering a number of solutions that would help optimise their effectiveness in the developing world.

Concepts: Ohio, Francis Crick, Effectiveness, Oxbridge, Cambridge, Developing country, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford


Should clinical trial pilot studies be reported? Thebane, Ma, Chu, et al. argue in their discussion of the conduct of pilot studies, that they should be published.1 Others, such as the editorialist for The Diabetes Educator, take a more cautious approach to publishing pilot studies.2 I agree with those who advocate publication. I might also note that an April 9, 2012 search of “randomized clinical trial pilot studies” in PubMed contained almost 10,000 citations. Although some of these may not reflect individual pilot studies, there may, though, be many more (without “randomized” in the search term, the number is over 20,000).

Concepts: Epidemiology, Academic publishing, Pharmaceutical industry, Clinical research, The Canon of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Searching, Clinical trial


More than half a century ago, Alan Turing postulated that pigment patterns may arise from a mechanism that could be mathematically modeled based on the diffusion of two substances that interact with each other. Over the past 15 years, the molecular and genetic tools to verify this prediction have become available. Here, we review experimental studies aimed at identifying the mechanism underlying pigment pattern formation in zebrafish. Extensive molecular genetic studies in this model organism have revealed the interactions between the pigment cells that are responsible for the patterns. The mechanism discovered is substantially different from that predicted by the mathematical model, but it retains the property of ‘local activation and long-range inhibition’, a necessary condition for Turing pattern formation. Although some of the molecular details of pattern formation remain to be elucidated, current evidence confirms that the underlying mechanism is mathematically equivalent to the Turing mechanism.

Concepts: University of Cambridge, DNA, Model organism, Alan Turing, Turing machine, Biology, Pattern, Mathematics


Overwhelming evidence supports the importance of sleep for memory consolidation. Medical students are often deprived of sufficient sleep due to large amounts of clinical duties and university load, we therefore investigated how study and sleep habits influence university performance. We performed a questionnaire-based study with 31 medical students of the University of Munich (second and third clinical semesters; surgery and internal medicine). The students kept a diary (in 30-min bins) on their daily schedules (times when they studied by themselves, attended classes, slept, worked on their thesis, or worked to earn money). The project design involved three 2-wk periods (A: during the semester; B: directly before the exam period-pre-exam; C: during the subsequent semester break). Besides the diaries, students completed once questionnaires about their sleep quality (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index [PSQI]), their chronotype (Munich Chronotype Questionnaire [MCTQ]), and their academic history (previous grades, including the previously achieved preclinical board exam [PBE]). Analysis revealed significant correlations between the actual sleep behavior during the semester (MSdiary; mid-sleep point averaged from the sleep diaries) during the pre-exam period and the achieved grade (p = 0.002) as well as between the grades of the currently taken exam and the PBE (p = 0.002). A regression analysis with MSdiary pre-exam and PBE as predictors in a model explained 42.7% of the variance of the exam grade (effect size 0.745). Interestingly, MSdiary-especially during the pre-exam period-was the strongest predictor for the currently achieved grade, along with the preclinical board exam as a covariate, whereas the chronotype did not significantly influence the exam grade.

Concepts: Physician, University of Cambridge, Medicine, Memory, Circadian rhythm, Academia, Medical school, Sleep


Although the perceived compatibility between one’s gender and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) identities (gender-STEM compatibility) has been linked to women’s success in STEM fields, no work to date has examined how the stability of identity over time contributes to subjective and objective STEM success. In the present study, 146 undergraduate female STEM majors rated their gender-STEM compatibility weekly during their freshman spring semester. STEM women higher in gender rejection sensitivity, or gender RS, a social-cognitive measure assessing the tendency to perceive social-identity threat, experienced larger fluctuations in gender-STEM compatibility across their second semester of college. Fluctuations in compatibility predicted impaired outcomes the following school year, including lower STEM engagement and lower academic performance in STEM (but not non-STEM) classes, and significantly mediated the relationship between gender RS and STEM engagement and achievement in the 2nd year of college. The week-to-week changes in gender-STEM compatibility occurred in response to negative academic (but not social) experiences.

Concepts: Female, University of Cambridge, Lawrence University, Academia, Interpersonal relationship, Sense, Woman, Academic term


Two experiments examined for the first time whether the specific content of participant-generated affirmation essays-in particular, writing about social belonging-facilitated an affirmation intervention’s ability to reduce identity threat among negatively stereotyped students. Study 1, a field experiment, revealed that seventh graders assigned to a values-affirmation condition wrote about social belonging more than those assigned to a control condition. Writing about belonging, in turn, improved the grade point average (GPA) of Black, but not White students. In Study 2, using a modified “belonging-affirmation” intervention, we directly manipulated writing about social belonging before a math test described as diagnostic of math ability. The more female participants wrote about belonging, the better they performed, while there was no effect of writing about belonging for males. Writing about social belonging improved performance only for members of negatively stereotyped groups. Implications for self-affirmation theory and practice are discussed.

Concepts: Writing, Test method, Theory, University of Cambridge, Science, Grade, Evaluation methods, Experiment


The objective of this study was to determine some of the factors that affect student success in a genetics course. Genetics for the College of Agriculture is taught in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, and covers Mendelian inheritance, molecular genetics, and quantitative/population genetics. Data collected from 1,516 students over seven years included year and semester of the course; age; gender; state of residence; population of hometown; Kansas City metro resident or not; instructor of course; American College Testing Program (ACT) scores; number of transfer credits; major; college; pre-veterinary student or not; freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior grade point average (GPA); semester credits when taking genetics; class standing when enrolled in genetics; cumulative GPA before and after taking genetics; semester GPA in semester taking genetics, number of semesters between the biology prerequisite and genetics; grade in biology; location of biology course; and final percentage in genetics. Final percentage in genetics did not differ due to instructor, gender, state of residence, major, or college (P > 0.16). Transfer students tended to perform better than non-transfer students (P = 0.09), and students from the Kansas City metro outscored students from other areas (P = 0.03). Pre-veterinary option students scored higher in genetics than non-pre-veterinary students (P < 0.01). Seniors scored higher than juniors and sophomores, who scored higher than freshmen (P < 0.02). We observed a tendency for students with higher grades in biology to perform better in genetics (P = 0.06). Students who took biology at Kansas State University performed better in genetics than students who transferred the credit (P < 0.01). There was a negative regression of hometown population on score in genetics (P < 0.01), and positive regressions of ACT score, all measures of GPA, course load, and cumulative credits on final percentage in the course (P < 0.02). To maximize chances for success in genetics, students should take biology from Kansas State, perform well in biology, and wait until at least sophomore standing to enroll in genetics.

Concepts: Missouri, University of Cambridge, Education, Genetics, Gene, Biology, High school, Kansas