Teachers' Guide | Graduate School of Life Sciences

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’s writing assignment guide for supervisors contains additional in depth information about supervising a writing assignment.

The OSIRIS Case instructions for examiners contains detailed information about the application and assessment procedures in OSIRIS Case. 

Contact

If you can’t find the answer to your question, please do not hesitate to contact one of the research project coordinators.

About the writing assignment

Roles and responsibilities

As a supervisor, you are responsible for coaching the student and helping them during the whole process of the writing assignment. You make sure that the student clearly defines the scope of the assignment. Part of the supervisor’s job is also making sure the rules and guidelines are followed and the necessary agreements are made. Students however are responsible for their own learning process. 

Definitions and responsibilities

The examiner: 

  • is affiliated to UU/UMCU, Princess Maxima Centre, or the Hubrecht Institute as a full, associate (UHD) or assistant (UD) professor with a tenured (track) 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. 
  • cannot be a postdoc or PhD candidate.has final responsibility for the grade of the writing assignment. 
  • can only assess a maximum of two of the following components for the same student: writing assignment, major research project, profile project, and 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. 

Supervisor host institute (only applicable for writing assignments outside UU/UMCU): 

  • works at the host institute (outside UU/UMCU, Princess Maxima Centre, or the Hubrecht Institute) where the writing assignment is carried out. 
  • is an expert in the field (cannot be a PhD candidate or postdoc) 
  • is responsible for the daily supervision of the student during the assignment. 
  • grades the writing assignment. 

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

  • works at the institute where the writing assignment is carried out. 
  • is responsible for the daily supervision of the student during the assignment. 
  • Advises on grade to examiner. 

The second reviewer (only applicable for writing assignments at UU/UMCU*): 

  • is an expert in the field (cannot be a PhD candidate or postdoc) and is not directly involved in the supervision of the student or the project the student has been working on. Ideally, the second reviewer is a staff member from a different group than the examiner and daily supervisor. 
  • provides grades for the writing assignment. 

*For writing assignments outside UU/UMCU both examiner and supervisor host institute grade the writing assignment, therefore a second reviewer is not required. 

End products

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 (excl. legends, tables, footnotes, references, etc.) should be 6000– 8000 words long. It should be emphasized that the content is more important than the number of words. The assignment should include minimally 25 and maximally 60 references.  
  • The assignment should include a plain language summary (layman summary): a ~500-word summary specifically aimed at informing laymen about the content of the project. The target audience is able to understand biology at high school 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. 

Duration

Five weeks of full-time study (7.5 EC) are scheduled for the writing assignment. The student cannot extend his/her writing assignment for more credits. 

The maximal duration is 3 months from the first meeting with the supervisor to discuss the assignment until the submission of the final version. However, we urge students to finish the assignment within the allotted five weeks, giving them the opportunity to practice working under a tight deadline and experiencing the pressure that goes with it. 

To meet the deadline, the scope of the assignment should be limited and clearly defined, the student should work diligently, and the agreements between supervisor and student about the content and scope of the assignment should 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.   

Learning outcomes

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. 

Steps

The following steps will take you (chronologically) through the process of guiding a student throughout their writing assignment.

Intake and start

A student can start the writing assignment only after both the supervisor and the student have received an approval email from the Board of Examiners. 

Application forms

Since September 2022 the whole application procedure is digitized in OSIRIS Case. You can access OSIRIS Case via OSIRIS Supervisor. The application forms contain information about the assignment (including a research proposal), agreements between the student and supervisor, and contact information of the examiner and second reviewer/supervisor host institute. This information allow the programme coordinator and the Board of Examiners to review the content and level of the writing assignment. More information can be found here. 

Application for writing assignment started before September 2022, may be done via the general application form (open with Adobe Reader). 

Writing assignment outside UU / UMCU

research project coordinator, and supervisor host institute. The student can upload the internship contract in OSIRIS Case. The research project coordinator will be notified and sign the contract. If your student is asked to sign a (non-disclosure) contract from the host institute, they can consult the research project coordinators. 

Internship account UMCU

For writing assignments at the UMC Utrecht (UMCU), students need an UMCU internship account and UMCU card. The students will automatically get this account after approval of their writing assignment.

Interim assessment

An interim assessment is not mandatory, but it is important to evaluate the work and progress of the student on a regular basis. To discuss the progress the rubric for literature reviews or research proposals can be used. 

Final assessment: fraud and plagiarism

Plagiarism check

The examiner has the responsibility to ensure that no fraud or plagiarism took place and should check the written report for plagiarism via Ouriginal. The students can do this themselves or the examiner can do this. Please note: as examiner you need to login with your Solis-id. If you do not have a Solis-id, request one here.

Find the details on using Ouriginal here.

Upload the final version of the report as Word file without the reference list to Ouriginal.  The examiner should upload the printed report (summary) from Ouriginal in OSIRIS Case during the final assessment.  

We also expect examiners to check for plagiarism in source code texts. As examiner you can choose the right plagiarism detection tool applicable for your course. For instance  MOSS (Measure Of Software Similarity) can be used. On the website you can obtain a manual after you register and obtain an account. You can use this article if you want more information what tool you can use.

Plagiarism check in case of confidentiality

In case of confidentiality, the examiner can exclude the file from the Ouriginal database. This option is only available when the examiner uploads the file. 

To do this, click on the analysis address, and go to the submission account (in Dutch: inleveraccount) see red circle. It ends with @uu.nl in most cases. 

You can do this by clicking on the fourth icon (that looks like a paper with an earmark).  In the figure below the file with 0% similarity (green bar) is exempted from the database. 

If the file is exempted, other uploaders can see if there is similarity with the file but cannot open or access the file. If you click on the fourth icon, you will see the following message that includes the definition of this exemption: 

Previously submitted documents provide comparative material in checking documents later submitted by others. Normally, a previously submitted document – where similarities have been detected – will be recognized as the source, in its entirety, in the Ouriginal Analysis. 

You can, by clicking the button, exempt the document from being able to be viewed in its entirety if there are similarities found at subsequent inspections of other documents. If you choose to exempt the document, the document will still be stored on behalf of your educational organization and itself checked for potential similarities with other sources, but it will not be shown in its entirety or be downloadable. The analysis of the latter document will still show that there is a similarity to your document and inform when and where it was submitted, but no text from the document will be visible – instead, a text explaining why it cannot be shown will be displayed. 

Do note that depending on the settings chosen by your university, your document may still be visible and possible to download within the university to which you submitted it.

Click on proceed. 

What if the percentage of matching text is >10%?

When there is no case of plagiarism, a motivation written by the examiner explaining this should accompany the assessment form in OSIRIS Case.

Contract cheating sites

The use of the services as described in this paper is considered as plagiarism by the Board of Examiners. The examiner should take all the written versions of the student into account.

Report plagiarism

Any act of plagiarism should be reported to the Board of Examiners (BoE). Please do not hesitate to contact the BoE for informal discussion on the case before taking formal steps: 

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

Final assessment: grading

The examiner has to provide a motivation for the final grades. We strongly advise to use the rubrics for literature review or the research proposal.  

If the grades of the examiner and second reviewer/supervisor host institute differ by 2 or more points, the examiner should notify the Board of Examiners. 

The examiner and second reviewer/supervisor host institute must complete the final writing assignment. To make sure there are no delays, make agreements with your student beforehand about the dates for handing in the writing assignment. 

Project within UU/UMCU

The assessment is performed by the examiner and second reviewer.  

Project outside UU/UMCU

The supervisor host institute provides a grade for the writing assignment in consultation with the examiner. The examiner also grades the written report and determines the final grade (in consultation with supervisor host institute). 

The examiner and the supervisor host institute should contact each other in order to make sure that the assessment is performed according to the guidelines of the GSLS. 

The supervisor host institute determines the grades according to their own marking system (e.g. Anglo/Saxon marking (F-A+)) and then consult the examiner. The examiner converts the grade according to the Dutch marking system if necessary. You can find the UU credit conversion table here.

Registration of grades

For the specifics about grading check out section 5 in the EER. For 2022-2023: 

  • Marks are awarded on a scale of 1 to 10. A mark of 5.5 (not rounded off) or higher is satisfactory, and lower is unsatisfactory. The examiner determines the final grade expressed with one decimal figure, which will be rounded off mathematically. Marks will be rounded off as follows: If the second decimal is a 5 or higher, the first decimal will be rounded up. If the second decimal is a 4 or lower, the first decimal will be rounded down. This does not apply to grades between 5.45 and 5.50 and between 3.95 and 4.00: these will be rounded off to 5.4 and 3.9, respectively. In OSIRIS final grades between 5.0 and 5.4 will be rounded down to 5.0, grades from 5.5 to 5.9 will be rounded up to 6.0. Other grades will not be rounded off in OSIRIS. 
  • If the average final grade is sufficient, the sufficient grade will be registered in OSIRIS. If the average final grade is insufficient, the insufficient grade will be registered in OSIRIS.  
  • The student has the right to do a resit when the average final grade is lower than 4.0 (also in case of a NVD). 
  • In order to meet the cum laude requirements, students should receive a 8.5 or higher for their writing assignment.

Final assessment: procedure

As of September 2022 the whole assessment procedure is digitized in OSIRIS Case. Please login to OSIRIS Supervisor to register the final assessment in OSIRIS Case (for more information check the manual), including the plagiarism report, and the motivation of the grades (preferably via the rubrics). The second reviewer (or supervisor host institute) receives a notification from OSIRIS Case once the form has been completed and is asked to approve the final assessment. After the approval, the student receives an email with instructions to upload their final report for the OSIRIS Thesis Archive (for more information, see below) and the grade is registered in OSIRIS. 

OSIRIS Thesis Archive

All written reports will be archived in OSIRIS Thesis Archive.  

Additionally, students can choose to publish their thesis/report, including the timing and version to publish. The theses/reports become open access after the publication date and can be found through search engines like Google and WorldCat. Together with the examiner and supervisor, they agree upon and decide if, when and how their thesis/report will be published. 

More information on OSIRIS Thesis Archive can be found here

Project start before September 2022?

For projects that are not registered via OSIRIS Case, the assessment procedure is as follows:  

  • The student downloads the assessment form and fills in the project information. 
  • The examiner completes the grading together with the supervisor host institute or second reviewer. 
  • The examiner sends the form including the motivation for the grade and plagiarism check to the Master’s administration office, programme coordinator, and student.  
  • The student receives an email asking to upload a copy of their report via OSIRIS Student (see the section about OSIRIS Thesis Archive).  
  • Once the Master’s administration office receives the assessment form and the student uploads their final report, the grade is registered in OSIRIS. 

Practical information

OSIRIS Case

The entire procedure of research projects and writing assignments within the GSLS is digitized. This new procedure, designed in OSIRIS Case (‘Zaak’), replaces the application and assessment procedure via PDF forms. 

Instruction

As an examiner, you can approach the OSIRIS Case environment via OSIRIS Supervisor. There is a manual for examiners available with detailed instructions on this new procedure. 

  • You need to have a SolisID to login to OSIRIS. If you are from the UMCU, and you do not have a solisID yet, you can request one here
  • You need certain rights to use OSIRIS Case. 

Contact

If you have any problems, questions or suggestions, please contact the administration office. 

Assessment in case of confidentiality

In case of confidentiality, the following applies: 

  • The examiner should be allowed to have access to the final report at all times.   
  • The Board of Examiners should be allowed to have access to the final report upon request, as well as third parties concerned with the evaluation and accreditation of the Master’s Degrees. 
  • The final report should be checked via the plagiarism checker Ouriginal. The examiner has to upload the file to Ouriginal and select ‘EXEMPT‘. The information in the report will not be accessible in the Ouriginal database. 
  • Reports are archived in OSIRIS Thesis Archive. In case of confidentiality, the examiner can indicate via the assessment form (PDF or via OSIRIS Case) whether (a version of) the report should be published. If a formal confidentiality agreement does not allow publication, the student may upload a title page only including contact details of the supervisor, examiner, and institute as well as their own name and student ID. 

Reimbursement

Examiners of research projects receive reimbursement both when they supervise students in their own group and when they act as examiners for projects outside UU/UMCU. Host institutes or groups do not receive reimbursements. 

Reimbursement between faculties

At the UU and the UMCU agreements have been made and arrangements are in place at faculty level regarding the reimbursement of education and research projects or internship supervision. This means that examiners are reimbursed for all students within the GSLS regardless of their programme.

For questions about the reimbursement of supervision of students (also students from other faculties), please contact your own faculty: 

Problems, disputes, and premature termination

If in doubt who to contact, please do not hesitate to contact the research project coordinators. You can informally discuss your case with them, so they can advise you on which steps to take or who to contact. 

Student with personal problems

If you notice that your student is having any personal problems, but does not want to discuss this with you or other group members, or neither of them can help him/her, please send the student to their programme coordinator or academic counsellor for help. 

If the problem affects the students’ chances of finishing the project in time and/or with a passing grade, please also contact the research project coordinator. 

Disputes

If a (personal) dispute arises between the student and supervisor/examiner during a research project, please consider these steps: 

  • Try to work out what caused the dispute and if you can resolve it, e.g. during the interim assessment meeting.  
  • If this fails to resolve the dispute, you and/or the student can consult the programme coordinator or academic counsellor. A conversation with the academic counsellor is confidential. With the prior approval of the student or supervisor, the academic counsellor contacts the other party or other experts (for example the programme coordinator or institute director) for further mediation.  
  • If the dispute is not resolved after consulting the programme coordinator or academic counsellor, the student (but not the supervisor) can submit an appeal to the Board of Examiners or the complaints coordinator in case of a dispute on personal grounds. The Board of Examiners will assess whether any procedural mistakes were made in handling the dispute. 
  • Lastly, the student is entitled to submit a complaint with the university ‘Examinations Appeals Board’. This board is solely charged with assessing procedural mistakes.  

Premature termination of the project

No credits will be allocated to prematurely terminated research projects.

Termination by supervisor

A research project may be terminated by the supervisor. This can be the consequence if the student fails to honour agreements or does not remain in contact with the supervisor without giving substantiated reasons. The following guidelines should be used: 

  • The student has failed to honour the agreements laid down in the application form (and the internship contract if applicable) and has been reprimanded clearly on several occasions in writing (letter or email) by the supervisor. 
  • The student has been granted at least two opportunities to redeem him/herself by continuing the research project in the agreed manner. The student must have been notified in writing (letter or email). 
  • The supervisor has stipulated a clear deadline in the second notification, warning the student that the research project will be terminated in the event of continued non-compliance. The student will be notified in writing if the research project is deemed to have been terminated. 
  • The supervisor has sent copies of this correspondence to the programme coordinator and academic counsellor. 
  • The student is entitled to submit an appeal against this decision with the Board of Examiners. 

Termination by student

The student is entitled to terminate the research project prematurely. Before deciding to terminate the project prematurely, the student is advised to contact the academic counsellor first to discuss the matter. The academic counsellor will also advise the student on further progress of the study programme. The student must notify the supervisor as soon as possible on the decision to terminate the research project, and inform the programme coordinator and research project coordinator as well. 

Delay

If your student exceeds these three months, they can find the instructions to ask for an extension of the end date

Copyright and publication

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 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.