Monthly Archives: March 2018

Writing—Work in Progress

As a scientist and educator over the years, I have had the good fortune and pleasure to write and edit many manuscripts and documents, especially in collaborations with mentors, colleagues, and students. As most of us in the business know, writing doesn’t always come easy. It is often very challenging to convey information, thoughts, and ideas in a coherent and straightforward manner, and leave little room for misinterpretation, confusion, and ambiguity. In addition, it can be hard to convey excitement in writing. Writing is an art and deserves time and effort to create a masterpiece. Realistically though, time is rarely on our side for routinely creating works of art. However, we should still try!


Writing for me is work in progress, but very enjoyable. I know that I can always improve. Consequently, I seek better and more creative ways to express myself. I certainly wasn’t always enthusiastic about writing. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows please take note! As a graduate student writing my early manuscripts, I would often string a few sentences together that seemed reasonable and whisper to myself, “This is close and good enough.” It rarely was. My doctoral mentor, Dr. Walter F. Boron (presently at Case Western Reserve University) almost always caught those good enough sentences when we sat together meticulously reviewing every sentence when editing a manuscript. This experience was humbling, yet highly educational, and certainly one of the high points of my graduate school years. I have continued this tradition in my own lab— enduring the occasional sighs of annoyance from my students.


The extra effort in writing can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. Many helpful resources are available. Don’t be afraid to pull out that composition/grammar book when needed. I am particularly fond of The Random House Handbook (1), which remains dust-free on my office bookshelf. Also, make use of that Thesaurus tab in Microsoft® Word! Finally, learn from the creativity of others in their writing prose, sentence structure, and expression usage.

I leave you with a list of some of my favorite writing points and guides from over the years.

I acquired most of these from my former advisor, Dr. Boron; I owe him a great deal of gratitude. I also used Ref. 1 to supplement my understanding. Write on and become my fellow artists!

1. Tell a story with the goal of exciting your readers (yes, even with a scientific manuscript).

2. Assemble outlines.

3. Write rather than stare at a blank screen/page for too long. You can always edit a mess later.

4. Edit exhaustively, but spaced out over time.

5. Get input from others.

6. Scrutinize every sentence.

7. Ask the following for every sentence:

“Does it say what I want it to say?”

“How can I make it clearer and/or shorter?”

8. Write active sentences. For example, “Compound X caused effect Y” is better than, “The effect Y was caused by compound X.”

Writing active sentences also holds when citing the work of others. For example, “Smith et al. showed that…” is stronger than, “It has been shown that… (Smith et al.).”

9. Use parallel construction in multi-part sentences. For example, “Compound X caused an increase in Y, and Compound A caused a decrease in B.”

Use parallel construction for multiple sentences that are clearly linked. For example, if you are making three points and you start the first sentence with, “First,…,” then you should have a “Second,…” and a “Third,…”

10. Give the direction of an effect whenever possible. Using the example above, “Compound X caused an increase in Y” is better than, “Compound X had an effect on Y.” Sentences should be as informative as possible.

11. Use present tense when discussing a universal truth.

12. Be consistent in using declarative or non-declarative statements in main headings, in-line headings, figure legends, etc. throughout a body of work.

13. Be careful assigning an action to an inanimate object such as an experimental result. For example, “Experiment X showed Y.” Did the experiment really perform an action?

14. Use caution when starting a sentence with This or These. The reference needs to be clear.

15. Use then in if/then statements. Many writers leave out the then. For example, “If you add media A, then the cells will die” flows better than, “If you add media A the cells will die.” If you use if in an if/then sentence, then hunt for the expected then.

16. Use more gerunds, which are refreshingly active. For example, “Applying X increased Y” is more appealing than, “Application of X increased Y.”

17. Experiment with less frequently used forms of punctuation, e.g., the semicolon and em dash. It’s fun!

18. Don’t confuse that and which clauses. That is used in a restrictive clause to understand sentence meaning. Which is used in a nonrestrictive clause to present additional information; which follows a comma.

19. Use because instead of since in many cases. Since refers to time.

20. Minimize split infinitives. Some will argue with me on this one. For example, “to argue incessantly” is better than, “to incessantly argue.” It is sometimes difficult to avoid splitting up to-base verb pairs because they then sound clumsy. Some will reason that a split is acceptable in those cases. My Father’s response: “No. Rewrite the sentence.”

21. Be careful with generic terms such as numerous, many, variety of, etc. Ask yourself, “Is the term accurate? How many exactly?” Consider giving an appropriate example to the reader.

22. Use respectively sparingly. For example, “The results from experiments A, B, and C were 5.6, 8.9, and 4.3, respectively” is hard to follow and tedious. A good general rule: Avoid sentences that require the reader to match up terms in different parts of the sentence.

23. Remember the neither…nor combination.

24. Know the difference between i.e. and e.g.

25. Consider abandoning the old-fashioned, two-space rule between sentences that was popular with typewriter use. We’re in the age of computers with line justification.

Mark O. Bevensee, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental & Integrative Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His laboratory focuses on studying the cellular and molecular physiology of acid-base transporters involved in regulating intracellular pH in health and disease. Dr. Bevensee also teaches— primarily cell and renal physiology to graduate and professional students. He has served as the Director of the Renal Module for medical students since 2006, and currently serves as the Co-Director & Interim Director of the Master of Science in Biomedical and Health Sciences post-baccalaureate program. He is a member of many education committees, including the Medical Education Committee of the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He serves on the editorial board of Advances in Physiology Education (American Physiological Society, APS) and Medical Science Educator (International Association of Medical Science Educators, IAMSE), as well as the Membership committee of IAMSE. He has been a member of the APS for over 20 years, and is the newly elected Awards Councilor of the Cell and Molecular Physiology Section (CaMPS) Steering Committee of the APS.


1. Crews, F. C. (1992). The Random House Handbook, 6th Ed. McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York.

Are you prepared – to prepare an “Olympian”?

Recently, the 2018 Winter Olympic Games came to a close. The games included a number of thrilling surprises (Red Gerard) and heart-breaking spills (figure skaters). Although medals awarded late in the Olympic schedule helped boost Team USA’s medal count, most would agree that the U.S.’s performance in PyeongChang fell below expectations. Looking for answers, TV commentators remarked that the US pipeline for development of Olympic athletes has diminished in recent years.

While taking in the splendor of the Olympic Games, I began to wonder…should we be training future scientists is a manner similar to our athletes? Is the pipeline for development of talent well established and supported?  How do we get the American public to rally behind the performance of high performing physiologists?  What if local businesses, and corporate sponsors proudly displayed “we employ future teachers, scientists, and health care providers”?

As an avid follower of the games, it became obvious to me that Olympic athletes cluster in specific regions of the US. The Gold medal men’s curling team included 4 men from Minnesota (3 from Duluth), and one from nearby Wisconsin. Three young Olympic snowboarders (Red Gerard, Kyle Mack, and Chris Corning) all hail from Silverthorne, Colorado. The city of Federal Way (located along Federal Highway U.S. 99 in Washington State) is an incubator of U.S. short-track speed skating talent, and has sent American speed skaters to the past five Winter Olympics (Ohno, Celski and Tran).

Is it possible that certain high schools and undergraduate institutions could be considered “incubators” for development of physiologists (scientists in general)? Can we consider our school a “hot bed” for training and development of those with a passion for science?  As professionals, are we fulfilling our role to prepare our youth for their “Olympic” performance, or are we falling behind expectations?

To assist in preparing future physiologists, the American Physiological Society supports the “pipeline” by providing a number of programs and awards (see links below). However, these offerings require us to identify students and encourage and support their applications. We are called upon to build programs and opportunities that are sustainable, and produce measurable outcomes.

I have to admit that prior to writing this post, I had not FULLY considered my role in developing our future physiologists (Olympians).  I personally pledge to re-evaluate my role, and hope to bring others into the conversation to ponder the questions posed.

In closing, I would ask you to consider a quote from former Olympic Gold medalist Mia Hamm, and think about specific and personal ways each of us can help build the fire, and light the match.

“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.” – Mia Hamm, American soccer player and gold medalist.

Undergraduate Awards


K-12 Awards

  • APS Science Fair Awards: APS members make APS awards at local or regional science fair at the elementary, middle, or high school level.
  • ISEF Awards: APS participates as a Special Awards Sponsor for the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)


Program brochures for diversity and higher education:


Mari K. Hopper, PhD, is currently an Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Medicine. In addition to teaching physiology in a variety of systems based courses, she serves as the Director of Research, Hospital Medical Education, and other Scholarly work. Prior to this position, she taught physiology based courses at the undergraduate level for over 20 years. She is currently on the HAPS Conference Site Selection Committee, Chair of the Chapter Advisory Committee of the American Physiological Society, and Past-President of the Indiana Physiological Society. Her research interests include both student academic engagement (active learning) and student health.