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Module DXX-4534:
Conservation Research Methods

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1 & 2

Organiser: Dr Simon Willcock

Overall aims and purpose

The primary aim of this module is to introduce of MSc students to the research process and to enhance your capacity to conduct independent research for your dissertation. A secondary aim is to consider the implications and dissemination of your research to various audiences.

This module is taught in association with DXX4527 (20 credits) and DXX4535 (15 credits).

Semester 1

We will consider how research is conducted and the logic underlying it, how to design a study, what questions to ask, how to collect the right data and analyse the data. This will be achieved using data from a short field study early in semester 1. Following on from that, what use we can make of our findings – a consideration of different reporting methods for various audiences. Those in DXX4527 will report their findings via an individual dissemination document. Throughout this semester, we will enhance your skill set via a number of practicals in R statistics (increasing analytical skills and coding skills) and ArGIS (providing the ability to use spatial data). Further additional training in numeracy (using Excel) and agent-based modelling (using Netlogo to model human and animal behaviour) will be available.

Semester 2

Early in semester 2, you will start the process of choosing your dissertation topic. In preparation for your dissertation, you will be introduced to a range of different kinds of study which may be undertaken for your dissertation, and how to plan these studies. As groups, you will undertake a mini-project in which you will identify a tractable, policy-relevant scientific question, and design, plan and carry out a fieldwork-based study to gather supporting evidence. This work culminates in the preparation of an individual poster, summarising your mini-project for a scientific audience. Following this, we will consider the ethical, health & safety and practical aspects of scientific research work. You will then individually present your dissertation idea orally as a ‘pitch to peers’ proposal in front of your class and the course director. You will receive feedback from both staff and fellow students, allowing you to refine your dissertation ideas. Finally, at the end of the module, you will produce an ‘Expression of Interest’ for your dissertation idea. This written work will include full risk and ethics assessments.

Course content

The scientific method and logic; the research matrix; introduction to the research process; experimental and study design; collection, entering and analysis of data in small scale projects; consideration of different kinds of research suitable for MSc dissertations; dissertation planning; specific techniques used in research; assessment of ethics and risk in research; dissemination of research findings; writing for different audiences; the why and how of fieldwork; training in R, ArcGIS, Excel, Netlogo & environmental evidence.

Assessment Criteria


Grades C- to C+: A sufficient level of involvement in some aspects of the experimental process. Scientific report covers the fundamentals of the experiment, but is based mainly on material provided during the module, showing little evidence of supplementary reading or original information and lacking critical analysis. Best practice note written in an inaccessible style or format AND contains superfluous detail. Policy briefing document omits certain relevant detail AND contains superfluous detail. A demonstration of some self-reflection into EITHER the scientific process OR the project topic OR the individual’s role within the group.


Grades B- to B+: A reasonable level of involvement in many aspects of the experimental process. Scientific report reasonably well developed, showing good understanding and knowledge of the chosen topic. Evidence of supplementary reading, original information and some critical thought. Best practice note written in an inaccessible style or format OR contains superfluous detail. Policy briefing document omits certain relevant detail OR contains superfluous detail. A demonstration of a fair degree of self-reflection into two of EITHER the scientific process OR the project topic OR the individual’s role within the group.


Grades A- to A**: A full involvement in all aspects of the experimental process. Scientific report very well developed, showing excellent understanding and depth of knowledge of the chosen topic. Evidence of substantial supplementary reading, sound collection and use of original information, and much critical thought. Best practice note written in an easily accessible style or format with contains no superfluous detail. Policy briefing document effective in conveying all relevant information with no superfluous detail. A full and insightful demonstration of reflection into the scientific process, the project topic and of the individual’s role in the group.

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the logic underpinning the scientific method

  2. Demonstrate the ability to convey the results of a scientific study to both scientist and non-scientist audiences

  3. Demonstrate the practical and theoretical skills to devise, plan, conduct and analyse experiments or a natural resource management study for various purposes.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Scientific poster 40
Pitch to Peers 30
Expression of Interest 30

Teaching and Learning Strategy



Private study

Private study

Practical classes and workshops

Two types of practical work: 1) collection of data in the field; 2) computer practicals (both R and GIS)


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Caring - Showing concern for others; caring for children, people with disabilities and/or the elderly
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Courses including this module