Cassandra Morand

Professor Latchman
English 105
2016
Literacy through the Eyes of a Biology Major
Literacy is the key that can open an endless number of doors into a brighter
future. Literacy is not only the ability to read and write, but also the ability to interpret the
words on a page, to look at a calculus equation and derive the answer, and to examine an abstract
piece of art and deduce the artists’ true meaning. Literacy also involves walking into a room and
being able to read the tone of the room. It means looking at the face of your best friend and being
able to tell if he/she is sad today. However, literacy for me is all about biology. As a biology
major, I think literacy is being able to apply a close implication to a text or diagram and then
being able to analyze it; it is being able to take full control of the different ways to communicate
dense ideas into a concise and informative manner.
The journey to finding literacy in biology has been a long and difficult process. The first
time that I was introduced to biology was in seventh grade. First we learned that biology is the
study of life. We started off with learning about cells—the building blocks of life. Then we
learned about tissues, organs, organ systems, then the whole body. We also learned about
biological systems like photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Of course, in seventh grade you
learn the simplest version, but once you get to high school and college, you learn the full,

detailed version. For example, in high school we began to learn about heavier topics like
evolution in rather than in middle school where we learned simpler topics. On my journey to
finding literacy in biology, I realized that I had to be a critical thinker and visual learner because
a huge part of biology deals with diagrams, charts, and pictures. This fact was beneficial towards
me because I have always been a visual learner. You have to not only be able to read and
understand a textbook, but you also have to be able to understand and analyze pictures and
diagrams. For example when I was taught cellular respiration, the book used a flow chart to
show what steps took place next. The use of flow charts was helpful to me because I could

actually picture in my head what steps took place so when I took the test, I had this huge
diagram in my head that I could refer to.
In order to be literate in biology, you also have to know a good amount of chemistry
because the two subjects intertwine all the time. For example, you go in depth about the atom in
chemistry and you need to know some information about the atom for biology. Also when
conducting experiments in chemistry and biology, you use a lot of the same tools like Bunsen
burners and petri dishes. The tools that are used in most experiments are universal. That is why if
you have been conducting experiments at Howard University’s labs then you should be ‘literate”
enough to go to a University of Georgia laboratory and know what tools to use for conducting
the same experiments. Therefore, literacy in biology travels with you.
I like building upon the knowledge that I already possess so I can become even more
literate in the subject I love and which pertains to my life the most. The question is how does one
become more literate in biology? There is no one simple answer to this question but it sure does

involve a lot of studying. You can never just learn one topic and then forget it because biology
builds upon what you have learned in the past. For instance, in seventh grade we learned about
mitosis which is cellular division that results in two daughter cells. Then in ninth grade we
learned about meiosis which is cellular division that results in four daughter cells. We had to
know about mitosis first in order to understand the more complicated topic of meiosis. Another
aspect of becoming more literate in biology is freedom. When you first start off doing
experiments, you always have someone looking over your shoulder watching your every move.
As you become older and more mature, you are able to have more freedom with your
experiments. In a way you are forced to become more literate as you gain freedom because you
do not want to make any mistakes when it comes to experiments. Because of this freedom, you
want to do more research so you will not make any mistakes in the laboratory. Becoming more
literate in biology really just involves learning more.
I understand that many people may find scientific writing constricting and limiting
because you cannot really use your own opinion; you have to communicate the facts on the
information that you obtain on a specific topic in a way that your audience can understand, while
the standard type of writing allows you to use your opinions and emotions. However, you can
also be as creative as you would like to be in your writing. I do not believe that is a limiting
factor; I just think that is how writing for science works and how it is supposed to be. You have
to present concrete facts, not something that is filled with your opinion and other “fluff”
material. The idea of writing a lab report for a biology or chemistry lab and then communicating
my results and findings of my experiments is much more appealing to me. That is what I am
passionate about. For example, I can write on how carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic

acids are the four characteristics of living organisms and that is not an opinion, it is a proven fact.
Writing in biology is much easier as well because there is a specific method to how you have to
write. There are known outlines to lab reports which consist of an abstract section, an
introduction section, a method and materials section, a results section and a
conclusion/discussion section. There is no mystery about what or how you have to write. You do
not have to think about what comes next because you have the outline already planned for you.
This is different compared to English writing because you have to come up with your own
outline and it is a longer and more drawn out process; you have to think about what you want to
come next. Everyone is different when it comes to literacy; you just have to find your own
special subject that really gets you excited to read and write.
Literacy has a wide array of definitions; it truly depends on who you ask. Literacy is so
much more than the standard definition of being able to read and write. I make my definition of
literacy about biology because I am passionate about the subject and it will help with my future
aspirations.