Critical thinking and good writing are fundamental life skills that are especially important for scientists if they wish to excel in their field and enjoy productive and rewarding careers in increasingly competitive publish-or-perish environments both within academia and without.

Based on the conviction that excellent thinkers and writers, must first and foremost be good and critical readers who can extract information from the written word and deploy it for multiple purposes, this course uses the book review as the whetstone on which you will sharpen both your thinking and communication skills.

Over the course of the semester each participant in this course will be reading a book—one that is related to their scientific interests, but puts the science into broader intellectual, social and cultural contexts—and working through a process of small cumulative tasks, to ultimately develop their review.  Depending on the choice of book, as well as the quality of the essay/review, this course will also provide students an opportunity to publish the review in an academic journal.


This course is an interactive, workshop-based class, in which students will be immersed in the process of reading and writing critically right from the get go. The course emphasizes the writing as an incremental process and not a one-shot venture.

Over a period of about four months (the typical window of time offered by most academic journals to turn a review around) the participants in this course work on developing their review of a book of their choice (the very act of selection is an exercise in critical thinking). Participants will be responsible for reading the books on their own time and in-class sessions will be used to work on component tasks such as summarization, contextualization and evaluation of texts.

This course is a reboot of the class that was offered for the first time at NCBS in the monsoon 2022 semester. Due to the heavy reading and writing workload for the instructor, enrollment will be capped at 15 students per semester, and the course will not be open for auditing. Credit is dependent on the successful completion of a review that meets the criteria set by the instructor. Actually getting a review published (a goal that was achieved by 5 of the 7 students who saw the course through last semester) is simply icing on cake.

Class will be held once a week for 1.5-2 hours. Precise where and when TBA.

(NO AUDIT) (maximum registration allowed - 15 )

Instructor: Neeraja Sankaran

Schedule:  Wednesdays 3.30 to 5.30 pm 

Venue: Chloroplast