Practical Skills in Biomolecular Sciences

February 28, 2013

Authors: Rob Reed, David Holmes, Jonathan Weyers and Allan Jones
Edition: Fourth
Publisher: Pearson Education
Pages: 576
Price: £31.99
ISBN: 9781408245521

Let’s be honest about this: why would I want to spend time reviewing this book for Times Higher Education? The answer is that I am primarily a field ecologist who occasionally dabbles in the lab, so I thought this book might be helpful in improving my understanding of the basics. In addition, I have a daughter who is a second-year biochemist and I thought it might be worth recommending to her.

It is difficult to imagine even the most insecure of first years not finding the example of a weekly diary patronising

In this spirit of honesty, I should admit that I goofed. Practical Skills in Biomolecular Sciences is not targeted at either my daughter or me. This is very definitely a textbook aimed at undergraduates who are starting out in their university careers and who lack confidence in understanding the basics. Much of this book is so basic in its scope that it is of relevance to a much wider audience. Thus the introductory chapters cover topics such as time management, teamworking, taking effective lecture notes, using IT and library resources and preparing for exams. It is difficult to imagine that even the most insecure of first-year students would not find the example of a weekly diary, including time for tea and volleyball, rather patronising. But then, little surprises me about the lack of understanding of some undergraduates, so perhaps being told what time to have breakfast is valuable.

The meat of the book comes in chapters 21 to 68, which really do cover practical skills for biomolecular sciences. However, when I asked my daughter if she would find these sections helpful, her response was “not really”, as such details are always covered in bespoke practical-class guidance notes. She did concede, though, that many of the sections describing various laboratory techniques are clear and helpful. The crucial test is, apparently, whether it is worth lugging such a big book to university every term when it (or something better) is already in the library. I was assured, in this case, that it is not.

The final chapters of the book return to rather generic content, and it becomes more of an introduction to basic statistics and data presentation. Or perhaps it is best described as an idiot’s guide. I know from experience that there is a real need for such a text, and that producing guidance notes for students struggling with the basics is a real challenge for lecturers. For example, it is always a risk printing examples of what not to do, while (for me) the worked examples included here are much more worthwhile. But although this book satisfies a need, I remain unconvinced that even less-confident students would be prepared to carry it around with them.

Who is it for?
First-year biochemistry and biology students who lack confidence in their knowledge of the basics.

Clear, potentially to the point of being insulting.

Would you recommend it?
For its intended audience, absolutely.

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