Argument at UC Berkeley

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Math & Sciences

Below is some of the information compiled from students interviewing professionals in the Math and Sciences. Each interviewee provided some helpful tips on what makes a strong argument in their field as well as an example of a strong argumentative paper.

Applied Math


City Planning

Environmental Health Activism


Mechanical Engineering

Molecular and Cellular Biology


Field: Applied Math(Statistics)

Interviewee: Lisha Li, GSI of Stat 134

“Math is extremely interdisciplinary –it has many connections to the social sciences (such as philosophy) that many people would not think of at first glance. Since math is so logic-based, everything is an argument; for something like math, you have to prove that what you’re doing can be applied again to different situations and that the correct methodology is being used. Also, even if there currently aren’t any current real-world applications for what you’re doing, it’s almost always necessary to come up with some possible ones especially when applying for grants. When writing math papers, you have to be especially aware of the order that ideas are presented in.”

Recommended Model: On the logarithimic calculus and Sidorenko’s conjecture

Field: Geography

Interviewee: Peter Eckman

Ekman’s approach to argument is to mimic the ‘rhythm of reading.’ He is humanistic in his approach and does not necessarily follow one model of argument. Using footnotes allows him to consider other ideas without distracting from the breadth of the writing.

Recommended Model: The Beholding Eye

Field: City Planning

Interviewee: Carolina Reid

“In policy research you have to strike when the iron’s hot. Either there’s an opportunity to make a difference, or you are reacting to a potential change.”

Recommended Model: Lost Ground, 2011:Disparities in Mortgage Lending and Foreclosures

Field: Environmental Health Activism

Interviewee: Zoey Olbum (Communications Associate)

“I focus on the clearest, simplest message I can produce. I focus on the facts, as those are significantly harder to dispute and, at the same time, convey the clearest argument to our audiences. I keep in mind at all times that when we (meaning mostly me) put out a message into the world, we are appealing to multiple audiences at one time and need to appease each audience, or, at least, not upset them, as we have to work with them all at the end of the day.”

Field: Forestry

Interviewee: Brandon Collins

“There is certainly a political aspect to my field. While I normally do not directly deal with matters of public policy or relations, the applied nature of the field ensures that someone must eventually contend with the public. Most of the interplay between the social and hard science aspects occur at the point when you attempt to transition between research and resource management. Many people will tend to support, or, at least, remain ambivalent towards your ideas until you try to implement them in the real world.”

“The “argument” itself arises from the interpretation of the data through different methods of analysis. The comparison of both the results of the analysis and the methods of analysis themselves is, therefore, critical when evaluating an argument in traditional scientific format.”

Recommended Model: Collins, Brandon, Jamie Lyndersen, Richard Everrett, Danny Fry, and Scott Stephens. “Novel Characterizations of Landscape-level Variability in Historical Vegetation Structure.” Ecological Applications 25.5 (2015): 1167-174. Ecological Society of America, 6 Feb. 2105. Web. 2 Feb. 2105 .

Field: Mechanical Engineering

Interviewee: GSI Marleigh Duncan

“Don’t try to hide too much and clearly state your assumptions. This gives strength to why the model actually shows something and shows why it would be different than other models out there. I am doing computational modeling, so you are always trying to show why there are a bunch of computational models, why your model is useful in comparison to the others, and so you compare it to experimental results, you compare it to other models, and show what the strength of the model is.”

Field: Molecular and Cell Biology

Interviewee: Samantha Fernandez

“You don’t want to over interpret your results, and that’s really a danger in a lot of papers – they take their results, see something they want to see, something that conforms to their narrative, and it influences how they see the data. In my opinion, there should be less interpretation and more presentation, then the community can look at it and determine what is happening.”

Recommended Model:Probing Gene Expression in Live Cells, One Protein Molecule at a Time

Field: Molecular and Cell Biology

Interviewee: Alec Uebersohn

“I think many good papers, in which a new model is argued for, are structured in a way that beats into your head why the authors’ findings are important and why their model is correct.”

Recommended Model: An Expanded View of Complex Traits:From Polygenic to Omnigenic

Field: Ornithology

Interviewee: Andrew Rush

“People can get lost in a jumble of text. But something like a visual illustration, given some familiarity with the field and a couple paragraphs of intro and a good verbal description can bring it all home.”

Recommended Model: Species Recognition and Sexual Selection as a Unitary Problem in Animal Communication