Scientific approaches in natural sciences


Earth and Environmental Sciences (2nd level)

Biodiversity, ecology and evolution (2nd Cycle)
Karstology (2nd Cycle)
Paleobiology and sedimentary geology (2nd Cycle)

Course code: MT001
Year of study: 1st year

Course principal:
Prof. Simona Kralj-Fišer, Ph. D.


Workload: lectures 35 hours, tutorial 35 hours, individual work 80 hours.
Course type: mandatory
Languages: Slovene, English
Learning and teaching methods: lectures, computer laboratory (R, SPSS), seminar, field work, tutorial.


Course syllabus (download)


First-cycle Bologna degree or a university degree in the natural sciences.


Content (Syllabus outline):

General part:

  • Deductive vs. inductive reasoning
  • Principles of scientific theory
  • Empirical vs. theoretical approach
  • Essentials of the scientific method (characterizations, hypotheses, predictions, observation/measurement, experiments)
  • Steps in the scientific method (defining research problem, literature searches and management (Web of Science, Google Scholar, Endnote, etc.), defining hypothesis, observation/measurement, laboratory analyses, empirical tests (types, basics of experimental design, confounding factors), modeling (setting and validating models), formulating theories and discovering natural laws, data analyses, results interpretation and generalization)
  • The basics of statistical methods (basic terms, types of data, descriptive statistics, sampling distribution, graphical representations, time series analysis, statistical hypothesis testing, parametric and nonparametric tests: correlation, regression, (M)AN(C)OVA, factor analysis)
  • Validity and reliability of the results; repeatability and reproducibility of research
  • Structure of scientific writing (how to write seminar, abstract, research paper, thesis);
  • Ethics in research (plagiarism, etc.).


Specific part:

  • The basics of research in biodiversity, ecology and evolution (research: terms and principles, case studies method presentation: e.g. Ecosystem diversity of Slovenia, Micro- and macroevolutionary patterns in nephilids, plant species richness in wet grassland and relation to environmental factors, familiarization with molecular laboratory and the field survey tools and methods).
  • Basic research approaches in karstology (multidisciplinary methodology, examples of geological-geomorphological, hydrogeological, meteorological, physical, laboratory-chemical and spatial-geographical methods in karstology)
  • Basic research approaches in paleontology and sedimentary geology (sampling methods in paleontology and sedimentology (sampling independence, repeatability of results), field and laboratory approach).



  • Quinn, G. P., & Keough, M. J. (2002). Experimental design and data analysis for biologists. Cambridge University Press. Chapters: 1-8, 12-13, 17.
  • Snieder, R., Larner, K. (2010). The Art of Being a Scientist : a guide for graduate students and their mentors. Cambridge University Press. Chapter 2: »What is Science«, Chapter 8: »Ethics of Research«.
  • Gomarasca, M. A. (2009). Basics of Geomatics. Springer.
  • Kastens, K.A. & Manduca, C.A. (Eds.) (2012). Earth and Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences. Geological Society of America Special Paper Vol. 486.
  • Silobrčić, V. 2008: Kako sastaviti, objaviti i ocijeniti znanstveno djelo. Medicinska naklada Zagreb, 298 pp.
  • Izbrani članki iz znanstvenih revij. / Selected articles from scientific journals.
  • Hammer, Ø., Harper, D. 2006: Paleontological data analysis. Blackwell Publ. 78-316.
  • Frodeman R. 1995: Geological reasoning: Geology as an interpretive and historical science. GSA Bulletin 107/8, 960–968.
  • Cochran, W., Fenner, P., Hill, M. 1979:  Geowriting. A guide to writing, editing, and printing in Earth science (3rd edition). American Geological Institute. 1-69.


Objectives and competences:

The first objective of this course is to help students understand the basic scientific methodology in natural sciences. Scientific progress involves a continuous, incremental process that involves generating hypotheses, collecting evidence, testing hypotheses, data analyses, and reaching evidence-based conclusions. There are different valid ways to address scientific questions and there are various types of data. Approaches thus need to flexibly adapt to particulars of a scientific discipline. Students will learn about methodological approaches in science, such as observation, measurement, sampling, and experimental research. The first part of the course will introduce students to the common components of scientific inquiry, from its logical foundation in hypothetical deductivism, to experimental design and the basics of statistical analyses. The latter will be taught during practical courses of R and SPSS statistical tools. The idea of scientific work is to undertake reproducible research. Students will get familiar with ways to verify research findings where data and analyses are freely shared. Special emphasis will be laid on scientific ethics. In order to disseminate results effectively, the course will teach scientific dissemination. For native and non-native speakers alike, scientific English is of prime importance in modern science. The course will thus take a seminar-based approach to a scientific paper the student will write in English while using modern literature searches and reference management tools.


The second part of the course will focus on the basic principles and approaches to scientific endeavour specific to the disciplines covered in the study program Life on Earth: biodiversity, ecology and evolution studies,karst research and paleobiology and Sedimentary geology. The student’s knowledge will be further deepened through presentation of case studies and participation in molecular lab work and a field survey. Students will merge both parts of the course into a final product, a professional paper.


Intended learning outcomes:

  • Students will be equipped with knowledge on the scientific approach and experimental design, will understand the differences in natural scientific fields, and will obtain hands-on experience with literature searches, data acquisition and analyses, as well as scientific writing.
  • Students will learn principles and basic scientific methodology that is specific to biodiversity, ecology and evolution research, karst research and paleobiology and Sedimentary geology research.
  • Students will be independent in basic statistical analyses
  • Skills in reading and interpreting literature from the fields of biodiversity, ecology and evolution, karstology and paleobiology and sedimentary geology, as well as summarizing and presenting these in written and oral forms (seminar).
  • Students will gain experience in research work in the fields of biodiversity, ecology and evolution, karstology and paleobiology and sedimentary geology, in the laboratory and in the field.



Oral exam (50 %), the final product, a professional paper written in English, will be evaluated through a simulated peer review by the lecturer specific to the student field of study (50 %).