Improving statistics literacy in graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the life sciences

Awardees: Abha Ahuja (HMS), Melanie Stefan (HMS)

Summary: Awardees will study misconceptions about statistics in a high-enrollment life science course and develop a related computer-based module.

Born out of a perceived need within the general field of biology and courses taught at Harvard College, Abha Ahuja and Melanie Stefan (HMS) conducted a study to assess statistics literacy in life sciences graduate students. A validated survey for assessment of statistics concepts was sent to the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences consortium email list. Survey responses indicated that students were without a sense of fundamental concepts in statistics, “going through the motions” of exercises, and lacking understanding about what it was they were doing, and why. Instead of understanding why they sample, or what it actually is, students focused on what test they should be running. Drawing on the results of the survey, Ahuja and Stefan created a set of online materials to assist students and educators in developing a better understanding of statistical applications within biology. Statistical concepts include: box plots, confidence intervals, and sampling distributions. Findings of this study were presented at the Society for Advancement of Biology Education Research conference (2016) and a manuscript is currently in preparation.