Theses Doctoral

Statistics for Learning Genetics

Charles, Abigail Sheena

This study investigated the knowledge and skills that biology students may need to help them understand statistics/mathematics as it applies to genetics. The data are based on analyses of current representative genetics texts, practicing genetics professors' perspectives, and more directly, students' perceptions of, and performance in, doing statistically-based genetics problems. This issue is at the emerging edge of modern college-level genetics instruction, and this study attempts to identify key theoretical components for creating a specialized biological statistics curriculum. The goal of this curriculum will be to prepare biology students with the skills for assimilating quantitatively-based genetic processes, increasingly at the forefront of modern genetics. To fulfill this, two college level classes at two universities were surveyed. One university was located in the northeastern US and the other in the West Indies. There was a sample size of 42 students and a supplementary interview was administered to a select 9 students. Interviews were also administered to professors in the field in order to gain insight into the teaching of statistics in genetics. Key findings indicated that students had very little to no background in statistics (55%). Although students did perform well on exams with 60% of the population receiving an A or B grade, 77% of them did not offer good explanations on a probability question associated with the normal distribution provided in the survey. The scope and presentation of the applicable statistics/mathematics in some of the most used textbooks in genetics teaching, as well as genetics syllabi used by instructors do not help the issue. It was found that the text books, often times, either did not give effective explanations for students, or completely left out certain topics. The omission of certain statistical/mathematical oriented topics was seen to be also true with the genetics syllabi reviewed for this study. Nonetheless, although the necessity for infusing these quantitative subjects with genetics and, overall, the biological sciences is growing (topics including synthetic biology, molecular systems biology and phylogenetics) there remains little time in the semester to be dedicated to the consolidation of learning and understanding.


  • thumnail for Charles_columbia_0054D_10613.pdf Charles_columbia_0054D_10613.pdf application/x-pdf 5.65 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Vogeli, Bruce R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 17, 2012