I conduct research in undergraduate biology education, which as a field aims to understand the teaching and learning of biology. Recent research in education and cognitive psychology has led to a better understanding of how students learn, and this has instigated national calls to reform the way biology is taught at the undergraduate level. My research focuses on understanding how self-beliefs and values related to motivation influence achievement and persistence in undergraduate biology students. I am particularly interested in biology majors' motivation to learn quantitative skills.
Though traditionally the least quantitative of the natural sciences, biology is becoming increasingly quantitative with the emergence of fields such as bioinformatics and systems biology. This necessitates the development of quantitative skills in undergraduate biology majors, including the ability to use statistics for inference and the ability to mathematically model biological concepts. However, how best to teach these skills to undergraduate biology majors is unclear. Drawing from educational theory, I ultimately seek to understand how students’ educational experiences in quantitative biology affect their self-efficacy and personal values towards quantitative biology tasks, their performance on quantitative biology tasks, and their choices to take additional quantitative biology courses. As a first step in this process I developed the Math-Biology Values Instrument (MBVI) as a measure of life science majors' attitudes toward using mathematics in biology (click here for more information).
Additionally, as part of my postdoctoral work, I have examined mentoring in undergraduate research experiences. Undergraduate research experiences lead to many positive outcomes for students, and, therefore, national reports have recommended that all undergraduate biology majors participate in an authentic research experience. Mentoring is an important component of the undergraduate research experience, but the number of faculty mentors limits the number of undergraduates who can participate in a research experience. However, graduate students and postdocs often serve as mentors at research universities, increasing the number of undergraduates who can participate in research. My research, in collaboration with colleagues at UGA, seeks to understand how mentoring by a graduate student or postdoc and a faculty member contribute to undergraduate researcher outcomes.