“I do love teaching and people say I am a natural, who knows.  I do know that I love helping people out and motivating them, and well, when it comes to plants, I love spreading the word, ha! … I plan on teaching [as a career], and I would like to know if I had any positive impact in my students' life, and well, I thought I'd let you know that you did.”
Oona Barcelo, Botany PhD Student, former Biology 250 student

"I just wanted to take a minute and tell you that I truly did get a lot out of your class. I appreciated that you were so heavy on concept; I feel as though I have a whole new set of tools to use in biology… This also isn't the first time I've used things I've learned in your class and I literally cringe now when people use the word significant. I'm stoked that so much really stuck and know I will utilize the knowledge I've gained. The grade matrix also worked well for me, I like being tested soon after learning the material."
Tanya Horton, future high school biology teacher, former Biology 200 student

"Thank you for not only pushing me in class but also taking the time outside of class to invest in my academic career as a whole! I also wanted to add how much I enjoyed your class. I know I said this last fall but the way you presented the material was innovative, mentally stimulating and challenging. It was by far my favorite class I have taken thus far in college. "
Brett Parks, Biology Student at UCSD, former Biology 200 student

"I have to say that I am so much more prepared than almost all my classmates.  I am so happy that you drilled p-values, normal distributions, t-tests, chi-tests, etc. into our brains because it is coming back with a vengeance!   I think that I am the only one that understands the stats, which is kinda scary, but it seems to make more sense now than it did before.  This is my second term in grad school so I have had to hone in on those biostats skills since January of this year! Anyways, I wanted to say thank you so much!"
Courtney Le Vasseur, DPT Student, former Biology 200 student

"Professor Cummins was unlike other professors. He was aware of how much my peers and I were learning. If we didn’t understand the homework no one slipped through the cracks. He offered loads of one on one attention to ensure everyone was progressing through the class even customizing the material to our individual progress. This was a little scary at first because it felt like I was not doing well when I didn’t understand a concept, but as long as I was trying I was doing well—I didn’t realize this at first. As long as you keep working at it and coming to class you will do well. So long as… Don’t be late… It took me longer (on average) than my peers to get concepts, for me. The workload was about the same as 5 unit microbio class (don’t be fooled by the 3 units). Once I got the hang of things I was spending about 5-9 hours outside of class on assignments and studying...  If you are headed into any aspect of the medical or allied health field this class is def geared for us. And prerequisites for pre-health programs we tend to get a little grade crazy with good reason, but still, we loose site of what these classes are supposed to do, well, in Fall of 2013 I was in this boat. In this class I was able to change my relationship with learning in the best way possible. 
I took this class concurrently with genetics, abnormal psych, and nutrition. I was working at City College (15 hrs per week) and volunteer work in 3 hospitals (12 hrs), grad school applications, preparing for the GRE. Yikes! If I could do it again, I would have had less on my plate just for personal happiness, but I made it work! To get the most out of [Biology 200] I recommend holding off on major five unit science classes that tend to monopolize schedules. There is definitely a LOT to get out of [Biology 200]."
Geneva Winans, Biology Graduate, Mathematics Tutor at City College, and Pre-Physical Therapy Student

"Before working with you, I knew relatively nothing about statistics. Your friendly approach and willingness to teach opened up my eyes to the utility and beauty of the subject. The learning experiences I had set the foundation for what is now a career I love."
Mark Nakamura, PhD, Data Scientist, Nike Inc., former Psychology 107 student



Dear student,

I am Kevin Cummins, a professional biologist, substance use researcher, and statistician. I will be your professor for Biological Statistics (Biol 200). Together we will learn how to use the tools for building quantitative evidence. That is the heart of science, which is why most life science majors are required to take a course covering biostatistics.

We will cover fewer topics and details than other biology courses. Statistics can be subtle, sophisticated, and rich, so we spend more effort on individual topics. Unlike other professors' statistics courses, each student's effort will be customized to her or his needs. I focus the curriculum on key foundational topics followed by a small set of exemplar statistical models, rather than providing a surface treatment of a broad set of statistical tools (which you may never use). Don't worry about missing out; at the end of the semester my students are prepared for the acquisition of new tools on an as needed basis. We do less, but more intensive work, compared to other biostatistics courses.

We utilize, develop, and practice creative skills, integrative thinking, patient problem solving, and apply the concepts and tools to authentic and real situations. There are opportunities to assist in the analysis of data from cutting edge biomed research projects. The course is not particularly difficult, but is truly college level.

You will be entering a career world where being degreed will not be enough for you to be successful. You will need to be well educated and capable of continuously learning throughout your career. I want to help prepare you. I even hope that some of you will work in one of my laboratories. You will be ready. This can’t always be said about students who took other biostatistics classes (and those students likely studied more than you will). They took courses with a focus on hand computation, on an overly broad surface level survey of statistical tools, or were designed to entertain as primary objective, rather than educate.

You select the grade you are working toward in Biol 200, so you only do the work that is applicable to that grade level. Your skills are assessed weekly and you get plenty of second chances. If you demonstrate basic competency with a topic you get credit. If you fall short, you can try again. There are no surprises. Some students can even get through the entire semester taking “exams” composed of questions they were given ahead of time.

Ken Bain describes three types of learning approaches encountered in a college classroom:

surface learners, who seek to do the minimum to get by,
strategic learners,
who aim for top grades rather than true understanding, and
deep learners,
who focus on understanding and leave college with a rich education.

Students using a deep learning approach generally find Biol 200 as a welcome relief. They are productive, enjoy the class, and later recognize the utility of their acquired skills. The way assessments are structured in Biol 200, strategic learning is synonymous with deep learning. There is no gaming the system and students cannot game/fake/grub their way to a grade. Instead students work toward developing competencies. Students with a history of obtaining good grades using surface learning must adjust at the outset of the semester. To pass the course every student should know, understand, be able to apply, and articulate the connections between the foundational topics. This is achievable, but not without effort.

The Dean of Math and Sciences, Saeid Eidgahy, expects faculty to provide educational opportunities equivalent to any top university. Indeed, many of you will go on to top undergraduate universities and graduate schools. My students learn the same core material at the same depth as students in top universities, but you will be better off because you will leave with fewer misconceptions. This is because we have a small class and I issue frequent written assessments. I can get to know each and every student's thinking and I give frequent and comprehensive feedback. I mentor undergraduates and graduates from many departments at UCSD regarding statistical programming, study design, analysis and the presentation of results. You will be more prepared and expend less effort than many of them. There is one caveat; you can't wait to apply our effort. You benefit from keeping up with the work and studying at a consistent pace throughout the week.

The most efficient and successful students in Biology 200 tend to have:

  1. enough time to study,
  2. have good planning and time management skills,
  3. accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process, and
  4. willingness to persevere if you hit a rough spot.

Turns out that items 2-4 are desirable traits for many endeavors. The first, is a structural issue. The rule of thumb is about 2-3 hours a week of studying for every unit, as a minimum, for a student engaging a college level course. If you don’t have 9 hours a week to give to Biology 200 then maybe the timing is not right for you to take this course (much of that time will be spent working on the "take-home" quiz problems).

From Maths for Science, "... the only route to fluency is use and practice. There are few shortcuts: the route requires practice, practice, and more practice!"

If you have the time and the experience or desire to be a deep learner you will leave Biology 200 with a useful set of tools that will give you the opportunity to look at science, and everyday life, in an entirely different way. Students with only surface level study skills, and unwilling to adapt, or without the necessary time for the course are often distressed.

The course is important, stimulating, and fun.

I hope to make this our best semester. I look forward to diving into the heart of science with you.

Kevin Cummins
Adjunct Professor of Biology
San Diego Mesa College

Senior Statistician
NCANDA Project
Univeristy of California, San Diego