change in activities, undergraduate biology majors who plan to pursue a research career need to be educated in a more quantitative manner. The panel felt that no one curriculum should be mandated because students interested in different areas of biology could benefit from different courses, even at the undergraduate level. Furthermore, it made a distinction between the “quantitative biologist,” who works at the interface of math/ computer science and biology, and the “research biologist,” who needs familiarity with a range of mathematical and computational ideas without necessarily being expert. Thus, the panel felt that flexibility in offerings is more advisable than a fixed curriculum.

The panel suggested that all biology majors, not just future biomedical researchers, should be exposed to and develop a conceptual understanding for the idea of rate of change, modeling, equilibria and stability, structure of a system, interactions among components, data and measurement, stochasticity, visualizing, and algorithms. More details on these concepts are in Chapter 2. In addition, future biomedical researchers should graduate with the ability to do in-depth analysis in a subset of the listed topics. In addition to these content recommendations, the panel recommended early exposure to quantitative ideas, via a reorganization of the first-year biology course to introduce a variety of quantitative concepts in the context of biological themes. A similar approach for upper-level students would integrate quantitative ideas into courses such as genomics, ecology, and neurobiology. One mechanism for doing this is to offer a standard course in a “quantitatively intensive” version, analogous to the “writing intensive” courses offered by some schools. The quantitatively intensive version would involve more credit hours and could be taught by a different faculty member as a seminar or a laboratory. The panel also recommended that research opportunities in quantitative biology be encouraged and funded.

The panel recommended curricular changes beyond the biology department. Many biology majors would benefit from new courses in the department of mathematics. The panel proposed a new sequence designed to condense many of the existing undergraduate mathematics courses into three or four semesters. Computer science courses designed for biology students would also be beneficial. Changes in the curriculum will not be enough to produce the desired cohort of quantitatively trained biologists; it will also be necessary to help train the teachers of these future scientists, and to provide both the teachers and the students with appropriate teaching materials. This will require funding to produce, publicize, and/or adapt this material.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement