CB 399: Statistics for Terrified Biologists Spring 2013

Statistics for Terrified Biologists
Nanocourse Director: David Van Vactor

Curriculum Fellow: Abha Ahuja, Abha_Ahuja@hms.harvard.edu

Biological research is becoming increasingly quantitative. Several user-friendly statistical software packages have made it easy to apply advanced analytic methods. However, in order to fully harness the power of these methods, a basic understanding of statistics is needed. This nanocourse is designed to teach the foundations of parametric and non-parametric statistics to students with little or no background in the subject. Our main goal is not to teach the use of a specific package or advanced methods, but to understand the basic concepts. This course will help students to:

  • Plan and design their experiments
  • Decide which statistical test to conduct
  • Interpret and understand the output from any statistical software, or primary literature
  • Communicate their results accurately and effectively
  • Prepare for more advanced statistics courses


** This nanocourse is only open to registered students.  Please register if you wish to attend.  Attendance at both sessions is required for all students.  

 AUDITORS: Demand for this course is high and the enrollment limit is 16.  Currently we are unable to accommodate students who wish to audit . However, we hope to offer the course again in the future to accommodate all those who wish to participate.  Please look out for future offering notifications  sent through DMS

This course will be very interactive. The lecturer will introduce each module with the aid of an example or data relevant to biological research. Students will explore each topic by performing simple data exercises. At the end of each module students will discuss a thought question in pairs or small groups.

Module 1: Describing your data

  • Summarizing: Central tendency and Variation (Mean and Standard Deviation, Median and Interquartile range)
  • Visualizing: Bar graphs, scatter plots, box plot, histograms etc.
  • Is my data “normal”?

Module 2: Making decisions about your data

  • Estimating uncertainties associated with your data: Standard Error and Confidence Intervals
  • What is a p-value anyway?
  • Null hypothesis and Test Statistics
  • Hypothesis testing in action: A t – test using your calculator

Module 3: Which test should I use?

  • An introduction to ANOVA, Regression & Correlation, Chi –square, non-parametric methods

Module 4: Designing your experiments

  • Biological vs. technical replicates
  • Sample sizes, sensitivity and power analysis
  • Common statistical errors


First Session: Thursday, May 16, 2013 9 AM – 12 PM
Location: Countway Library,  Room 403
Second Session: Thursday, May 23, 2013 9 AM – 12 PM
Location: Countway Library,  Room 403

 Assignment: In order to get credit students will need to complete two take home assignments, one at the end of each day. They can do these assignments using a calculator, excel or their favorite statistical software. In addition the lecturer will send a short pre-assessment test, to be completed by May 13th, in order to take the class. 

 DROP DEADLINE: Thursday, May 9, 2013