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Description Participants Agenda Webinar Videos

This Workshop, originally scheduled for March 2020, was postponed due to COVID and was held virtually through NIMBioS Interactive December 1-3, 2020. The original group of participants were invited to the virtual Workshop and applications were open for those who were not originally able to attend to participate. The Workshop was structured to allow for the individual-to-individual and small group interactions made possible through NIMBioS Interactive, as well as having a variety of breakout sessions on topics suggested in preparation for the original planned dates.

NIMBioS/SCMB Investigative Workshop

Quantitative Education in Life Science Graduate Programs

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Topic: Quantitative Education in Life Science Graduate Programs

Meeting dates: December 1-3, 2020 from noon to 5 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)

Location: NIMBioS Interactive


  • Stefano Allesina, Ecology & Evolution and Computation Institute, Univ. of Chicago
  • Louis Gross, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Christine Heitsch, Mathematics, Biological Sciences and Computational Science and Engineering, Georgia Tech
  • Mariel Vazquez, Mathematics and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, Univ. of California, Davis

Support and Partners: This workshop was supported by funding from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, from the National Science Foundation support for NIMBioS, with additional support from the University of Tennessee. The Workshop arose from a partnership between NIMBioS and the Southeast Center for Mathematics and Biology (SCMB).

Objectives: This workshop brought together a diverse group of researchers and educators working at the interface of various areas of the life sciences and quantitative science (e.g. mathematics, statistics, computing, data science). There has been very little open discussion about educational aspects of graduate life science quantitative training, such as what topics to prioritize across the vast array of potential quantitative methods, how formal courses might be effectively mixed with online learning, seminars and lab group activities and the effectiveness of boot-camps and tutorials. While many meetings, conferences and projects have focused on undergraduate education at this interface between the life sciences and quantitative methods, there has been nothing similar for graduate education.

The intent of the workshop was to gather thought leaders on graduate life science education and its relation to quantitative training to determine commonalities of approaches across institutions and consider what evidence is available on the effectiveness of these approaches. The expectation was that this would provide potential guidance based on experiences at diverse institutions and in biological sub-disciplines about what has been tried, how effective the results have been, and what still needs to be examined. Attendees shared experiences and any evaluation data regarding the programs they have been involved with. The workshop gathered advice from those with extensive experience in educating not only the few students specializing in quantitative biology, but also with the broad range of life science graduate students. Applications were welcomed from those at any career stage, including recent PhDs and current graduate students.

Format: The workshop consisted of a limited number of summary presentations from some of the programs with experience in educating life science PhD students, breakout sessions with facilitators and rapporteurs who reported back to the whole gathering, opportunities for birds-of-a-feather individual-to-individual and small group informal discussions as well as "receptions" at the end of each day for opportunities to chat informally with colleagues. We will use online collaborative tools to compile the various discussion results, from which an overall workshop summary of findings and report will be developed by the organizers. Participants were invited to suggest additional breakout session topics from the initial ones posted with the draft agenda and these topics were prioritized prior to the Workshop through polls of the participants. Breakout session topics were revised adaptively during the Workshop based on participant decisions. A workshop evaluation will be carried out by the National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER) (

Webinar: Prior to the originally scheduled Workshop, an online webinar was held on March 3 to provide background information for all Workshop attendees and for others interested in the topic. The webinar summarized the variety of efforts to enhance quantitative education for undergraduates in the life sciences and what might be usefully transferred to enhance life science graduate education. The webinar also discussed the quantitative backgrounds of those entering life science graduate programs and offered suggestions of possible topics for breakout sessions during the Workshop. The webinar was recorded and was recommended for viewing prior to the December virtual workshop.

Online video of WebinarVideo icon.
Webinar slides (pdf)

Talk prepared for presentation at the Workshop by:
    Dr. Kenneth Gibbs,
    Program Director, Division of Training, Workforce Development and Diversity
    National Institute of General Medical Sciences
    National Institute of Health
Topic: Overview of NIGMS Training, Workforce Development and Diversity Programs

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Quantitative Education in Life Science Graduate Programs WordPress site.

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Playlist of online videos

Final Workshop Report including Evaluation Report

A goal of NIMBioS is to enhance the cadre of researchers capable of interdisciplinary efforts across mathematics and biology. As part of this goal, NIMBioS is committed to promoting diversity in all its activities. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, career stage, geography and type of home institution. Questions regarding diversity issues should be directed to You can read more about our Diversity Plan on our NIMBioS Policies web page. The NIMBioS building is fully handicapped accessible.

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From 2008 until early 2021, NIMBioS was supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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