Reflections on the QUBES/BioQUEST Summer Workshop - a future faculty perspective (first of a series).

Four highly motivated future faculty volunteers attended the 2018 QUBES/BioQUEST Summer workshop.  Over the next few months, they will be sharing their experience with the QUBES Community in a series of blog posts.  QUBES thanks future faculty and guest blogger, Lillian Senn, for sharing her experience with the QUBES Community in the first post in this series.


Wicked problems: Investigating real world problems in the biology classroom was a 6-day summer workshop open to post-secondary, high school and future faculty of biology. All those involved wanted to learn of ways to bring real-world complex problems (e.g. water quality or climate change) into their courses to promote their students’  critical thinking and quantitative reasoning. The workshop provided opportunities to learn of effective pedagogical approaches to achieve these goals, while also creating a space to foster a community that would persist well after the six days.

I was able to attend this workshop by being a future faculty volunteer, providing me with an opportunity to network and learn more about how to efficaciously teach biology.  The first day of the workshop series I was anxious due to my limited teaching experience and being the only master’s student in attendance- but I had nothing to fear. The very first night during the keynote address by Dr. Talithia Williams [speaker bio] I was introduced to the warm community that is BioQUEST. Dr. Williams presented and led a discussion about the wicked problem that is STEM student persistence and inclusivity; a problem relevant and important to all of us in the room. We talked not only of the barriers to inclusivity and persistence, but also the difficulty in understanding the nature of those barriers. 

Dr. Williams specifically brought up how impactful having relatable mentors who share identities with students not equitably represented in STEM can be when it comes to perceiving STEM as a valid and viable option for their futures. We were able to more openly discuss the challenges we faced in our classrooms when teaching a variety of students because of the sense of community in the room. For example, one participant shared: “I’m a white guy teaching female African American students. What can I do breach the gap of credibility?” The room felt safe to honestly discuss this question and others regarding what we could do to encourage our students' STEM identities. Some of which included showing students diverse science role models while also providing recognition of the students as a member of STEM and their competence as scientist. 

The other days were structured around learning of  tools and resources to use in our classrooms, while also giving us time to work in groups to develop material relevant to our courses and interests. One session that I found to be of particular interest was that of Dr. Lisa Dierker about passion driven statistics. [Workshop Session Info | Web site]. She presented her work which consisted of a modular design approach to teaching statistics and data analysis skills to students across various ages, disciplines, and time constraints. Her work really excited me due to its wide range of applicability and its student-centered approach of letting students ask questions of data sets relevant to their own interests. By providing the students the power to set their own research agenda it takes the struggle of trying to engage students out of the equation;  they are already wanting to find the answers because they are the ones asking the questions. This allows for the instructor-student interactions to be focused on problem solving and helping students to see the utility and power of data analysis in a context relevant to them. This type of curriculum is something I could share with many of the faculty in my department, from our graduate biostatistics course, to our First Year Experience program course for incoming science and mathematics freshmen who are being introduced to what it means to do science. 

The greatest benefit of this experience for me, was being able to connect with biology educators around the country who were all invested in the scholarship of biology teaching. As a biology master’s student only recently entering the world of STEM education, it was incredibly reassuring to find this community with whom I could relate and share my insights and challenges. Perhaps what is more reassuring is knowing that this whole network of support is now only a few mouse clicks away through the QUBESHub.

Lillian Senn is in her final year of my biology master’s degree at California State University, Fresno. In the past she has been involved with measuring the impact of a year-long first year experience CURE program on college freshmen science students self-efficacy and retention. She is currently doing work regarding faculty adoption and sustained use of active learning strategies in the context of a faculty mentoring network. 


QUBES appreciates and shares guest blog posts but their content reflects the opinions of the authors and are not endorsed by QUBES.

  1. Lisa Dierker
  2. passion driven statistics
  3. QUBES/BioQUEST Summer Workshop
  4. Talithia Williams
  5. wicked problems