That’s the question posed over at Dynamic Ecology, and at Ever on and on which is where this whole thing got started. Definitely hop on over to these posts, share your thoughts, and give the comments a read!
So what are people saying they wish they’d learned during their years as a student? What does that say about how we educate students?
The answers coming in from commenters are heavy on statistics and programming as well as specific areas of biology (especially micro-scale areas of biology) and “research methods” type courses.
If I may, focusing in on that want for more stats and programming, its worth pointing out that both areas are undergoing rapid development, and being able to keep up therefore requires more than just a quick intro to interpreting ANOVA tables or a how to make pretty plots in the currently most popular programming language. So what should we teach students so that they can keep up once they get out of school?
I’ve found that the milestones most consider to be the moments when the really picked up stats and/or programming are actually milestones when they picked up a working familiarity with tricky concepts in probability, linear algebra and other core areas in applied mathematics, and/or when they picked up core programing skills that allow them to (somewhat) comfortably take a computational task and turn it into a series of steps they can carry out on a computer.
Importantly, both kinds of milestones have little to do with specific statistical methods or tests, or the syntax details of one language or the other. That’s hugely important for how we educate young biologists who will be working and competing in the increasingly quantitative biological sciences.