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Unit information: Understanding Data: Experimental Design and Statistics for Life Scientists in 2021/22

Unit name Understanding Data: Experimental Design and Statistics for Life Scientists
Unit code BIOLM0006
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Rands
Open unit status Not open

There are no pre-requitites however it helps if you have done some sort of undergraduate course in statistics. That is, you know about means, standard deviations, variances, standard errors, and confidence intervals. You know about chi-squared tests, some non-parametric tests, t-tests, one-way ANOVA, correlation and simple regression.

When we say you “know” these things, we mean you have covered these items before, remember more-or-less what they were about, or if not, have some notes or a book that you could look them up in.

If you haven't done such a course, you will still be able to do the unit as long as you have the desire to understand data. In advance of the unit, we will make available a self-assessment tool with guidance towards appropriate support materials so that you can be suitably prepared for the course.



School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

Being able to frame a research question in an appropriate manner, to gather the right data and analyse such data correctly, are key skills in the Life Sciences. Perhaps THE key skills for any empirical scientist.

This unit is about designing research and data collection programmes, and the more advanced statistics that most working biologists (and, indeed, medical researchers, psychologists, geographers, and economists) need to know about. In the first lectures we will cover all the core principles, to clear out some of the cobwebs from half-remembered undergraduate courses and, indeed, dispel the many common misconceptions. A key aim of the course is that you come away understanding enough of the theory (and practice) to be able talk sensibly to REAL statisticians – to describe your problems in ways they can understand and to understand their proposed solutions. This is a good goal for you to aim for – not to BE a statistician but to be able to have an informed discussion or collaboration with them if your data analysis problems go beyond the basics. That said, what we will teach you as ‘the basics’ are fairly advanced – you’ll be able to tackle 99% of the statistical problems most biologists (and medical researchers, psychologists, geographers, etc.) face.

Topics include include experimental design, graphical display and data exploration tools, basic univariate parametric and non-parametric tests, Monte Carlo and computer-intensive methods, multi-factor ANOVA, repeated-measures ANOVA, multiple regression, polynomial regression, General (and Generalized) Linear Models, Mixed and Multi-Level Models, and multivariate methods; the unit ends with an introduction to Bayesian approaches to statistics. These will all be taught from scratch, backed up by hands-on practical sessions and problem-solving exercises. The unit will also provide an introduction to the computer software packages SPSS and R, the former probably the most widely used package in academia and industry, the latter the most flexible, portable and powerful.

Intended Learning Outcomes

An appreciation of experimental design coupled with sampling methods for data collection.

An understanding of the background to statistical methods and how to use them to analyse data, particularity how to apply the appropriate methods for the data.

An understanding of how to display and interpret results both graphically and in writing.

Teaching Information

Seminars, practicals and workshops

Assessment Information

Data analysis and interpretation test (100%). Tests all ILOs


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. BIOLM0006).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.