Bios 311 Class Details and Expectations

Philosophy, emphasis, and de-emphasis

  • We assume some exposure to methods of inference but not mastery, e.g. this isn't your first time hearing of a t-test or confidence interval.
  • We are not going to rehash your undergrad statistics class. We are not going to teach mathematical statistics -lite. We are going to teach how to think about statistics using the standard first semester statistical methods as context.
  • We aim to get under the hood of the methods, understand the philosophy, derivations, and operating characteristics of the methods.
  • Experiment driven, especially virtual experiments, i.e. simulation studies. We have to opportunity to understand how these methods perform in a way that has been impossible until recently.

The class

  • In a change from previous years, lecture time will be reduced and workshop time increased.
  • You will be responsible for the reading, i.e. you will often be tested on it prior to class.

The lab

  • Mandatory to receive a grade.
  • The class and lab are graded as one, although they get posted separately.
  • Opportunity to get more direct instruction.
  • New material will presented when there are opportunities to do so.


  • Grades will be based on two exams (~300 points each), announced and unannounced quizzes (~100 points), a project proposal and analysis (~50 points each), weekly assignments, attendance, participation, etc. Letter grades are given (A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, ...) . Historically 90+ has been the A range, 80-90 the B range, and below 80 the iffy range. That isn't set in stone.
  • This is a graduate level course. In my mind that means it should emphasize cooperative learning, collaboration, and self-instruction. It should deemphasize competition and focus on grades. You are here because you are talented, highly motivated people. My expectation is that the focus will be on learning and not grades.
  • That said, if at any point it looks like someone may be in the C range, we should begin a discussion immediately to see if additional help is needed or if the course is appropriate.
  • Moreover, if you will die if you don't get an A, don't take this course. This course is designed to be challenging for those looking to get a graduate degree in this field.

Weekly assignments

  • You will be required to submit take home assignments as well as in-class assignments.
  • Time is your biggest challenge. You will be responsible for more reading and problems than you will be able to finish.
  • You need to learn to discern which problems and readings you should spend your time on. That set of problems will be different for each of you.
  • A good rule of thumb is to look for the easiest problem that you can't solve. Read a problem. If it's trivial but will take you 5 minutes to write out the solution, save those 5 minutes for another problem. If you have no idea how to even start the problem, save it for later after you've learned more and may understand it better. If the problem looks doable but not trivial, chances are you'll learn something by doing that problem.
  • There is benefit in working out the easy problems and beating your head against the wall on the hard problems. So don't avoid them completely. Just use your time wisely. Watch out for spending your time on easy problems and readings, which make you feel good but don't teach you much. Maximize your learning per hour.
  • We emphasize collaborative work and cooperative learning. If you understand something well, you should be teaching those who don’t. When you try to teach something, you’ll be pushed to understand it in ways you won’t when studying it alone. If you don’t understand something well and are stuck on figuring it out yourself, you should be comfortable asking those who understand it. If neither of you understand, figure it out together. If none of you can figure it out even working together, I need to know because it may mean I’m making things too hard.
  • Very heterogeneous class with a great mix of differing strengths. Need to get to know and rely on each other.
  • You have the problems from the book, many of which are very good. You also have many exams and quizzes from previous years, many of which have solution sets.


  • We will have a small quiz almost every week.
  • Announced and unannounced.
  • Some will be designed to test your understanding of foundational material (to make sure you're keeping up, did the reading, etc.). Some will be gimme's (you get full credit for showing up and doing the work). Some will be solo and some group work.
  • Pros: Helps keep everyone caught up, emphasizing a learning goal over a problem set facilitates better understanding.
  • Cons: Not great if you have test anxiety, but you’ll find it serves as exposure therapy.

Pyramid exams

  • These will be the midterm and final. They will consist of 3 stages.
  • Part 1 is solo, in-class, timed work. Open book, open notes, closed computer, closed other people, closed internet. Web enabled devices must be used in airplane mode (wifi and cell turned off).
  • Part 2 is solo, take-home, open everything and everyone. Seriously. Talk to people. Search the web. Figure it out and get it right. Just remember, you are academics; always cite your sources. It's always better to over-cite than to show-off.
  • Part 3 is large scale collaborative work, the whole class, one exam, figure out how to all work together to get it perfect.

Your experiment (small project)

  • Each of you will create a small project where you will design and conduct your own small experiment on whatever you want.
  • The goal is to give you the opportunity to think through refining a question, quantifying an outcome, design a minimally biased data collection process, writing up a short proposal (1-3 pages) and results (1-3 pages).
  • These may require several revisions before they are accepted.

No make-ups

  • There are no make-up quizzes, examinations, or projects for any reason.
  • It is expected that students will miss some quizzes for professional and personal reasons, e.g. conferences and illnesses.
  • So don't worry if you need to miss a couple quizzes. Consider worrying only if you need to miss a lot of quizzes.

Cellphones, pagers, etc.

  • Please keep them on silent mode (or even turn them off if that won't give you a panic attack).
  • If you are on call, please be considerate and discretely slip out of the room when needed.
  • You'll forget sometimes, and so will I. We'll survive.


  • Required for some classes and otherwise not allowed.
  • We will contact Health Services for Facebook withdrawal therapy if necessary.
  • You can't multitask. You can't really understand the lecture, reply to your email, and learn what your friends are up to on Facebook all at once. None of us can. Yes, multitasking feels great. It feels like we're getting so much done. But in reality we are just doing a sucky job at many things at once, while feeling really good about it. And chances are that your professional environment is training you to live this way all the time.
  • I will try to help by requiring laptops and other distractions to be off most of the time.

Statistical packages

  • R is the primary package of the class. You will need to learn to program in R for this class. For modern statistics, being able to program is as essential as being able to do algebra.
  • Stata is a secondary package. It will not be covered as much in this class, but the Biostatistics students will want to familiarize themselves with it throughout the semester. The comps usually have Stata output. It's helpful to get used to how that looks and understanding what is in the output.

Continual feedback

  • I am continually refining the course and the needs of each class are different from year to year.
  • Your feedback throughout the semester can play a big role in making the class successful.
Topic revision: r9 - 25 Aug 2015, RobertGreevy
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