Re: Biology Students Struggling with Math

Re: Biology Students Struggling with Math

Tired and Desperate, whose letter appeared in the March/April Office Hours with EdComm column, is facing exactly the situation I faced when I decided to write Lab Math in 2003: My cell biology students were struggling with math. I have a strong math background for a biologist, and I’d learned a lot of good shortcuts and tips for using math without all the Sturm und Drang, so I decided to collect them and share them. The second edition was published in 2013 by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

There is no way I can write this letter without it seeming like a sales pitch; nonetheless, I truly believe this book can be of help, providing the math, clear explanations of how/why the math works, and shortcuts for using the math when needed. So, with my financial interest fully disclosed, I want to request that the EdComm take a look at Lab Math and perhaps consider reviewing it in a future issue of the Newsletter. The most beloved chapter, Chapter 4 (Solutions), is available as a free download at The blog associated with the book is at

Lab Math is a one-stop source of the math biologists need but have now forgotten. The first edition received terrific reviews, and I’ve received spontaneous letters of thanks from students who stumbled across it. I say stumbled, because, unfortunately, the book is not as well known as I wish it could be and truly believe it should be. However, a number of colleges and universities have adopted it for particular courses and/or for all incoming biology graduate students, and it is on even mores lists of recommended reading.

Irina Makarevitch, in her response to Tired and Desperate, suggests thinking about ways to modify a course. Lab Math is designed to help teachers do exactly that, and to help students respond with ease rather than panic. I hope that she might consider adding it to her list of resources should another Tired and Desperate send an appeal for help.


Lab Math will be reviewed in a future issue of CBE—Life Sciences Education, the ASCB’s education journal.

About the Author:

Tufts University