Melissa Aikens

Melissa Aikens

Phone: (603) 862-0840
Office: Biological Sciences, Spaulding Hall Rm 264, Durham, NH 03824

As a discipline-based education researcher, I conduct research in undergraduate biology education, which as a field aims to understand the teaching and learning of biology. Recent research in education and cognitive psychology has led to a better understanding of how students learn, and this has instigated national calls to reform the way biology is taught at the undergraduate level. My research focuses on understanding how self-beliefs and values related to motivation influence achievement and persistence in undergraduate biology students.

I am particularly interested in biology majors' motivation to learn quantitative skills, such as statistics and mathematical modeling. Mathematics can induce disinterest and anxiety in students, which can lead to disengagement on quantitative tasks. Therefore, it is critical to understand pedagogical strategies that can increase students' motivation on quantitative tasks. Drawing from educational theory, I ultimately seek to understand how students' educational experiences in quantitative biology affect their self-efficacy and personal values towards quantitative biology tasks, their performance on quantitative biology tasks, and their choices to take additional quantitative biology courses. I am also interested in questions related to faculty motivation to teach quantitative skills in their biology courses.

Additionally, as part of my postdoctoral work, I have examined mentoring in undergraduate research experiences. Graduate students and postdocs often serve as mentors at research universities, increasing the number of undergraduates who can participate in research. My research, in collaboration with colleagues at UGA, seeks to understand how mentoring by a graduate student or postdoc and a faculty member contribute to undergraduate researcher outcomes.

Courses Taught

  • BIOL 412: Intro Biol: Evol Biodiv & Ecol
  • BIOL 412/412H: Intro Biol: Evol Biodiv & Ecol
  • BIOL 412H: Honors/Intro Bio:Evo Biodiv&Ec
  • BIOL 601: Biology and Ecology of Plants
  • BIOL 695: Biology Teaching Practices
  • BIOL 720: Plant-Animal Interactions
  • BIOL 720/820: Plant-Animal Interactions
  • BIOL 999: Doctoral Dissertation Research
  • INCO 590: Student Research Experience
  • LSA 601: P2Bio Seminar
  • ZOOL 690W: Evolution


  • Ph.D., Biology, University of Virginia
  • M.F.S., Forest Science, Yale University
  • A.B., Biology, Bowdoin College

Selected Publications

  • Bader, J. D., Ahearn, K. A., Allen, B. A., Anand, D. M., Coppens, A. D., & Aikens, M. L. (2023). The decision is in the details: Justifying decisions about socioscientific issues. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 60(10), 2147-2179. doi:10.1002/tea.21854

  • Aikens, M. L., Eaton, C. D., & Highlander, H. C. (2021). The Case for Biocalculus: Improving Student Understanding of the Utility Value of Mathematics to Biology and Affect toward Mathematics. CBE-LIFE SCIENCES EDUCATION, 20(1). doi:10.1187/cbe.20-06-0124

  • Aikens, M. L. (2020). Meeting the Needs of A Changing Landscape: Advances and Challenges in Undergraduate Biology Education. BULLETIN OF MATHEMATICAL BIOLOGY, 82(5). doi:10.1007/s11538-020-00739-6

  • Corwin, L. A., Kiser, S., LoRe, S. M., Miller, J. M., & Aikens, M. L. (2019). Community College Instructors' Perceptions of Constraints and Affordances Related to Teaching Quantitative Biology Skills and Concepts. CBE-LIFE SCIENCES EDUCATION, 18(4). doi:10.1187/cbe.19-01-0003

  • Theobald, E. J., Aikens, M., Eddy, S., & Jordt, H. (2019). Beyond linear regression: A reference for analyzing common data types in discipline based education research. PHYSICAL REVIEW PHYSICS EDUCATION RESEARCH, 15(2). doi:10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.15.020110

  • Joshi, M., Aikens, M. L., & Dolan, E. L. (2019). Direct Ties to a Faculty Mentor Related to Positive Outcomes for Undergraduate Researchers. BIOSCIENCE, 69(5), 389-397. doi:10.1093/biosci/biz039

  • Aikens, M. L., Robertson, M. M., Sadselia, S., Watkins, K., Evans, M., Runyon, C. R., . . . Dolan, E. L. (2017). Race and Gender Differences in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Structures and Research Outcomes. CBE-LIFE SCIENCES EDUCATION, 16(2). doi:10.1187/cbe.16-07-0211

  • Aikens, M. L., Sadselia, S., Watkins, K., Evans, M., Eby, L. T., & Dolan, E. L. (2016). A Social Capital Perspective on the Mentoring of Undergraduate Life Science Researchers: An Empirical Study of Undergraduate-Postgraduate-Faculty Triads. CBE-LIFE SCIENCES EDUCATION, 15(2). doi:10.1187/cbe.15-10-0208

  • Aikens, M. L., & Dolan, E. L. (2014). Teaching quantitative biology: goals, assessments, and resources. MOLECULAR BIOLOGY OF THE CELL, 25(22), 3478-3481. doi:10.1091/mbc.E14-06-1045

  • Aikens, M. L., Ellum, D., McKenna, J. J., Kelty, M. J., & Ashton, M. S. (2007). The effects of disturbance intensity on temporal and spatial patterns of herb colonization in a southern New England mixed-oak forest. Forest Ecology and Management, 252(1-3), 144-158. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2007.06.031

  • Most Cited Publications