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Lisa McDonnell


My biology education research broadly aims to understand how teaching practices influence student learning and development of scientific thinking. Scientific thinking skills, such as data analysis, evaluation, forming scientific arguments, and problem solving, are a key component of a biology education, but understanding when and how these skills develop requires more investigation. Currently I am interested in how students develop critical thinking skills, and how their understanding of biology research is influenced by engaging in research experiences. I collaborate with Dr. Stanley Lo to investigate these questions in biology lab classes here at UCSD.

Another area of interest for me is how teaching practices influence student learning and development of writing and the ability to form scientific arguments. Two current projects are collaborations with colleagues here at UCSD (Sarah Stockwell, Emily Grossman, Stanley Lo, Stephanie Mel) to investigate the impacts of two interventions on student’s writing and scientific argumentation. The first is looking at how the incorporation of opportunities for students to explore academic integrity, in the context of a biology class writing assignment, influences their writing. The second is looking at how the incorporation of writing and peer review impacts the quality of student’s constructed scientific arguments and the quality of the reviews they provide to peers. Both of these projects aim to contribute to our understanding of the teaching methods we can employ to improve the development of knowledge and skills that are necessary to be successful biologists.

Select Publications

  • Zukswert, J. M., Barker, M. K., & Mcdonnell, L. 2019. Identifying Troublesome Jargon in Biology: Discrepancies between Student Performance and Perceived Understanding. CBE Life Sciences Education, 48 (1): ar1-mr1. PMID: 30707640
  • Stains, M; Harshman, J; Barker, MK; Chasteen, SV; Cole, R; DeChenne-Peters, SE; Eagan, MK; Esson, JM; Knight, JK; Laski, FA; Levis-Fitzgerald, M; Lee, CJ; Lo, SM; McDonnell, LM; McKay, TA; Michelotti, N; Musgrove, A; Palmer, MS; Plank, KM; Rodela, TM; Sanders, ER; Schimpf, NG; Schulte, PM; Smith, MK; Stetzer, M; Van Valkenburgh, B; Vinson, E; Weir, LK; Wendel, PJ; Wheeler, LB; Young, AM. 2018. Anatomy of STEM teaching in North American universities. Science, 359(6383): 1468-1470. PMID: 29599232
  • Aikens, M.L., Corwin, L.A., Andrews, T.C., Couch, B.A., Eddy, S.L., McDonnell, L., Trujillo, G. 2016. A guide for graduate students interested in postdoctoral positions in biology education research. CBE Life Sciences Education, 15(4). PMID: 27856554
  • McDonnell, L., and Mullally, M. (2016). Teaching students how to check their work while solving problems in genetics. Journal of College Science Teaching. 46: 68-75.
  • Aikens, M.L., Corwin, L.A., Andrews, T.C., Couch, B.A., Eddy, S.L., McDonnell, L., and Trujillo, G. A (2016) Guide for Graduate Students Interested in Postdoctoral Positions in Biology Education. CBE Life Sciences Education. 15: es10.
  • McDonnell, L., Barker, M.B., and Wieman, C. (2015). Concepts first, jargon second improves student articulation of understanding. Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 44: 12-19.
  • Maxwell, J.E., McDonnell, L.M., and Wieman, C. (2015). An improved design for in-class review. Journal of College Science Teaching 44: 47-52.
  • McDonnell, L., and Klenz, J. (2015). Teaching Genetic Linkage through Mapping with Molecular Markers. CourseSource (
  • Ye, X., Busov, V. Zhao, N., Meilan, R., McDonnell, L.M., Coleman, H.D., Mansfield, S.D., Chen, F., Li, Y., and Cheng, Z-M. (2011). Transgenic Populus trees for forest products, bioenergy, and functional genomics. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 5: 415-434.
  • Joshi, C.P., Thammannagowda, S., Takeshi, F., Gou, J., Avci, U., Haigler, C., McDonnell, L.M., Mansfield, S.D., Menghesa, B., Carpita, N.C., Harris, D., DeBolt, S., and Peter, G. (2010). Perturbation of wood cellulose synthesis causes pleiotropic effects in transgenic aspen. Molecular Plant 4: 331-345.
  • Plett, J.M, McDonnell, L., and Regan, S. 2009. Plant encoded 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid deaminase activity implicated in different aspects of plant development. Plant Signaling and Behavior 4(12), 1186–1189.
  • McDonnell, L., Plett, J. M., Andersson-Gunnerås, S., Kozela, C., Dugardeyn, J., Straeten, D. V. D., Glick, B.R., Sundberg, B. and Regan, S. (2009). Ethylene levels are regulated by a plant encoded 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid deaminase. Physiologia Plantarum 136: 94-109.


Lisa McDonnell received her Ph.D. in the Faculty of Forestry from the University of British Columbia (UBC) where she used tools from cell biology, molecular biology, and biotechnology to understand the role of various genes in the production of cellulose. She later returned to UBC as a post-doctoral fellow with the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative. She joined the faculty of Biological Sciences in 2015.

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