He Knows His Peas and Qs

June 4, 2003

In the same way Gregor Mendel's research with garden peas changed the study of genetics, Dr. Benjamin Pierce, Baylor biology professor, may change how the subject is studied with his new textbook, Genetics: A Conceptual Approach (W.H. Freeman and Co., New York), released in January 2003. 
A culmination of more than 20 years of teaching and 10 years of research and writing, the introductory genetics text is being hailed by reviewers, professors and students as readable, effective, engaging and thorough. Six colleges adopted it this spring and several more will use it this fall, including Texas A&M, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Rutgers.
"Ever since I was a graduate student, I've had this goal of writing a genetics textbook," Dr. Pierce said. And even though the process included two publishing companies, three editors and four versions of the book, he said, "I never thought it wasn't worth it. A few times I thought it might not get done, though."
Dr. Pierce, a single author in a field of multiple-author textbooks, had clear goals for his work. He wanted the book to be student-friendly, to focus on concepts that "convey the excitement of what's happening in genetics," to offer a strong problem-solving approach and to provide clear, linear connections among preceding and succeeding chapters. 
To accomplish these goals, he employed techniques not common in most genetics textbooks: a conversational, sometimes first-person, style of writing; balloon-box explanatory texts in four-color illustrations; "Connecting Concepts" boxes to encourage students "to pause and consider how what they're reading relates to other things they've learned"; and narrative essays at the beginning of each chapter.
The textbook also comes with a CD, an interactive Web site with animations of complicated processes (www.whfreeman.com/pierce) and a solutions manual for professors. 
"One of my skills as a teacher is helping students create a mental map of genetics -- one that shows where we've been, where we'll go and how we'll get there," he said. "This text is an extension of my teaching. I'm a much better scholar, teacher and geneticist for having written this book."