Dr Alice Robson was awarded an Teaching Innovation Grant in 2017/18. You can find a summary of her project, and the project conclusions below.
The aim of this project was to gain increased understanding of how we develop ourstudents as researchers, by evaluating a new Research Training unit (RTU) that forms part of the new MSci in Biochemistry. The outcome of the evaluation is already being used to enhance the student experience by improving the unit under study and the knowledge gained can also be fed into other units across the School and beyond. Developing research skills is a key part of any science degree, yet there remains a lack of consensus about the best way to develop these competencies, particularly in light of increasing student numbers (Willison and O’Regan, 2007). The School of Biochemistry has recently introduced a Research Training Unit, which students on the MSci programme take in their third year, instead of an individual research project; these students then do an extended research project in their fourth year. The aim of this unit is to give students an authentic research experience, developing the skills and the self-efficacy they need to succeed in an individual research project in their final year.
The evaluation project sought to determine whether the proposed learning outcomes of the RTU were met and to gain a deeper understanding of how students gain key research skills and develop the identity of ‘research scientist’. In addition, the learning experiences from the RTU were compared with those from traditional internship-style research projects (using the students on the BSc programme as a reference group), and issues of consistency and scalability were considered. The results showed that students who took the RTU developed a greater sense of researcher identity than those on the BSc route, and feel well prepared for an extended research project in their final year. Areas of weakness in the course design were also revealed, and this is being used to improve the course for future years.
The evaluation provided some very useful insight into the students’ perspective on their learning within the RTU. The design of the evaluation, particularly the fact that focus groups and interviews were carried out by an independent researcher, meant that students gave refreshingly frank and honest reports of their experience on the course. This in turn allowed us to get unparalleled insight into their self-assessment of development throughout the course. Some very interesting results were obtained, particularly pertaining to the development of researcher identity. One key aspect in developing enthusiasm for the work was the students’ sense of ownership of their projects, since they had chosen and design the targets themselves. It would be very beneficial to introduce such research-inspired practical work earlier in the curriculum, in first and second year, in order to begin the journey towards being a research scientist earlier in our students’ careers.