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Research at St Andrews

Research-Teaching Linkages: enhancing graduate attributes in Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Executive summary
This discipline-based project was part of the Enhancement Theme programme on Research-Teaching Linkages: enhancing graduate attributes. The focus of the Theme is on sharing and building on current and emerging practice at discipline level.
The project was concerned with the degree to which research skills can be developed in regulated vocational programmes such as those for medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine. All three disciplines claim that research skills and attributes are necessary to be a good practitioner, as they are specific outcomes for all programmes. So how are these skills achieved? The project aimed to identify research-teaching linkages in the three disciplines and provide examples of good practice, in order to permit an understanding of high-level graduate attributes and how best to support and promote the achievement of such attributes.
Information for this project report was gathered from structured interviews carried out with faculty members from all disciplines, and data collected at a Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine Symposium on Research-Teaching Linkages. The report presents a snapshot of current practice and opinion on the degree to which research skills can be developed in regulated vocational programmes such as medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine. It provides a practical supplement to the current literature on research-teaching linkages.
Key points

Throughout the course of this project work, the terms ′research′ and ′teaching′ were used in their broadest sense, so that discussions were not constrained.
Core attributes

Representatives of all three disciplines proposed the following seven high-level graduate attributes desirable for both research and professional practice:

• an inquiring mind
• core knowledge
• critical appraisal
• understanding of evidence base for practice
• ability to work in a team
• understanding of ethics and governance
• ability to communicate.
Instilling graduate attributes using research-teaching linkages

Critical thinking and an appreciation of the research ethos were felt to be key ingredients underpinning research and professional practice, such that research attributes are of prime importance in a vocational programme. It was felt that all students should acquire basic core research attributes, although additional values, skills and attributes are necessary for those possibly contemplating a research career. The three disciplines offer different strategies and activities to support students in gaining research-related attributes.

Delivering the core course through a problem-based learning (PBL) approach was believed to be a unique opportunity to deliver core professional knowledge while simultaneously addressing some of the attributes necessary for research. It was felt that critical thinking was embedded in the PBL approach, and that students of PBL would automatically adopt this way of thinking. However, in non-PBL schools, interviewees identified a number of areas where critical thinking was developed in their curricula, such as the analysis of journal articles and student projects.

Role models were felt to be vital to inspire students, encourage and enthuse them, and place skills and attributes in context.

Four main models of how to engage students in a research experience were identified: student-selected components (SSCs), summer projects, integrated honours degrees and science-based first-degree courses with a vocational slant.

Essentially, some kind of independent work - via either a PBL approach or a research project - will provide the opportunity to encourage research attributes.
School-level barriers
Students were not thought to be aware of the relevance of research and research attributes to them and their future professional career. Students focus on areas of the curriculum that are assessed, and efforts to engage them with local research beyond an assessed area of the curriculum can be challenging. Many of the schools interviewed have found interesting ways of overcoming this barrier.
In relation to engaging students in an actual research project, the barriers identified were time for gaining ethical approval, cost of a laboratory-based project and the problem of saturating clinics in community projects with students.
National-level barriers
In Medicine, the General Medical Council′s Tomorrow′s doctors (2003) was commended for ′freeing up′ 33 per cent of curricular time for SSCs, which allow schools the opportunity to include research or research-related projects in the curriculum. For the other disciplines, those interviewed felt that the General Dental Council and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons were more focused towards making sure that the course covered all areas necessary for clinical competence. To them, the opportunities for research appeared to be a luxury, as their graduates would have greater clinical responsibilities immediately after graduation.
Some project participants thought that the governing bodies could and should promote the academic career pathway to a greater extent.
The current Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) was seen as a major barrier from the academic staff viewpoint, as time spent teaching students was time spent away from focusing on their own research output. In addition, it was felt that educational research was not given appropriate value in terms of research recognition or funding opportunities.
Enthusing students
One concern raised in the project was the feeling that students could leave their university without being aware of the key areas of research or the international research ′stars′ within their particular school. Some schools have tried to address this issue through researchers giving inspirational talks or by inviting these researchers to guest lecture on their course. Several said that it was embedded in the ethos of the staff that they interact with students at research level; others said that it was up to individual staff to engage with students about their research.
Publication of students′ research projects was raised as an important way of encouraging students in research.


Original languageEnglish
PublisherThe Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education
Number of pages80
ISBN (Print)978 1 84482 865 4
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Publication series

NameEnhancing Practice

    Research areas

  • graduate attributes

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