Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Providing authentic research experiences: A comparison of two undergraduate biomedical research subjects (#18)

Julia Choate 1 , Yvonne Hodgson 1
  1. Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 Undergraduate biomedical science students undertake research to enhance their academic skills and to gain a competitive edge in the workplace.  At Monash University, they can experience research via a laboratory-based subject, during which students work individually with a researcher on a research project (RP). This is assessed by a literature review, oral presentations and a thesis. Whilst RPs are popular and provide an authentic research experience, they are time and resource-intensive and are available for a minority of students.   We established a large cohort capstone subject (CS) that aimed to develop research skills through assessed coursework, rather than a laboratory project. CS students work in small groups, tutored by a researcher, to produce written abstracts and research papers, oral presentations and to interview a laboratory director. We evaluated student perceptions of their research experiences and skills development in the RP and CS, using the Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment (URSSA), a survey assessing the student outcomes of undergraduate research (1). A Mann-Whitney U test was used to test for significant differences between the two groups.

Problem solving, conducting database searches, formulating a research question, understanding research theory, understanding journal articles, explaining projects to lay people, making oral presentations, defending an argument, feeling part of a scientific community, working collaboratively with others and time management were rated equally for RP and CS students. RP students rated analysing data for patterns, figuring out the next step in a research project, identifying limitations of research methods and designs, writing scientific papers and their abilities to contribute to science and to work independently  more highly than CS students (P < 0.05).

Our results illustrate that whilst personal involvement with a laboratory research project is valuable for students, coursework can be designed to develop biomedical research skills and to engage students with the research environment.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

 This abstract addresses conference sub-theme 3 (Assessing, evidencing and evaluating graduate capabilities). Upon completion of the Monash Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences, graduates are expected to have developed a range of research skills, including the abilities to: (1) demonstrate in depth knowledge in one or more biomedical disciplines; (2) collect, organise, analyse and interpret biomedical data; (3) communicate ideas and results effectively to diverse audiences and in a variety of formats and (4) work and learn in both independent and collaborative ways. At Monash we have large student enrolments (~450) in biomedical sciences, with limited resources for offering individual research projects. We therefore compared student perceptions of their research skills development in two subjects, a small cohort subject for which individual students work on a project with a research supervisor and a large cohort subject for which students work in groups, tutored by a researcher. We provide evidence that students can develop research skills using assessed coursework, rather than a laboratory project.