By Professor Michael A Ferenczi
Assistant Dean for Years 1 & 2
LKCMedicine students are bright and curious. While the five-year MBBS curriculum is heavy, for many, studying medicine is not enough. They relish the opportunity to get involved in scientific research and many approach research faculty, seeking training opportunities in their labs. To accommodate such passion, and to make sure all students are given an apprenticeship in Research, we devised the Scholarly Project, a six-week period for full-time, evidence-based research at the beginning of Year 4.
The Scholarly Project gives students the opportunity to study a topic in greater depth than they have been able to previously. They learn new techniques, whether experimental or analytical, and improve their ability to plan their work, organise their thoughts, discuss their results in the light of the existing literature and communicate their findings eloquently, systematically and succinctly in writing.
With the Scholarly Project, all students will get an opportunity to familiarise themselves with and explore a research area of interest
By Year 4, students have covered the basic sciences to an advanced level of understanding, and have had one full year of clinical practice, giving them an excellent perspective on their future career: they have seen medical practice at the sharp end, and have been faced with illness, death and despair, and the challenges that modern medicine cannot yet fix. They have a hunger to explore research and scholarship at a level they have not yet met, and to interact with principal investigators and junior scientists who are pushing the boundaries of medical knowledge.
Half way through Year 3, students are given a list of potential scholarly projects falling into one of four categories: Laboratory and Translational Research, Medical Practice, Medical Education and Medicine and Society. Students are provided with a brief description of each project and the name and contact details of the project supervisor. Projects range from “Can type-2 diabetic serum alter macrophage phenotype?” and “The impact of habitual exercise on age-associated cardio-metabolic degeneration”, to “The ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ of Cognition and functional outcomes in schizophrenia” and “Smartphone Applications (Apps) for Diabetes self-management: content analysis and evaluation with evidence-based guidelines”, to list a few of the 63 projects available on offer to our 53 students.
Students are asked to select their top five projects from the list, making sure the five are selected from at least three categories. Students can see each other’s choices online, and therefore adjust their own selections to increase the probability of ending up with a chosen project. An algorithm, designed to maximise the number of students allocated to one of their choices, allocates projects to students.
For the few students who are not matched to one of their choices, they are assigned an unallocated project from the list. Students can appeal the allocation, and are then given the opportunity to take on another project. The allocation is finalised in March, giving students time to get in touch with their supervisors and to become familiar with the project area before the start of the project on the first day of the semester on 1 August.
During the six weeks, students work closely with their supervisor’s team, and their progress is monitored by the Scholarly Project Committee. Students are expected to submit a 2,000 word report by the end of the six weeks which is assessed according to a marking rubric. Student performance during the six weeks of the project is also part of the assessment. The grade reached for the project counts towards their end-of-year grade. The purpose of the grading process is to encourage students to engage fully with the project, as the intellectual rewards of scholarship depend on commitment and hard work.
We hope that students are so engaged in their projects that some will continue with research and build on the window of opportunity that the project has opened up. It may be that some develop their work to reach the publication stage, and even grow from their Scholarly Project experience to become clinician scientists and contribute to medical advances.