Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University of Manchester (2010) Proc Physiol Soc 19, PC76

Poster Communications

Science and Society projects: An academically equivalent alternative to laboratory-based final year research projects

D. Lewis1,2, K. E. Bielby-Clarke1, S. A. Deuchars1, C. Haigh1

1. Institute of Membrane & Systems Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom. 2. IDEA CETL, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom.


Budgetary, staff and space constraints means that there is an increasing impetus for Physiology and Biomedical Sciences Departments to develop alternatives to traditional laboratory-based wet research projects for their final year undergraduate students. Given that less that 20% of these graduates go onto science-based careers, there is also a need to develop projects more suited to the majority of their career paths. Our aim was therefore to develop alternative projects where students would create and deliver “Science and Society” activities for local school children, evaluating and reporting on this exercise as their final year research project. Students opted to undertake these Science and Society projects. Once selected, they were given a brief to design a 1 or 2 hour teaching session suitable for Year 9 to AS-Level students. They were free to choose the format of their sessions but it had to be interactive, support and enhance the National Curriculum, match their Supervisors’ research interests and be capable of modulation to suit the different age groups to whom it was delivered. Topics selected included “Spinal cord injuries”, “Science behind healthy lifestyle choices” and “Embryos and ethics”. Once these sessions had been developed, students gathered feedback from supervisors and focus groups before delivery to school pupils, either at the University as part of National Science Week or in a carousel of four sessions that toured schools within the region. Students evaluated the effectiveness of their activities using pre and post session knowledge-based questionnaires, personal response systems within the session and post session pupil and staff feedback questionnaires. These formed the results section of their dissertations which were written up in the same format and with the same marking criteria as standard laboratory-based research projects. Demand from schools for these teaching sessions far exceeded the number of sessions we could reasonably expect individual students to deliver; with students repeating their sessions up to 9 times. Feedback from schools was excellent, with all requesting to repeat and increase their involvement in 2010-11. As a consequence, we will be adding another carousel of 4 sessions for secondary schools and introducing a primary school carousel. From our students’ perspective, this was a challenging but rewarding experience that, if given the opportunity, they would certainly repeat. These projects fulfil a requirement within the curriculum. They encourage students to be enterprising and innovative; they also enhance their future career opportunities and employability. By working with local schools, not only are these students promoting the public understanding of science, but also encouraging schoolchildren to follow them into science-based courses at Leeds.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements