Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University of Oxford (2011) Proc Physiol Soc 23, PC6

Poster Communications

Reversing the drain - educating the next generation of in vivo physiologists

T. A. Lovick1, S. Egginton1

1. School of Clinical and experimental medicine, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.


Practical in vivo skills are a vital resource that must be maintained to enable the UK to remain internationally competitive in the biosciences. Once the mainstay of Physiology and Pharmacology teaching, practical in vivo experimentation is now absent from most degree courses as fewer universities have the staff or resources required to teach at this level. In a drive to halt the attrition, a consensus report by stakeholders from Academia and the Pharmaceutical Industry recommended establishing as a priority “taught Masters degrees that target ‘hands-on’ training to those most likely to use the skills in future courses or careers” (1). In response, the University of Birmingham established a new MRes (in vivo) degree in 2010, which stands alone or forms the first year of 1+3 doctoral training programmes. The current intake is funded through a BBSRC Masters Training Grant and internally funded studentships. It is also open to self-funded students. Our programme places a heavy emphasis on the practical as well as the intellectual mindset required for in vivo research, with an emphasis on active and experiential learning through the use of varied educational activities. Training for a Home Office licence exposes students to the ethical and legal requirements of in vivo research. Thereafter, in a dedicated laboratory they develop core skills via a progressional 3 month long self-directed programme of mini-projects. There are no practical work sheets. Students design their own experiments and set up equipment etc. They develop proficiency in making simultaneous recordings of a range of physiological variables, recognising artifactual data, trouble shooting, data analysis, report writing, presentation skills etc. Manual dexterity improves, the students develop a more critical sense of observation, a respect for living tissue and the concept of ‘keeping many balls in the air’. Starting with human subjects they move to ex vivo amphibian and finally mammalian preparations. Staff input is tapered as they become more proficient, but progress is monitored closely and feedback offered in weekly ‘roundup’ sessions. Running in parallel, a theoretical In vivo Techniques module is delivered by research active staff. Generic skills are fostered by our common Graduate School Lecture series, a journal club, and experimental design/data analysis assessments. Students are encouraged to attend relevant research seminars and to interact closely with the in vivo research community. A Taster Projects module gives them direct experience of a wide range of ongoing in vivo research in mammals (15 different projects in 2010-11) before choosing a final in-depth 20 week research project, which culminates in a substantial dissertation and viva voce examination. Student feedback indicates an appreciation for the breadth of practical experience, coupled with intensive tuition in theoretical aspects.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements