Final year projects are very much the capstone experience of the undergraduate bioscience experience. Yet many academics cling doggedly to the belief that they are training Mini-Mes and that projects are only an entry into PhD programmes. But alternative (non-laboratory) types of project remain very much second class options. This is because, in my personal opinion which does not represent that of my employer, activity is valued over thinking. And in the weird world we live in, scholarship does not count as activity. But the vast and increasing majority of our graduates will never don a lab coat or set foot in a laboratory again after they graduate. They will, however, be required to think. And to make judgements and have opinions. In other words, we live in hope that our graduates will live their lives in a scholarly way. The least we can do is to try to train them to do that.
Julia Lodge (2015) More Than a Literature Review: An Alternative Final Year Project for Bioscience Students. Education in Practice, Vol. 2 No. 1.
With increasing pressures on staff time and increased diversity in the student population it is important that universities explore different ways of providing final year projects. This case study describes a successful format developed in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham. The project consists of a literature review followed by an in-depth critical analysis of five key papers and the subsequent development of a research proposal. In addition to written reports and an oral presentation students are asked to write both a lay and a technical abstract for their research proposal. This challenges the student to explain the importance and also the scientific approach to different audiences. The analysis of five key papers has been found to be an excellent tool to encourage a deep understanding and critical analysis of research papers and that the skills demonstrated in this section are distinct from those demonstrated in a traditional literature review. The research proposal allows students to develop many of the skills usually associated with a practical project including identification of gaps in current knowledge and developing a hypothesis. Overall this format allows students not choosing a lab or field based final year project to apply the skills and knowledge accumulated during their degree in a discipline related context and despite not having a practical element it remains true to its roots in experimental science.
Education in Practice - December 2015