Engaging First-Year Students In Research: An Example From The Netherlands

Ideally speaking university education engages students in a research-rich learning environment, aiming to foster research competencies such as scientific reasoning and critical thinking. However, it may not always be straightforward to explicate research in undergraduate teaching in a way that is visible and approachable for students.

Mayke Vereijken, PhD Candidate from Leiden University in The Netherlands who is currently visiting the Learning Innovation Hub, presents an example of a first-year research project in medical education at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), on how to engage first-year students in research through their learning activities, appropriate to discipline.

One of the challenges of undergraduate education in The Netherlands is the problem of scale. In Leiden, for example, 330 students start studying medicine every academic year. The majority of students enter undergraduate medical education straight from high school, when they are typically 19 years old. In this case, epidemiology teachers collaborate with primary care teachers in developing a first-year student research project. Students individually collect data about medication and care dependency, for instance, among three patients during an early clinical experience in nursing homes directly at the start of medical education in September. This way students establish a large, aggregated dataset. In December the students return to the nursing homes for one day to repeat their data collection and to come up with their individual research questions at the ‘bedside’. In the weeks thereafter basic knowledge and skills are taught to enable students to answer these. In small group sessions students formulate research questions, learn the structure of a research paper and analyze their data. They write a short research report and present their findings to their peers in a small group session.

What teachers found insightful in developing this learning activity was:

  • to involve first-year students as researchers collecting data.
  • to collaborate with staff members from other departments within their institute.
  • to start from an existing learning activity (here: early clinical experience) adding a research component to it, instead of ‘squeezing in’ a new project to the first-year course.
  • to use experiences from second-year students with the internship while designing this project.

Want more? Read: Twelve tips for teachers to encourage student engagement in academic medicine

Email Mayke if you would like to meet (hurry, she’s only here until end of June) and chat more about undergraduate research activities and supervision.

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