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Enhancing Projects and Practicals in Biosciences

Here are some really nice reports from the HEA Bioscience Centre on enhancing undergraduate science dissertations and laboratory practicals. In recent years, academic departments have seen growth in student numbers, and the cutting back of resources and access to laboratories. Yet, we are still supposed to maintain a high quality education! The documents below compile ideas from universities across the UK on how to cater for undergraduate science dissertations and laboratory practical classes.

Undergraduate research projects

Student Research Projects: Guidance on Practice in the Biosciences. By Martin Luck. Available:

Interesting information on the wide range of projects available from laboratory, to fieldwork, data analysis and literature reviews. We need to be mindful of the IBMS requirements for projects that must contain an element of data and statistical analysis. For fieldwork-type projects I have had students design questionnaires, and for data analysis students can carry out a “mini-systematic review” and meta-analysis of pooled clinical research data. Literature reviews are a challenge to do well and meet IBMS criteria I think. (Feel free to comment below!).

Universities run both individual and group projects. Some universities separate project choices based on year 2 performance. Projects are allocated in different ways:

1) Staff provide list of titles.
2) Students develop projects based on their own ideas.

In my experience, it is nice to allow students to develop their own ideas in line of what their career aspirations might be, but it is hugely time consuming to supervise them on an individual basis.

Useful resource for students

All my project students use this as a basis for their work. It takes them through every step of their project.


Improving Laboratory Practicals

The Bioscience Centre held a workshop on practical work back in 2008 and there are many good ideas in their report, and in the labwork notes for new staff.

Workshop on 1st year practicals. Available:

Labwork notes for new staff. Available:

  • Move away from recipe-led practicals.
  • Move away from practicals with no further analysis / discussion.
  • Flip-practicals: students watch videos / materials prior to coming into the lab.

For example at De Montfort, students used to work through our Virtual Analytical Laboratory for 4 weeks in their first year before coming into the lab. It enhanced their confidence no end, and staff reported it saved time going over common things.

In histology we would have a 4 hour wet practical and a 2 hour dry microscopy / observation class where students would peer-mark each other’s observations. They would grade their slides according to NEQAS standards. At level 3 students would design their own practicals and work in self-designated groups.


Linking research and teaching

Linking Teaching and Research in the Biosciences. By Heather J. Sears and Edward J. Wood (2005). Available:

This was raised as an item to explore in one of our staff meetings. We assume that our research and teaching is linked, but as the report says, “the link could be exploited more effectively for the benefit of staff and students”. Raising the profile of our research would give Biomedical Science a distinct identity and move it away from Healthcare Science.