Name of the participant and other supporting staff if relevant

Dr Maelíosa Mc Crudden

Dr Samantha Taylor (co-supervised), Dr Sharon Eddie Parkinson (module coordinator)

Name of the module and discipline, level and  year of study and any useful background info

Research project, BSc Biomedical Sciences (BMS3112) worth the equivalent of 20 ECTS 

This module is the capstone/dissertation module for the BSc. Biomedical Sciences and BSc. Human Biology degrees. It provides students with the opportunity to undertake a substantial piece of project work that will provide an introduction to scientific research, further develop their capacity for independent, analytical and critical thought and improve their application of technical/transferable skills. In the first semester students interpret and analyse the scientific literature around a specific question of relevance to biomedical or human biology research.  They produce a layperson mini review that provides a distillation of the science for the consumption of the educated layperson.  In the second semester students carry out a short, closely defined project and analysis of data that is directly linked or closely related to the scientific question posed in semester one.  At its conclusion they produce a final report in the form of a dissertation and give a presentation to a panel of subject experts. Changes in the wider curriculum and policy environment meant that they had the opportunity to come up with innovative projects not just based in a lab.

 Students receive 5 lectures/workshops and 25 weeks of supervised project work. They are assessed 40% on the final report, 20% on their presentation, 20% on their mini-review and 20% (2 x 10%) on progress reports.

 This was a single student project where the student focused his research project on the community partner topic of “Skin Cancer and Sunbed Use in Northern Ireland”.

Name of community partner and/or any other supporting partners (public or private sector)

Cancer Focus NI

CERL project title(s)

How much do people in Northern Ireland know about the UV Index and about Cancer Focus NI’s Be UV Aware Campaign which has been running since 2018?

What they changed about their programme/course in relation to CERL

The module descriptors are broad enough to encompass CERL projects without any changes being necessary.

Can you provide any tangible info – e.g. module descriptor, learning outcomes, assignments, assessment criteria – please copy paste below if yes – NB Get module code

The module is coordinated by another member of staff and my role was to offer projects which students could select to work on. Therefore I would not be in a position to make changes on it.

How was it taught:

·        number of students

·        student groupwork or individual,

·        how they worked with the partner,

·        how the project proceeded,

·        any reflection done with students,

·        evaluation or formal assessment of their learning,

·        Could or should we follow up with students?

·        tech used

·        Anything else interesting?

For me this was a trial to offer a CERL project for one student undertaking a dissertation. I met with Eileen in The Science Shop who offered 10 possible CERL projects for students. I thought the project with Cancer Focus NI would be very suitable for Biomedical Sciences students and worked with The Science Shop and Cancer Focus NI to develop the brief for the project so I could offer it to students.  Dr Samantha Taylor co-supervised the project – she had previously supervised Science Shop projects and was prepared to offer support in this case. A broad written outline of the project was prepared, allowing scope for the student, in consultation with the community partner, to take ownership of the research, shaping it as they deemed appropriate. 

I pitched the project to the students who made their selections based on projects pitched across our Centre staff team. One student was assigned to the project. Luckily he was very self-motivated and a strong and independent researcher.  We held supervisory meetings weekly or fortnightly. The first big piece of work was a layperson’s survey around the area and in week 7 he started data collection. Based on the confines of the public health situation at the time, during the Covid-19 lockdown, the student devised an entirely online survey, in collaboration with Cancer Focus NI, for dissemination via email and social media channels.  He took the initiative to present his research to a working group in Cancer Focus NI upon completion of this course of study.

What did your students learn or how will they benefit?

The student really enjoyed the project and went on to undertake an MSc in cancer biology. He has come back to share his experience both in CIRCLET and with other students within the Centre for Biomedical Sciences Education, acting as a guest speaker at an event in our professional skills module.

What do you think the benefit was to the partner? Do they have any feedback from the partner?


Cancer Focus NI were really happy with the project and invited the student to make a presentation to their board which included external partners. Cancer Focus NI built on this by proposing another project with a student for the next academic year and this new student’s research, which builds upon the foundations of the initial project, is ongoing. Cancer Focus NI want to continue the relationship further.

How could/will you improve your CERL teaching practice next time?

The timelines for getting the proposal together were tight – we didn’t start the conversation early enough and I would aim to start the conversation earlier next time. I am also interested in trying to embed some elements of CERL with a wider group of students and am exploring building CERL into first and second year professional skills modules. I want them to think about what it means to engage with public or charity or government? I want to encourage students to do something to engage with the public or bring biomedical research to the public. Introducing public engagement in the first year of their studies could be the way in to increasing engagement throughout the degree programme.

Any challenges and how you overcame them


Finding the fit between the skills of the student and our curriculum and the needs of the partner was something that took a good amount of thought and preparation. We were lucky that it was an organised and straightforward project and the student who undertook the research was self-motivated and proactive. Another challenge moving forward is that my teaching role is currently not permanent in the university which makes it harder to feel I can embed new practices into the curriculum.

Advice you would give to someone starting a CERL project with students?


I think they need to be confident about the partner they are working with. If it’s a new partnership, they need to have an intermediary – someone who can vouch for the partner.

Anything else notable about the practice that there wasn’t space for elsewhere


I think this work does take time and space that often isn’t easily available in an already busy teaching timetable. If the students are introduced to the benefits of CERL, via exposure to its principles early in their undergraduate learning, it will enrich their experience at university.