Name of the participant and other supporting staff if relevant

Dr Maelíosa Mc Crudden


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

BMS2102: Professional Skills for Scientists

BSc. Biomedical Sciences and BSc. Human Biology programmes

Stage 2

Academic year: 2020-2021 and 2021-2022

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

 As this module focused on introducing students to concepts of scientific communication and CERL, it was not, by nature, affiliated with one community partner. 

CERL project title(s)

 Weaving scientific outreach and CERL into Biomedical Sciences and Human Biology curricula. 

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

 The module descriptors for BMS2102 were broad, as this was the first year this module had been undertaken in the Centre for Biomedical Sciences Education (CBMSE). As such, the course did not have to be changed but rather had to be shaped. Therefore, an introduction to scientific outreach in its many possible guises was delivered in study cycle 2 of this module with the principles and applications of CERL being incorporated into study cycle 4. 

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


Module descriptor:

BMS2102 Professional Skills for Scientists, is a compulsory, non-weighted Stage 2/Level 2 module for all students enrolled on the BSc. Biomedical Sciences and BSc. Human Biology degree programmes in Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and is a continuation module from BMS1105 Skills for scientists, which the students undertake the preceding year of their studies (Stage 1). The successful completion of each of these modules is a prerequisite to progression to the subsequent year of study. Upon awarding of their undergraduate degrees and successful completion of these two modules, students will be awarded a “Certificate in Professional Skills”. 

The content of BMS2102 builds upon the experiences and activities that the students have undertaken in BMS1105 and the learning outcomes for the module are: 

1.      To develop some of the essential professional skills required to be competent life scientists.

2.      To enhance the employability prospects of students. 

The BSc. Biomedical Sciences is accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS).

The BSc. Human Biology is not currently an accredited degree. 

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?

Module study cycle themes:

BMS2102 Professional Skills for Scientists was broken into four study cycles, with two undertaken in the first semester and the remaining two undertaken in the second semester of the academic year. The content covered in these study cycles was as follows:

(i) CV curation; (ii) Scientific outreach and public engagement*”; (iii) Initiative, innovation and creativity and (iv) Introduction to research techniques*

*For the purposes of this case study, I will focus on just two study cycles, namely:

Scientific outreach and public engagement & Introduction to research techniques. 

Project process:

The Scientific outreach and public engagement study cycle focused on how to:

“… explore the need to promote public awareness and understanding of science, stimulate interest in science, promote science education and its benefits, and encourage better understanding of the application of science in our everyday lives.”

For many of our students, this was their first introduction to how to appropriately communicate complex scientific principles and themes in understandable language to varied audiences. The key learnings here would therefore be applicable when considering working with community partners in the future. 

The Introduction to research techniques study cycle covered key aspects of the research process and introduced our students to research concepts from three distinct perspectives:

·        Principles and tangible examples of CERL, facilitated by the QUB Science Shop.

·        Personal experiences of carrying out a CERL project, facilitated by a BSc. student whose final year project the year before had been undertaken with a local community partner, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.

·        Experience of leading a pharmaceutical research team, facilitated by a senior lecturer from the QUB School of Pharmacy. 

Number of students and personal tutor groups:

·        In the academic year 2021/22, there were 140 students enrolled on BMS2102. All students were invited to the facilitated workshops, covering each study cycle theme.

·        Students were grouped into personal tutor groups of between 6 and 8 students. These groups were led by academic personal tutors who met with the students approximately four times over the course of the academic year, discussing their module content and assessed their module assignments. 

Student work and evaluation:

There were elements of individual and group work across the two study cycles. Written assignments were assessed by the students’ own personal tutor.

·        The Scientific outreach and public engagement content was presented in an interactive group workshop, led by our invited speaker, Dr. Lindsay Broadbent. She encouraged the students to work in groups to assess “good” and “bad” scientific dissemination and to consider ways in which they, as students, could contribute to public understanding of science. The written portion of this study cycle involved the choice of one of two potential assignments and was carried out either as an individual or group submission.

·        The Introduction to research techniques involved an interactive workshop with three invited speakers, including Eileen Martin from QUB Science Shop, where our students were invited to consider different approaches to the conductance of scientific research. The written portion of this study cycle involved the students reflecting on their potential involvement in a CERL project, encouraging them to think about the distinct roles of the researcher and community partner in such projects. 

Students’ Professional Skills Portfolios:

Each study cycle had a companion piece of written work. This work was then assessed by the students’ personal tutor and added to their Professional Skills Portfolio (a portfolio containing all study cycle assignments undertaken over the course of the two modules). Personal reflection was encouraged through written prose and in meetings with personal tutor groups. 

What did your students learn or how will they benefit?


 The aims of these modules are that students learn that the key skills of an accomplished scientist do not exclusively lie in the application of practical skills, such as computer skills and laboratory techniques. Although these are important skills to have, the students must also consider their own personal professional attributes which will make them an attractive candidate for a variety of further study or work opportunities in the future. 

The students often struggled with striking a balance between the theories of complex science and the ability to communicate these theories effectively to diverse audiences. They tended, on occasion, to veer towards language and applications which were too simplified, thus potentially alienating their target audience. One student commented:

The live sessions were quite enjoyable and allowed discussion between peers and organisers, it also enabled me to meet more people in the year. Study cycle 2 illustrated the need for public engagement and the messages scientists may need to put across when being interviewed by media outlets.” 

With respect to CERL, many students commented on the importance of being introduced to key research themes and topics before their final year of study. They felt that this meant that they were primed for the year ahead, having been able to engage with relevant content in advance of choosing their final year project. Another student commented:

Additionally, I found the research component very informative and it provided me with useful background information about research, before starting my final year project.” 

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


 As this module focused on introducing the students to concepts of scientific communication and CERL, it was not, by nature, affiliated with one community partner. 

To elaborate however, from the perspective of one of our students who undertook the module and following their involvement in the CERL content, they approached me to enquire if they could be introduced to a community partner in a particular area, in order that they might work with them on a project related to a scientific subject of personal interest. This overwhelmingly evidences the potential of CERL projects to engage highly motivated students and researchers. 

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


Undoubtedly, my CERL teaching practice will improve through working in committed partnership with my other teaching colleagues in future years. As this was the first year this module had been facilitated, and as colleagues had continuing heavy workloads, particularly through the facilitation of hybrid teaching, the vast majority of the module workload fell to me. This is not to complaint about workload but rather a reflection on how the tools and resources for the module could be improved and embellished through peer feedback and collaboration. 

I also intend to build collaborative CERL practice with teaching colleagues across other QUB departments so as to build and share best practice. 

Any challenges and how you overcame them?


 One of the major challenges of this module was the fact that attendance at the workshops and plenary sessions was not compulsory. Additionally, this is a non-weighted module, meaning that the students lacked motivation to engage with the content. Two students reflected on this when providing feedback on the module: 

I think it would good [sic] to mention the Certificate for Professional skills more often to motivate students and show the benefits of the module. Perhaps it would be good to make all or some of the live sessions mandatory for completion of the module, in order to increase the numbers of students who attend.” 


 If there were somehow a way to motivate students more to complete the module content, it may be better received.”

An unfortunate challenge in trying to move this practice forward is that my teaching role within the university is not permanent, and in fact, I have recently moved into a professional support role within the institution. I intend to maintain my connections with and commitment to the Professional Skills for Scientists modules and to inform some of the teaching practices of my colleagues, in my new role as Research Impact and Engagement Officer

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


 Although it may seem daunting introducing CERL into the curricula, the earlier you can do this and the more tangible examples you can provide to your students, the more they will see its benefits and opportunities.

Also, build your support networks with your teaching colleagues, your university CERL services, such as The Science Shop and, where possible, community partners. This will prove invaluable as you build the CERL portfolio in your teaching. 

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 readily available in an already busy teaching timetable. As such, you need to plan ahead, introducing key concepts to colleagues on Learning and Teaching Committees very early in the process of establishing partnerships and potentially making changes to individual curricula. You need to get School buy-in.

·        I strongly believe that if 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. 

 Any good quotes we could use in the IO1 report? 

 See quotes provided earlier.

 Did anything notable come up about their LC, Triad, ILC, LTTA  or module experiences?


 I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with my colleagues in my local learning circle. Although we came from diverse subject disciplines, we were able to learn from each other and share best (and worst) practice, in a safe and honest forum.  


Anything else they want moving forward with their CERL practice? 

 Some of the most interesting and pertinent work I have carried out in my research career (which has included 11 years of postdoctoral research), has been with community partners and patient groups. This work motivates me and if your students can see your enthusiasm, they will feed off it.

I look forward to accessing the resources that will emerge from the CIRCLET project and sharing these with my colleagues, in due course.