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Case Study 18:  Master of Research in Clinical Practice, Kingston University and St George’s University, London

Overview

Kingston University and St George's University, London is one of only a few universities within the UK to offer a fully funded Master of Research in Clinical Practice (MResCP). This inter professional programme (funded by the National Institute of Health Research and Chief Nursing Officer) is an initiative designed to build research capacity within the NHS, supporting the growth of a clinical academic workforce. It seeks to develop a wide range of research knowledge and transferable skills enabling Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health professionals, to develop best clinical practice and improve quality of care and service delivery by leading, generating and disseminating scientific research. 

Keywords

Inter- professional education; transition into study; clinical academic career training.

Describe, briefly, the activity/initiative/practice

The course provides a focused programme of practical and academic study and prepares students for future careers in clinical research and to effectively promote, plan, manage and support research focused activities in the clinical setting. Students are seconded from their place of employment to study full time (over 1 year) or part time (over 2 years). To access one of the 18 studentships available students are required to hold at least a 2(i) BSc (Hons) degree in a health related subject. Each cohort is diverse; students differ with respect to professional discipline, clinical roles, employment grade and educational experience, and many will be unfamiliar with the expectations of masters’ level 7 study. For full time students the need to complete 5 x 15 credit modules and a 105 credit dissertation within a year necessitates immediate and all-inclusive engagement at masters’ level. Pre- entry activities, the induction programme and the learning, teaching and assessment strategies within the first term are focused towards supporting this transitional phase; facilitating adjustment to new ‘student role’ and developing independent learners, with the capacity to build on existing knowledge and critically apply newly acquired knowledge and skills in the context of their own research and professional practice. Activities and strategies are focused towards providing a supportive and inspiring learning environment to enhance overall appreciation of academic requirements at Masters level and designing curriculum and assessment practices which are challenging and includes opportunities to gain personal experience, partake in discussion, personal and group reflections, as well as and receiving feedback on performance from tutor and peers. The main activities and strategies include:

  • Pre-entry course activities which raise awareness of masters level 7 learning expectations, appropriate skills, knowledge and attitudes. The Faculty ‘working at masters level’ activity book is utilised; the content of which encourages students to focus on a range of personal skill development and identify the learning support they feel they require.
  • Offering structured study support sessions that expand on and explore some of the key aspects of master’s level learning featured within the workbook such as critical debate and personal reflection with the opportunity for practical sessions on how to approach specific tasks such as critical academic writing.
  • Focusing induction activities towards preparation for learning and building relationships with course team and key members of learning and research support services.
  • Utilising group and problem based activities to encourage socialisation, providing opportunities for students to share experiences, learn from and support each other.
  • Offering opportunities to meet with past students enabling insight into lived educational / research experiences, and explore perspectives and gain advice on making the transition from work into study.
  • Offering opportunities to engage with clinical practice researchers, and the wider research community and associated networks by timetabling attendance at research seminars, network events and graduate conferences.
  • Utilising from the outset the Vitae research development framework; helps students appreciated expected attributes of a researcher and enables students to identify their expertise, learning and development needs.
  • Offering tailored study skill development - for example study support sessions on making effective use of PowerPoint and Word for Windows are preceded by diagnostic tests to establish current level of skill, consequently building on previous knowledge and skills; optimising achievement during assessment.
  • Tripartite supervisory tutorials between academic research supervisors and clinical mentors with monitoring progression through a series of ‘progress reports’. Within the reports students reflect on progression and development; students receive feedback on performance and can be directed towards appropriate support if needed. 
  • Formative assessment in relation to research proposal, oral presentation and reflective skills occurs in the first term, feedback given allows students to address issues prior to submission of summative assessments.

What made/makes it masters level?

Self-appraisal of knowledge and skills encourages and develops capacity for reflection and self-regulation and enhances capacity for metacognition. Use of Vitae framework offers context to the role of researcher and expected level of attainment at Master’s level; enabling  students to identify their own learning needs and establish a career development plan, consequently it strengthens the relationship between study and employment.

Engagement with career researchers, past graduates and the wider research community encourages students to be aspirational in their focus and appreciate what can be achieved. Moreover this broadens knowledge of subject area, and assists students to gain insight into personal perspectives and diverse application of knowledge and skills which helps students synthesise the process of research and offers students a holistic overview of the research practice.

Opportunities to building relationships with others and exposure to study support and research networks aids the transition from dependent to independent learning, it empowers students demonstrate self-direction, act autonomously and take personal responsibility for learning; enabling students to seek appropriate individualized support in accordance with personal needs.

A combination of taught and practical sessions enables students to build on prior knowledge and obtain an applied understanding. The opportunity for group activities encourages peer assisted learning; encouraging students to share their knowledge, experiences and expertise and offer each other support and advice. This mode of study facilitates the opportunity for critical debate and encourages problem solving through collaborative working.

Formative assessment assists students to develop a wide range of transferable skills, the nature of assessment encourage original and creative thought, and purposeful application of acquired knowledge.

What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?

Encouraging realistic yet rigorous research. Students often enter the programme with large scale project ideas which cannot be supported in the one year timeframe. Students are asked to submit a structured ‘formative’ research proposal prior to the start of the course. Guidance notes give an indication of the expected scale of the project and specific things that need to be considered, such as insurance and personal costs. The purpose of this is to avoid students proposing projects which are unrealistic and unachievable, but it also enables students to be matched to an appropriate supervisor on entry to the course. To date all students have engaged with pre-course activities and whilst research ideas require refinement, the ideas presented have been by and large appropriate to the level of study and timeframe. Students report these activities had helped them to focus and put them in an appropriate frame of mind prior to the start of the course.

Managing student expectations particularly in relation to assessment has been difficult. Those selected are naturally highly motivated and ambitious. Some students apirations are not matched to their overall ability. There is often a notion that their high working grade / status equates to high academic ability. Some students have been disspointed by assessment outcomes and thus challenging of feedback and the assessment grade awarded. To overcome this, sessions on understanding masters level education, the marking process, and how this functions to support fairness and equity have been included in the timetable, as well as sessions on how to interpret and act on feedback.

Ensuring students focus attention to all aspects of the programme. This course aims to develop an integrative understanding of research within practice and encourages students and explore the wider application of their acquired research knowledge and skills and relate this to their own specific areas of practice. However there has been a tendency for students to focus their attention towards completion of the research project module; as a consequence students have overlooked the relevancy of certain aspects of module content since for them it has no immediate bearing on their research project. There has been a move to ensure induction activities and the module introductions place emphasis on relevancy of module content and establish links to assessments, research role and expected competencies identified within Vitae research development framework. This enables students to appreciate the need to engage with all aspects of the programme and assists students to pursue a range of research focused activity and career development in a more meaningful way.

Where to next - in terms of mastersness if anywhere?

Supporting outduction. Academic supervisors continue to support the student when the course has ended; encouraging them to disseminate their work locally and internationally through conference presentations and publication in academic journals, since this is an essential part of the research process. Current developments include establishing an alumnus and academic network to continue to support graduates to develop their clinical academic career. Seminars and workshops facilitated by research experts support graduates to develop further research on return to clinical practice and assist with the transition to PhD registration.

Author's name, contact details and institution

Dr. Cheryl Whiting
Course Director for Master of Research in Clinical Practice (MResCP) Programme
Centre for Health and Social Care Research
Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education.
Kingston University and St George's University, London.

Email: c.whiting@sgul.kingston.ac.uk
Phone: 020 8725 4256