Development and evaluation of a mandatory research experience in a medical education program: the Independent Learning Project at UNSW

John E. Hunt*, Helen Scicluna, H. Patrick McNeil

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


As part of the reform of its undergraduate 6-year medical program, the University of New South Wales developed an in-depth research experience of 24 weeks full-time duration, which all students are required to undertake. Central aims of this Independent Learning Project (ILP) are to develop the generic capability of self-directed learning and critical evaluation, to understand how knowledge is created within a field and its limitations, and to reinforce the scientific basis of medical practice through personal research experience. The ILP is taken in either year 3 or 4 in any area of research relevant to medicine, including biomedical science, public health, and clinical research. Assessment includes supervisor grades and a report in the form of a scientific manuscript. High achieving and motivated students have the option of substituting the ILP period with a formal Bachelor of Science (Medicine) Honours degree, which is 28 weeks in duration with a more rigorous assessment. Currently, this Honours option is limited to the academically best (∼30) students each year. Between 2006 and 2010, 846 students completed an ILP and 159 undertook an Honours project in lieu. At least 64 peer-reviewed manuscripts have been published as a result of ILP projects. Student evaluations are generally positive with 65% of respondents undertaking an ILP in 2009–2010 reporting that they were satisfied with their experience. Motivation, interest, and recognition were the key factors which characterized students who reported satisfaction with their ILP experiences. In open-ended comments, students reported key intellectual outcomes related to research as the highest ranked ‘best aspects’ of their ILP. The most frequent negative comments reflected resistance to the compulsory nature of the ILP, a need for better selection or training of supervisors, and interruption to their clinical learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-85
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Science Educator
Issue number1 Supplement
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Independent learning
  • research project


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